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December 28, 2010 > Op Ed: Five tips to curb your child's cheating ways

Op Ed: Five tips to curb your child's cheating ways

Submitted By Dr. Michael Hartnett

As technology has evolved to provide a vast wealth of information at any time and anywhere, cheating has never been easier. From classmates receiving completed homework via a mass e-mail to answers popping up on iPhones during a test, cheating has become as simple as text messaging. Here are five ways to prevent your teenagers from falling to such temptation, assuring you that they are attending school to learn rather than to learn how to cheat.

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 how else can parents truly know what their teenagers are doing at school and what he/she is actually learning? A good sign that a teenager is cheating is the absence of substantive work. Naturally, teenagers can claim that they didn't have any homework, and while such a claim is possible, it is highly unlikely night after night. When students don't ever open textbooks or complete assignments from them, the parents should also be suspicious. Yes, teachers can give materials online or as attachments (and increasingly do so in this cyberage), but again the students should be able to concretely show how they have completed those assignments, too.

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 technology that their lives seem barren without being able to text message a friend or check online constantly about anything or everything. Yes, students can multi-task, but can they uni-task 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. It provides a great opportunity to improve their concentration skills without distractions, so necessary to achieve well on standardized tests like the SAT and to be better prepared for the demands of college and the workplace.

Indeed an argument teenagers will make is that they need the internet/computer to complete whatever assignment is in front of them. Unfortunately, they are often right, especially given the fact that they will type up many of their assignments, so much so that a laptop almost becomes an appendage of the student. However, teenagers also greatly exaggerate their need for the computer, and 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 to use their various electronic devices to complete 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 the 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. In other words, you will have to address some hard questions that every red-blooded American teenager will ask: "Mom and Dad, 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?" Unfortunately, a cerebral 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, 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 A's 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?"

Dr. Michael Hartnett has been a high school English teacher, college professor, and SAT instructor/tutor for more than 20 years and is the author of "The Great SAT Swindle." For more information, please visit www.MichaelHartnett.net.

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