When you work in the corporate world you become aware of the unethical, the unscrupulous, and those who will do or say anything to get ahead. Sometimes you are even lucky enough to become aware of them before they climb over you with stiletto heels or meticulously polished Italian leather loafers.
These dynamics can, and often do apply in school. Cheating happens and its frequency depends on vigilance by the teachers, and the repercussions if students are caught. Even something as incredibly simple as an honor code, as pointed out in David Callahan’s 2010 article can make a difference.
What is a parent to do?
Teach your children what cheating is.
They may still be tempted and may even make that mistake at some point in their lives, but it won’t be from ignorance of the facts.
- It is stealing. When you cheat, you steal someone else’s work. Crib sheets, using your cell phone to get text messages from a friend, or getting answers from someone who took the test earlier in the day is stealing because you have stolen an advantage over the rest of your classmates that was not yours to take. Taking someone’s research or writing, whether out of a book or off of the Internet is plagiarism, which is another word for stealing.
- It is denying learning to yourself. You have just wasted the chance to learn material that could make a difference in your life, whether it is as abstract as your world view or as concrete as helping you to do better on an important test that may get you into the college of your choice.
- It is betraying trust. Remember the 7 Habits Emotional Bank Account we discussed in “How to Build Trust in Parenting?” It is how we earn privileges and are eventually respected as an adult with all of the rights that entails. When you cheat you endanger that, not only in your family but also for your future. Cheaters are rarely trusted after being caught and must do a great deal to build up the trust that took years to accumulate and only one episode of cheating to destroy. Cheating at some schools will cause you to be expelled, can go on your permanent record and even keep you from getting into some very excellent colleges. Cheating closes your options, makes people mistrust you and will make you feel very bad about yourself, regardless of how smart and capable you are.
Share this information with your children, and start at about 3rd grade. Sounds early, doesn’t it? But that is when much of the standardized testing starts.
Teach them to protect themselves from being a victim of cheating and role-playing with you can help tremendously. Our girls had to develop strategies that dealt with both subtle and overt approaches.
- Emotional Appeal Approach – “Oh man, I totally forgot to study for this test – could I borrow your test since you already got it back? I promise I won’t ever ask again. I will be your best friend forever, and by the way, I want you to come to my birthday party!” Answer: “I really appreciate the invitation and I will be happy to come but I can’t give you the test. I could really get in trouble. I would be willing to share my notes with you though, would that help?” Probably not, since this kid was obviously looking for easy answers, but they will probably move on to the next perceived sucker down the line rather than actually study your child’s notes. This is harder the closer the friendship is, but focus on the repercussions with your student and always offer to be the bad guy. “My parents would KILL me,” is always a great fall back line for them and most kids understand that.
- Cro-Magnon Approach: Looking at their paper is the most egregious way someone will try to cheat off of them. Show them how to cover their work and have them practice doing it. Don’t let them give the bad seeds a free ride because if someone passes in a paper with answers identical to theirs, the teachers have no way of knowing who copied from whom and they will both be in trouble. Teach your students to protect themselves. Bullying can enter in here as well, and they need to know they can talk with you about it and you will help them devise a strategy to deal with the bully. This usually isn’t a problem until middle school, but keep an eye out. Again, stress how much these kids who cheat are really cheating themselves by stealing other people’s work. Sure, they got the homework in, but did they learn anything that will help them pass the quiz, the final, the future admission tests to college? Not a chance!
The hardest thing to understand is when bright, capable students who don’t have to cheat, do it anyway. Perhaps they want to be Valedictorian, or top 10% or they are just too lazy to do the work. These are the cheaters who don’t seem to experience any repercussions in your children’s eyes and may make them think that there aren’t consequences…but there are.
The stain on a cheater’s integrity is a lasting one, and deep in their hearts they know they have received whatever shiny prize they have won not on their own merits, but by stealing, and the path to their redemption will be a long one. Point out to your son or daughter that you treasure the pure heart they have retained even more than their academic achievements, because you know that everything they have done is truly theirs, learning they have earned, and you could not be prouder of them.
Have a great school year!