Gotcha—Why Do Children Cheat?
by Jill Jenkins
by Jill Jenkins
Why do children cheat? It is a complex question with many answers. Some students cheat because they feel they are unable to meet their parents’ high expectations. Some students cheat as a challenge to see if they get away with it. Some students cheat because they know they can get away with it. Some students cheat because their parent enable them to cheat. Some students cheat because our society glorifies the Jesse James and the Billy the Kids in media and they see this reflected in the behavior of adults in their personal life and in our government. This problem is endemic, so how do we promote ethical behavior?
After teaching honors Language Arts for decades, I am still amazed at the number of intellectually-gifted students who resort to copying their friends’ assignments, reading Cliffs Notes instead of reading an assigned novel or having another student provide answers for a test. I have always asked why would a gifted, young person with the skills to do his own work resort to unethical means to achieve his goals. The problem is especially profound in upper-middle class neighborhoods, where parents push their children beyond their capabilities. Students are expected to be sports stars, master an active social life and take every advanced class offered while playing in the school band, singing in the choir and performing the leading role in the school play. These parents check their student’s grades daily and if any assignment is missing or any grade deviates from perfection, they will be talking to their son or daughter and his or her teacher. High expectations are wonderful and can help a child become all he can be, but a helicopter parent can put undue pressure on a child causing him to do the unthinkable—cheat.
For other students cheating is a game. They are especially motivated by the teacher who takes pleasure in catching him. I must admit at the beginning of my career I was one of those teachers. I would wander the aisles of my classroom stalking any child who exhibited the wandering-eye disease and then I would spring like a cat over desks, snatch the test, shred it and toss it dramatically into the trash can hoping to make an example for anyone even thinking of cheating. What it actually did was motive those who wanted a challenge. “I’ll show her. I’ll figure out a way to get around her glaring eyes,” they would mutter with a string of deleted expletives. (They would carve these same deleted expletives into my desks.) A better approach is to communicate how disappointed the teacher is to find such a capable, bright student who is a leader would stoop to such inappropriate and unnecessary behavior. This is a good child who has made a bad choice and needs to be reminded that he/she is capable of better choices and succeeding without losing his/her sense of right and wrong.
Some students cheat simply because they can. If no one is monitoring their behavior, they assume that the teacher just does not care, so why not. I was one of those students in eighth grade. In U. S. History, Mr. Spencer would distribute the tests and go to his desk in the back of the room and grade papers. He never monitored or spoke to us whenever we took a test. I would either sit at an angle or hold my test above my head so the two boys who sat behind me could copy the answers. I know I would have never done that if he had made some effort to monitor us, because I never tried it in any of my other classes. Plus, it had an added benefit. It is really important to feel accepted in middle school. My mother had told me that boys did not like girls who were too smart, but they certainly liked you when you gave them the answers to the test.
Next, there are the parents who enable their children to cheat. These are the parents who buy them Cliffs Notes and encourage them to read it instead of the assigned novel. These are the parents who sign their child’s reading chart without actually monitoring his reading. These are the parents who blame the teacher when their child is finally caught cheating. What these parents don’t understand is they are not helping their child.
Finally is the bigger problem: the glorification of unethical behavior. In the last few years of teaching, there has been a growing trend: students networking with other students to cheat for each other. Some of these students are social engineers using social media, accepting bribes and making cheating an industry. These are the students who need to learn that Bernie Madoff and others like him who cheat others out of million for their own personal gains are not heroes. In fact a new business has emerged that will complete students' homework for them for a price. Write My Paper.com will write papers for students or complete math problems for a price.
How do we solve this problem? First, as adults, both teachers and parents, we need to talk to our children about why trust is so important. If we didn’t all follow the rules and stop at stop signs, there would be more automobile crashes. Ours is a society depends on trust. We need to talk about pride in our work. We need to talk about the reason we get a good education. You certainly wouldn’t want open-heart surgery from a doctor who cheated his way through medical school. Second, we need to model ethical behavior as parents and teachers. Third, when students do cheat, we need to tell them how disappointed we are, and help them accept the consequences of their behavior. Fourth, as teacher and parents, we need to monitor their behavior and set up procedures that make it difficult to cheat. Fifth, we need select heroes who behave ethically by carefully selecting the movies and books that demonstrate honorable behavior. Finally let’s give our students kudos (the big thumbs-up) for behaving ethically.