It's 10 P.M. and your seventh grader still has a history test to study for and five chapters of Huckleberry Finn to read with essay questions to answer. This evening, soccer practice kept her busy until seven, and she's exhausted because she's been up since 6 A.M. putting the final touches on her science fair display board. Getting a bad grade or handing in work late isn't an option-this is an indisputable fact of life in your household. Would it be so terrible then, she wonders, to ask her best friend if he could copy her homework or to write some important historical facts in ink on the palm of her hand? Photo by Getty Images
The temptation to cheat in school is nothing new-it's existed ever since children and schools first made each other's acquaintance. But it seems that the high-pressure, competitive environment of today's classrooms is pushing more and more kids to resort to academic dishonesty. In a study by the Josephson Institute Center for Ethics in Los Angeles, CA, 64% of high school students admitted to cheating on a test in the last year. But short of catching your kid in the act of plagiarizing off of the Internet, would you know if she were breaking the rules? If more than a few of the following statements are true for your child, be extra-vigilant where cheating is concerned.
1. Your child is stressed out about doing well in school. By the time they reach high school, kids get that their grades can determine so much in their lives-where they go to college, what they do for a living, what size house they can afford-but some teens internalize this more ferociously than others. The stress can backfire on these students, making it harder for them to focus and more likely for them to cheat to keep their grades up. To know whether this is happening, "observe whether or not your child's preparing assignments at home. Kids who study don't need to cheat," says Eric Anderman, PhD, professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University in Columbus and author of Psychology of Academic Cheating. "Tell your child that school isn't just about grades; it's about learning. And it's better to know something well and get a B than cheat and get an A."
2. Your child doesn't usually test well. One of the reasons children cheat is because they feel they're at an academic disadvantage compared to their peers. With so much emphasis on high-stakes tests, children on the lower end of the performance spectrum don't have as wide a variety of opportunities as they once did to show off what they know and can do. If you suspect the testing focus is holding back your child from showing her full potential and that she may be cheating to cover up weaknesses, Teddi Fishman, PhD, the Director of the International Center of Academic Integrity at Clemson University in Clemson, SC, says you must talk to her teacher. Discuss "how to develop additional checkpoints on which to evaluate her to make sure she has the opportunity to master material, not just cram for tests," she suggests.
3. Your child fears failing you. You've probably made it clear that you value good grades. Not surprisingly, in Dr. Anderman's studies, one of the reasons kids give for cheating is that they don't want to disappoint their parents. In fact, perceived outside pressure to do well is the biggest predictor that a child will be academically dishonest. To avoid this, and to be fair to your child, examine your motivations for pushing so hard. Ask yourself: Who are you being ambitious for? Is it too much? And look for signs of anxiety in your child, like feeling sick, tired or not wanting to go to school on a regular basis.
4. Your child's school is a pressure cooker. One of the biggest recent cheating scandals came out of Stuyvesant High School in New York City, one of the nation's most competitive. In an environment where being brilliant isn't enough to stand out, there's a built-in incentive to find a way to look better than the next super-smart guy. Dr. Anderman, who has studied cheating among students at top schools, says kids often rationalize their behavior by thinking "the ends, like getting into a good university, justify the means." It can be difficult to get your kid to push back against a culture that worships success to such a degree, but Dr. Fishman recommends "helping your child understand that school is about her personal growth, not a set of scores."
5. Your child has too much on her plate. Piano lessons, sports, religious instruction, not to mention the weekly babysitting gig-all this plus homework can be too much for some (if not most) kids. Indeed, being overscheduled is a "strong risk factor for cheating," says Dr. Anderman. If your child is struggling under the weight of her extracurricular obligations, cut some out. "Academics need to be the number-one priority," he says.
6. Your child complains about unfair teachers. A student who thinks she's in an unfair situation, even if she's simply blaming her problems at school on her teachers, may rationalize that cheating is acceptable, says Dr. Fishman. So talk to your child about what she thinks is unfair. If she has a point-say, the teacher habitually assigns 300-page weekend reading assignments or has different rules for different students-help your kid figure out how to break up the work into more manageable chunks or consider aligning with other parents to talk to the teacher about her policies.
7. Your child's grades are all over the place. You want to give your kid the benefit of the doubt. Wide swings in grades could be because she puts in uneven effort or because some subjects capture her interest more than others. This is why it's so important to be involved and monitor what's going on with your child, Dr. Anderman stresses. If you know your child went to school ill-prepared for a test, and then brought home an A, you have reason to question her.
8. Your child's smartphone is practically an appendage. Between playing online games and sending Instagrams, it's a wonder any kid finds time to study at all. But every parent needs to be aware of how smartphone and Internet access make it easier to cheat-and harder to identify cheating. The ability to connect instantly with answers to questions by Googling or texting a friend and the simplicity of cutting and pasting can blur the lines in a young person's mind about what's unethical. Dr. Anderman acknowledges that families have different policies when it comes to dealing with technology, but he advises remembering that a big factor in whether or not a child is tempted to cheat is how easy it is to do.