Kids cheat. What can parents do?

Do your kids cheat on homework, quizzes, and tests? How would you know if they don’t get caught?

As a teacher, I’m in the unfortunate position of seeing kids cheat, or try to cheat, on a regular basis. No one is above cheating, it seems. I have watched kids I deeply admire go down the cheating road, and I’d like to explain to parents the myriad reasons why they do it.

1. They didn’t do the homework, study, or prepare. Rather than take a zero, kids will resort to any last-minute tactic they can find. Desperation causes them to copy answers from others’ work, craft a cheat sheet, or steal a glance at a peer’s answers. Most will find reasons to justify their actions.

2. They got away with it before. Once they are successful at cheating, it’s all the easier the next time. And the more they do it, the more desensitized they become to the fact that it’s unethical. It doesn’t help when they hear others are cheating and getting good grades for their non-effort. Of course they’re going to question why they should do the hard work if they don’t have to.

3. They are overly anxious. High-achieving kids will do almost anything to get an A or maintain their grade point average. Rather than finding value in an assignment or test, they see each one as a means to an end, yet another hoop through wish to jump. They’re always afraid they won’t jump high enough, so they hedge their bet by cheating.

4. They are inherently impulsive. Teenagers are notorious for acting in the moment and believing with all their heart that they will escape the consequences. That lack of development of the frontal lobe gets them every time, and they truly don’t think ahead, especially when opportunities present themselves and they are forced to make quick decisions. With all those answers staring them in the face just a desk away, they are unlikely to look the other way.

So what can you, as a parent, do to teach your kids not to cheat?

1. Encourage organized study habits. Teach your kids how to chunk assignments and study sessions over a period of days and avoid waiting until the last minute. Make sure they keep a calendar that includes daily review of notes or work on an assignment.

2. Let your kids know that cheating will not be tolerated. If you get wind of anything – your kids “borrowing” other kids’ homework, a cheat sheet left in a sweatshirt pocket, or a text that discusses test answers, deliver a swift and painful consequence. Send the message that you love them enough to teach them a hard lesson.

3. Stress learning over grades.  Kids’ anxieties often stem from parental expectations and pressure. Let your kids know that as long as they’re doing their best, you’ll be proud of them. Reward their critical thinking and ingenuity, not their highest score on a test.

4. Consistently teach your kids that poor decisions lead to unwanted consequences. Since this idea isn’t biologically inherent to them yet, you have to teach it, over and over. Behaviors are learned and ethics are developed as we become aware not only of ourselves, but of others and how our actions affect them.

Cheating is almost never a stand-alone offense; it arises from something else that is going on in kids’ lives. Discover what the cheating trigger is for your own kids, then set about dealing with the core of the problem.


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