Raising Honest Kids Despite a Cheating Epidemic

by | Mar 2, 2011 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Student cheating is an epidemic and the impact on their character is at stake. Parenting and educator solutions to a troubling and wide-spread national trend

Latest Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth: FLUNK!

Every two years the Josephson Institute conducts a nation-wide survey of high school students called Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth. Over 43,000 students were involved in the latest poll comprising over 100 high schools – both private and public. The results are dismal.

Cheating is rampant in schools, and is only getting worse.

One in three boys and one in four high school girls say the stole from a store over the last year.

Moreover, 21 percent admit they stole something from a parent or relative; 18 percent say they stole from a friend.

While 92 percent of students believe their parents want them to do the “right thing” eight out of ten say they lied to their parents about something significant

A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last school year with 34 percent doing it more than two times.

One in three say they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

Time to get serious about our children’s character!

The report card on our children’s character is in and it appears many are flunking, but students’ attitudes about their deceptions are even more disturbing.

Ninety-two percent of those students are fully satisfied with their personal ethics.

Beware: the cheating issue has become “mainstream.” Kid cheating is prevalent in private as well as public schools, and in every demographic. We need to turn this trend around and A.S.A.P.

Top 9 Reasons Kids Cheat

Though there are a number of reasons kids cheat, the key to stopping it is to determine why your child is resorting to using this behavior. Here are a few:

  • Weak  honest quotient: Character is taking a backseat; conscience is under-developed or under-nurtured; or honesty isn’t stressed in the child’s home or school environment

  • Stress: Push to excel is huge; pressure to get those grades (and maybe secure that needed college scholarship) is higher than ever in today’s economic crunch.

  • Dishonest examples: Expectation to be honest not emphasized by the family or school; the coach pushes the “score” at any cost, the teacher looks the other way; the parent who stresses the “grade” at any cost
  • No time: The kid is so darn overscheduled that there is no time to study

  • Fear of failing YOU: Fear of letting down or disappointing a parent is strong
  • Pressure: It’s a hyper-competitive or high stakes learning environment
  • Low skill level: Academic expectations are too high; expectations are too high or the child is incapable of work (due to lacking the skills or ability)
  • Peer pressure: Your child is in with a group that eggs him on; the other kids cheat; he’s in an environment where everyone else cheats
  • Laziness or ease: The child has been allowed to get away with cheating; the Internet makes it so much easier just to cut and paste; Cheating is the shortcut to success

Are you suspicious your child is cheating? If so, what’s your best guess as to why his honesty is taking a back-seat?

REALITY CHECK: Which is more important to you: Your child’s grade or his integrity and method he used to achieve that grade? What message about honesty has your child heard from you lately? Might it be time to repeat your method and strengthen your child’s “Honesty Quotient?”

Solutions to the Kid Cheating Epidemic

Cheating and deception are learned early and become entrenched as a habit of “acceptability.”

The cheating behavior begins in earnest between the ages of ten to 14, which is when we need to tune in a lot closer.

Make no mistake: each time a child is allowed to get away with cheating, his or her conscience takes a ding. Though every kid will try to cut corners, the key is to nip this behavior before it becomes “acceptable.”

If you want to know if your child is cheating…

Here are a few signs that your child may not be doing a 100 percent honest effort:

Possible Signs of Kid Cheating

Ask about the resources. A quick test is see if your child did the work himself (or used the cut and paste model) is to about the sources he used. Does he know the source? Did he read the source? Is your child able to give you a quick review of the concept without relying on his paper? If not, it could be using the “cut and paste” study technique.

Ask about the test. Ask your child: “What were some of the questions on your test today?” If he doesn’t know, it’s usually a red flag.

Read his papers. Is the reading or vocabulary at your child’s level of understanding or could he possibly be relying too much on the Internet for information and not doing the work himself?  Ask your child for the definition of a term he’s written. Can he define it?

Glance over homework: Is he bringing home no homework or too little? Did he do or borrow his work from a pal?

Know your child’s homework, test days and grades. Is he acing tests without studying? Is he really that brilliant?

So what if you know your child ? That answer is easy: it’s time to make a plan to turn dishonest behavior around and pronto. Here are ways.

If you fear your child is cheating…

First, breathe. Know that these days most kids admit they do. But how you respond will make a difference if he continues or not. Often the highest achieving kids are the students under the greatest pressure to cut corners.

Second, find out what’s really going on. Why is your child resorting to using this behavior? Are expectations too high? Is he overscheduled? Is he not capable of the work? Does he lack good study habits? Is everyone else in the class cheating? Is peer pressure too high?

Third, work out a solution. The key is for your child to know that you understand he’s under pressure but cheating is not the answer. Take time to work together and figure out how to remedy the problem so cheating isn’t the solution.  (i.e. If there is no time to do homework so he copies, then cut one of those darn activities. If he is lazy and doesn’t want to do the work, then eliminate those extra privileges such as television). Create a solution so the cheating problem doesn’t escalate.

Fourth, speak with the teacher if needed. If you need to approach your child’s teacher, do so cautiously. You want to keep her as an ally. First, get the facts about the cheating incident from your child. After you hear your son or daughter out, talk to the teacher about your concerns.  Listen and gather information.  Is your child turning in assignments? When are test days? Are the tests cooperative or is each child expected to do his or her own work? Is your child capable of the work? Also, ask the teacher to clarify her test and homework expectations to your child so your son or daughter is clear as to what constitutes cheating.

If you want to raise an honest child…

Stretch courage, empathy and honesty

There certainly is a “moral” component to the cheating epidemic and research from Ohio State University sheds important information.

Students who score higher on measures of courage, empathy and honesty are less likely to cheat.

If we could learn anything from this study it is that we should be stretching our kids’ honesty quotient, and pronto. Your first step: announce that you will be monitoring your child’s “honesty quotient” much closer.

Make it easy for your kid to open up

While you should expect honesty, your child also needs to feel safe enough to come to you and admit his mistakes. A “too harsh” approach creates fear and he may decide that lying is a better alternative than admitting with the truth; a “too lenient” approach can make lying become a habit he gets away with. Watch that balance.

Push effort over outcome

Meanwhile, do get savvy about the pressures today’s kids face. Let your child know honesty matters more to you than the grade. Push “effort” over “outcome.” Bless the parent who says, “It’s your integrity that I care about, Honey!”

Know electronic cheating techniques so it isn’t “easy”

PARENTING ALERT: Do you know that over 3000 YouTube videos teach kids ways to cheat? Get to know those easy electronic techniques kids use to cheat.

A few electronic cheating strategies:

Texting answers to peers via cell phones

Cutting and pasting material from websites

Downloading answers onto I-pods, then slipping earphones under a shirt

Taking photos of the test and sending it to a peer in the next class.

Don’t make cheating easy. Mandate that on test dates all electronics will remain home.Know also that peer pressure is huge these days. So help your child to stand up to a peer who wants those answers by not making it okay.

Be a model of honesty

In all fairness to the kids, a big reason those cheating statistics are increasing is because of our own blasé response. Beware: if we know our kids cheat and give lip service, it only reinforces their “no big deal” attitude. Let your child know this behavior is unacceptable, goes against your values, and will not be tolerated. Meanwhile, watch what you model to your kids. Studies do find that kids learn to lie and cheat from the example we set. So take a Reality Check. Would you…

Ask your kid to tell the caller you’re not home? (Careful…it a LIE!)

Keep the change if you’re given too much? (Careful…it’s deception!)

Tell the cashier that your kid is younger to get a break off that ticket price? (Careful…it’s dishonest).

Beware: Your kids are watching and will copy your behavior.

Reinforce honesty

Give your kid credit for owning up to his mistakes and having the courage to admit a lie. Behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated, and repeated behaviors are more likely to become new habits. Praise your child’s honesty.

Whenever your child lies, sit him down ASAP and use it as an opportunity to teach honesty: “I expect you to tell me only the truth and I will do the same so we can always believe each other.”

The trick is to find the right balance in your response so your child knows lying is wrong, but will still come to you with the truth.

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.

You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Checkfor ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba

You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. For more tips about reducing the Cheating Epidemic refer to specific chapters in the book. I’ve noted the page the chapter begins: Peer Pressure (pg 373); Cheats (pg 150); Lying (pg 173) Steals (pg 218)