Teens Cheating in School

Archived Q&A and Reviews


16-year-old was caught cheating on a test

Oct 2008

My 16 year old daughter just got caught cheating on an English test. What is the very best way to handle this situation?

It seems like an isolated event, a lapse in judgement rather than part of a pattern? I think the natural consequence came about in the situation and there's not much more you really have to do in terms of creating consequences. I would probably try to talk about it in an open, questioning way... ''What happened?'' Other questions, ''Why did you do it? Was it worth it?'' may communicate judgment and shut her down. Wouldn't any of us feel stupid and humiliated if we were caught doing something we knew was wrong? Is there anyone who hasn't ever made a mistake? I guess I'd let her know that I'm disappointed, but everyone makes mistakes, and I'd really like to hear about what happened. Anon

I thought it might help to post a letter I received and answered in my newsletter. Cheating on tests is, unfortunately, incredibly common. Current national surveys put it at about 75%, that is, at some time in their high school career 75% of students will cheat or plagiarize. Cheating and plagiarizing is also supported and even encouraged in a variety of different ways and teens see it constantly. I've done extensive surveys on cheating and most kids say that they cheat as a ''time management'' device insofar as they are over scheduled and usually have to choose between devoting time to one subject over another. Copying another's homework, downloading work from the internet or using some other means to cheat is rampant and common, especially among ''good'' students. Here is my response, below. Additional resources are available online at www.practicalhelpforparents.com. Thanks.

Dear Michael,
I am seeking advice on how to handle our dealings with our 17 year-old daughter in regards to her getting caught cheating on her final. I received a call from the Dean today about her having to appear before some kind of school organization that handles these kinds of violations of the student rules. I\x92m trying hard to keep this in perspective, but I\x92m upset and trying to help steer this to some positive outcome. What do you think?

I think the most important thing is to let your daughter take the lead on this, so that she can restore her sense of integrity and feel that she is \x93making things right.\x94 That means nobody else can do it for her. I can understand your wish to \x93steer\x94 this well for her, but the strongest support you can give is to help her brainstorm the situation and try to come up with her own sense of what needs to be repaired. When someone cheats on an exam, relationships get strained and trust gets broken. How does one respond to breaches of trust, and allow for mistakes but still take responsibility? What does it mean to cheat? What does it mean to \x93make things right?\x94 To me, the most positive outcome would be for your daughter to have to deeply struggle with the choices she made, to think back on what happened and actually recognize that she had choices, and to try to figure out why she didn\x92t listen to her own voice which probably told her that even though she might need to cut corners, it probably wasn\x92t a good idea, in the long run, to cheat. I bet that voice was there\x97why didn\x92t she listen to herself? What got in the way?

I think that if you and others support her in thinking and feeling through these questions, she\x92ll know what to do, and will probably come to some of the same conclusions you want her to\x85but it will be much more powerful if she can find them for herself, rather than being told.

michael [at] practicalhelpforparents.com


Middle schooler falsely accused of cheating

Feb 2008


My child was recently accused of cheating on a test. Teacher says yes, child says no. Child has to date always been honest and trustworthy, as best we know and can tell (really). It will not be in child's (middle school) records, but child is very upset. How to proceed down the path of either acceptance and/or resolution so this experience doesn't haunt my child forever? Note: mom had similar experience in 5th grade and still feels (but not acts on!) the injustice of it all. Anon.

I'm sorry that your child is having this very difficult problem with a teacher. I served for a number of years on a committee that dealt with academic misconduct among university students, and a very common problem was lack of clarity about what precisely constituted ''cheating.'' Another problem was the instructor's impression that s/he was disrepected by the student who ''cheated.'' You don't give very much information in your post, but still it strikes me that a conversation in which the parents and the child and the teacher speak together in a rational and non-blaming way about this issue could be very productive. All of you seem to have a point in common: you believe in academic honesty. You could present the issue in this way: we are concerned about academic honesty in our child and in our child's classroom and so we would like to talk about this incident. What precisely was perceived to have occurred? What harm does the teacher feel this incident caused the class and/or the student and/or her feelings of being respected? How might your child and the teacher have perceived things differently? How can you avoid these differing perceptions in the future? A simple declaration of ''I didn't do it'' countered by a ''Yes, you did'' does not address what precisely was done and how precisely it infringed on classroom ethics. An expression of respect for the teacher's work and the ideal of academic honesty from your side might help, while more clarity and understanding from the teacher's side would help as well.
a professor

As a parent but also a teacher, I have found that parents find it hard to believe their child could cheat but even the best ones do on occasion. Believe the teacher. It is amazing how prevalent it is. Gone are the days when a teacher could sit and do paperwork while a test is going on. Children have to avoid any hint of cheating - they have to keep their eyes on their paper and not look at another's.
parent and teacher

''Parent and Teacher'' says parents ''find it hard to believe their child could cheat but even the best ones do on occasion. Believe the teacher.'' I know stealing isn't cheating (as such) but I have a story for you:

My son was accused by a BHS teacher last year of stealing a calculator I'd bought - to replace one stolen from his backpack (in her class!). He was told the model I'd bought him(Craigslist) was ''too good''for a student and must belong to one of the teachers, so she took it away.

To get the it back I had to write a note attesting to having bought it. The teacher then suggested maybe I'd bought stolen goods...and I told her if I did, it was still in Walnut Creek not Berkeley --

I also told her if that calculator was ''too good'' for my son she could trade him for one like his original, and keep the ''better'' one for herself.

I secretly hoped she'd apologize to my son -- but she just traded calculators and said nothing.

The harm she did my son would have been 10 times as great if I hadn't believed his story -- Instead, I backed him and resolved the problem without making it worse than it was.

And no, he's not in her class anymore. That's a different story. Calculating Witch/Mom

Hi, original poster here. We 1) had a civil conversation with the teacher about whole thing, 2) got full story from our child 3) could not convince teacher or even get teacher to listen to number 2), and 4) are now supporting our child 100% and trying to move on. In that order. P.S. Technically it was not ''cheating'' (because my child was seen waving a paper around and the other student involved DIDN'T ask or even WANT to look at my child's paper, so didn't look), but improper conduct during a test, we all agreed upon. Thanks all! Disappointed with (Some) Adults