Coping With A Cheating Child

classkid generic image of high school kid boy youth in class classroom
The Saturday Early Show's family and adolescence counselor Mike Riera tackles the subject of cheating -- why some kids think it's okay to cheat and what parents can do to prevent it.

Cheating among children and teen-agers is nothing new, but many educators believe it has become an epidemic.

Now that children are becoming Internet-savvy at a younger age, plagiarism from Web sites is creeping down into the elementary schools. While many children have admitted in surveys that they have cheated on occasion, they stop short of characterizing themselves as cheaters -- and some have an interesting way of rationalizing their actions.

If you have a question for Mike Riera about dealing with your teen, send an email to with "Ask Mike" in the subject line. Or write to "Ask Mike" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. Your question may be featured on future shows.
When "Who's Who Among American High School Students" surveyed some of the nation's top achievers, 40 percent admitted cheating on a test or quiz. A total of 65 percent admitted that they'd copied someone else's homework. In fact, many educators say they're seeing more cheating than ever -- and at younger ages.

Cheating can range from notes written on the palm of the hand to Cliff Notes to Internet plagiarism. With so many Web sites (including homework help sites and others that boldly bill themselves as cheating sites), students know that the chances of being caught are slim.

Here is some of what Mike has to say on the subject.

Are children really cheating more than they ever did?
Not sure if there are more, but there are, at least, as many.

Do you think the Internet is contributing to the problem?
Yes, information is more readily available -- close to 100 Web sites available for essays and papers. The Internet is this generation's version of Cliff notes, only it's much more powerful.

On some level, kids know cheating is wrong. So why do they do it?
Many, many reasons: better grades, get into a good school, everyone else is doing it, trying it out to see what is like to break the rules, because they can.

What should you do if your child is caught cheating?

Take a few deep breaths.

Expect their first defense to be denial (lying). Be patient, like when they were six. Stay patient and calm, and ask the question in a variety of ways. Expect at least two or three denials before they cop to it.

When they cop to the cheating, tie it to a sense of guilt. The more they cheat, the less guilty they feel, so we need to bring back the guilt.
Work with the school. The upside is that the school prescribes and enforces the consequences.

What can schools do? Are anti-cheating policies effective?
Schools need to both monitor closely (make it difficult to cheat) and to have an honor code that is alive and talked about. Some colleges and high schools have an assembly for new students about the honor code, even having students sign an honor code book in a ceremony at the conclusion of the assembly.

How can parents help to prevent cheating in the first place?
Make it a priority. Talk with them about it before it becomes a problem.
Include the topic in every conversation around report card time. "Remember, like we stress telling the truth in the family, we want you to have integrity in your school work. We much prefer you get a lower grade than ever resort to cheating."

Kids need this constant reminder of your focus on the effort and process of education over the final outcome of grades.