If I could do Grade 1 all over again here’s a moment I would change in a flash: when Mrs. May caught me cheating. That’s right. Me. Cheating.
“Did you really let Vivian whisper the answers to you?” she asked as I stood shamefaced at the front of the classroom as she held out my math quiz as if it had a bad smell.
Honestly, I don’t remember what I said, but I knew not to lie. Other kids had seen it happen and, besides, I was a capital-P ‘Pleaser’. The teacher ripped up the paper and sent me back to my seat. “I don’t want to see your face for the rest of the day,” she spat.
“Most students will cheat if the pressure to perform is great and the chances of being caught are slim,” maintains Dr. Joan Peskin, professor at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
Children, particularly high school students, tend to cheat because they feel enormous societal pressure to win at all costs. You only have to read the morning paper to find out where this push is coming from: Want to write a best-seller? Pass fiction off as a memoir. Want to be the fastest runner on the planet? Pop a couple of pills. Want to pocket a few million bucks? Scam your shareholders.
Other reasons kids cheat include:
- trying to please parents or teachers
- being too busy with extracurricular activities to be sufficiently prepared for tests and
- simply not realizing what constitutes cheating. For instance, the Ryerson University student who joined an online study group – and many of the students who supported him – didn’t think it was cheating, despite being told the project had to be completed solo.
In fact, excuses that justify cheating are quite common, says Dr. Don McCabe, a professor of management and global business for Rutgers University in New Jersey who studies U.S. and Canadian university and high school students. “Part of the cheating problem is that students are redefining what constitutes cheating,” he says. Some students even indicate it’s reasonable to cheat if, say, the teacher gives an unfair (read: hard) test or even if the teacher seems aloof and uninterested in his students. And technology is making cheating easier and easier. Photo cell phones that connect to messaging and Internet, online essay storehouses and new Websites that allow students to upload exams making it that much easier to cheat successfully.
But what's cheating anyway?
Some parents inadvertently set the seeds of dishonesty come homework time. Ann Rimkus, a Guelph, Ontario, mother of two boys, says she remembers how involved her own mother used to be with her homework.
“You could pretty much give her the reigns and she would go to town,” she says, admitting she herself tries hard not to interfere too much with her son’s homework, although the lure is there to become too involved.
Forget writing that essay for your child. Most teachers say kids who bring homework projects to school, which are obviously aided by an adult, are easy to spot. Teachers know how your child performs in class so a sharp deviation stands out. You’re not helping your child at all.
What to do about it
Rimkus says she hasn’t yet had a talk with Nolan, who is seven, about cheating, but she’s sure he knows what it is. He recently told her that the students in his Grade 1 class were told to place folders up around spelling quizzes to keep roaming eyes at bay.
Dr. Peskin suggests parents talk about cheating early with their kids, posing it as just one facet of general honesty. Young children love to role play moral dilemmas before bed. Keep it fun. Above all, don’t focus so much on grades. Students who think that a dishonest ‘A’ is better than a hard-won ‘B’ continue to cheat. Praise learning, not the result.
And don’t forget to be honest yourself. Trying to weasel your way out of a speeding ticket with tots in tow isn’t the best way to instill values you want to foster in your kids, or their overhearing you make an excuse not to go to that meeting when you’d rather be sitting by the pool. So next time you’re tempted to play fast and loose with truthfulness, repeat after me: “Cheaters never win, winners never cheat.”
There. Are you happy now, Mrs. May?
Get them while they're young
Whether it’s ‘over-editing’ your son’s pioneers-in-Upper-Canada project or letting your five-year-old daughter take an extra turn while playing Candyland, parents’ unintentional lessons in bamboozling start early. Instead, teach honesty from the get-go to get your kids off to a cheat-free start.
Explain the consequences of cheating.
Such as, “Other kids won’t play with you if you’re known as the cheater.”
Talk about what cheating is.
Very young children often don’t understand truth versus deception. Discuss
right and wrong, fair and unfair in simple, unthreatening ways.
Don’t turn a blind eye.
Even for a little offence – such as butting in line – which seems harmless at the time. Ignoring the problem gives the message that cheating is OK.
Tell your kids how much you appreciate them – even when they make mistakes.