Every parent dreads the day when they get a note from their child's teacher that says Billy or Emma was caught cheating on a test. With a new school year right around the corner, now is the time to reinforce the notion that cheating is unacceptable.
"Parents need to realize that (cheating) happens a lot; it happens in every school," says Eric Anderman, a professor of educational psychology at Ohio State University. "(Kids) think about it; they're all tempted. They're all tempted to drink. They're all tempted to smoke. They're all tempted to cheat."
Anderman, one of the experts on student cheating, points to an increase in pressure on school-aged kids to do well and get ahead, instead of learning. Parents place an importance on getting good grades so kids can get into a good college and then get a good job that pays good money. Teachers, whose jobs are often at the mercy of how well their classes perform on standardized tests, tell students they must learn classroom material because it's going to be on a test, not because it is knowledge that will help them later in life.
"By the time kids graduate from high school, 75 to 80 percent have engaged in some sort of cheating behavior," says Anderman. This trend increases in a linear fashion over time, with elementary kids cheating less than high school students, where the stakes are often higher. Cheating is all around, and kids can be tempted to do it because they see their heroes (we're looking at you, Lance Armstrong) as well as their friends at school doing it. Parents should tell their children that even though they are bombarded with messages that say cheating is OK, it is not acceptable in their family.
While parents can stress the importance of being truthful and proud of their own work, Anderman says that parents should keep in mind that kids don't cheat just to cheat; there is usually a factor behind their behavior. Maybe Billy is frustrated because he doesn't understand the material he's supposed to be learning in American history. Or maybe Emma is having trouble with time management and fitting in all of her activities plus homework and the social life she'd love to have. Talking with kids and getting to the bottom of the story is where a parent can really make a difference.
One of the best things a parent can do is to place less importance on grades and more importance on lifelong learning. Anderman says studies have shown that when teachers talk about testing a lot and stress kids out about what material is going to be on the test, there is more cheating in that class. By focusing on why students are learning about a specific topic, students are less likely to feel the pressure of doing well on a test and, therefore, are less likely to cheat.
Anderman acknowledges that teachers are in a catch-22 (studies tell them not to focus on tests, but the government tells them they have to in order to keep their jobs) and hopes that professional-development courses for teachers will stress the importance of putting as little pressure as possible on their students when it comes to testing.
Whatever the reason Billy gives for writing the answers on his hand, a parent's role is to let him know what he did is intolerable and then to offer a helping hand. Parents should support their kids in whatever way they can so kids don't see cheating as their only option when they feel pressure or stress. And, parents, don't lose hope: According to a new study, the 2012 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, students are cheating, lying and stealing less than in previous years.