By Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Cheating among students is rampant. Nine out of 10 middle schoolers admit to copying someone else’s homework and 74 percent of high school students admit to cheating on an exam. Technology makes it even easier, with homework assignments sent via mass e-mail and test answers showing up as text messages.
Educator and author Dr. Michael Hartnett shares five useful tips on how to make sure your child is not a chronic cheater:
1. Check your child’s homework every night. This advice may sound a little intense and age inappropriate by the time your child is in high school, but it’s an important way for parents to know what their child is actually learning. A good sign that a teenager is cheating is the absence of substantive work.
2. Create a device-free zone of at least an hour a day for studying. This approach is particularly important to take during summer vacations and holidays. Most teenagers are so addicted to the Internet that their lives seem barren without their tech fix. Yes, students can multitask, but can they unitask with the intense concentration that is often required to do an assignment well?
Any hour a day by themselves without connections to cyberspace or to their friends is an hour of studying and learning they have devoid of cheating.
An argument teenagers will make is that they need the internet to complete whatever assignment is in front of them. They are often right, but teenagers also greatly exaggerate their need for the computer. If you hold firm and fast to the one-hour rule, students will easily be able to fill that time with studying and still have enough time with their various electronic devices to complete their assignments. In fact, they are more likely to allocate their time efficiently rather than dawdling in text-chats with their friends because they need to use the computer more as a workstation tool than an entertainment and social center.
3. Give your teenagers practice tests the day before an exam. If you know what they are studying and see from what materials they are studying, then you can determine whether they are truly engaged in the learning process. If their materials are sparse and generated from websites, then you know they are either cheating or performing poorly.
4. Talk to your teenagers honestly and realistically about cheating. That means you cannot be too self-righteous or judgmental about cheating. Acknowledge that cheating is prevalent, and understand that you are asking for your teenagers to be exceptional instead of conforming to a pervasive cheating culture.
You will have to address some hard questions that every teenager will ask:
“If I’m getting good grades and succeeding in school, what does it matter if I cheat? I’m learning how to succeed and thrive and isn’t that what school and life really about?”
These questions become particularly challenging when your teenagers complain about learning subject material far removed from career interests: “How is reading Hamlet going to help me become a mechanical engineer?”
A response about developing critical thinking and analytical skills probably won’t cut it with your teenagers. Your best bet may well be to explain how skills in diverse fields make someone more adaptable and marketable. Explain how mental conditioning is similar to physical conditioning in that exercising the areas you are least interested in can increase strength and confidence overall, since by eliminating weaknesses.
Will your teenagers embrace this argument? Probably not, but at least they’ll better understand why you are committed to their learning rather than their cheating, why you are checking their homework every night, why you are taking away their computer an hour a night, and why you are giving them practice tests.
5. Avoid cliches. Do not tell your teenagers “You know if you cheat, you are only cheating yourself.” That’s a pretty abstract notion, and when teenagers are getting As while cheating, then the cliche seems even more obtuse. And I wouldn’t try “Cheaters never prosper.” The truth is they do prosper. Cheaters may be ignorant and morally corrupt, but your sons and daughters have seen too many do well in school.
However, most teenagers buy the argument that cheating will only get them so far. Ultimately, you have your own tough question to ask them: “What knowledge and skills will you have after you’re done cheating away your high school years?”