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Does Your Child Cheat? Should You Care?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Responsibilities & Values

According to the Educational Testing Service (the folks behind the SAT test), 86% of high school students believe cheating is widespread, including copying someone else’s paper, buying a paper or test answers, having someone take a test for them, or copying-and-pasting material from the Internet and pretending the copied work is their own.

So the answer to the question, “Does your child cheat?” is “probably.” If your child hasn’t cheated yet, she probably will soon, since she likely believes everyone else is cheating. In any event, she probably knows someone who cheated and got away with it. According to ETS, while in the past cheaters were assumed to be failing students desperate to raise a grade, these days cheaters are as likely to be top students anxious to out-perform everyone else.

Part of the problem is our focus, as parents and as a society, on grades instead of on learning. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was intended to end social promotion by requiring verification that students actually learned grade-level curriculum, instead has devolved into manipulation of test scores to make schools look good. Even their teachers cheat to gain test score points and even to achieve their own professional credentials.

A recent study at University of Washington found that people who cheat don’t feel very guilty about it. In fact, they may experience what scientists called a “cheater’s high.” This feeling of self-satisfaction doesn’t appear to be a result of what cheating actually got cheaters – it didn’t matter that they earned a good grade or were able to save a few dollars on their taxes. What made cheaters feel good after cheating was the thrill of cheating itself.

None of this is good news. So the next logical question is, “Do we care?” If cheating is widespread, does it matter if our own kid cheats?

Only you can decide. But here’s something to consider. Many otherwise-capable professionals suffer from what’s known as the Imposter Syndrome. Even though they are successful in their fields, they feel they aren’t as good as everyone says they are. They feel like a fraud and they fear being found out someday. Found out and kicked out. I bet you know someone affected by the Imposter Syndrome. It keeps people from trying too hard and risking failure. It makes people anxious. It makes people hop from job to job, always, they think, one step ahead of being exposed.

Cheating and the Imposter Syndrome are partners. Cheating convinces us we’re not good enough to survive on our own. The Imposter Syndrome makes that feeling a way of life. I don’t wish either of these feelings on any child I care about.

So to me, cheating does matter, not only because it’s dishonest, but because it hurts the person who cheats. How about you?

Do you think cheating matters?


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.