How Teens are Using Technology to Cheat

It's No Longer as Simple as Copying a Classmate's Test

Teens use smartphones to cheat in creative ways.
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When you were in school, cheating included looking at a neighbor’s paper or copying a friend’s homework. The most scandalous attempts to cheat most likely involved a student who wrote the answers to a test on the cover of his notebook.

Cheating in today’s world has evolved. Technology makes cheating all too common and too easy.

A whopping 35 percent of teens admit to using their smartphones to cheat on homework or tests, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Sixty-five percent of the same surveyed students also stated they have seen others use their phones to cheat in school.

Why Teens Cheat

Sadly, cheating often becomes normalized among teens. Many of them don’t even recognize that sharing answers or using a homework app could constitute cheating.

For those who are well-aware that their behavior constitutes cheating, the academic pressure to succeed may outweigh the risk of getting caught. They want to get into top colleges and they want to earn scholarships for their grades. They feel the best way to gain a competitive edge is by cheating.

Other students are just looking for shortcuts. It seems easier to cheat rather than look up the answers. Or, rather than studying for a test, using a smartphone to cheat seems like an easier option.

Teens with busy schedules may be especially tempted to cheat. The demands of sports, a part-time job, or other after school responsibilities can make cheating seem like a time-saving option.

There’s also a fairly low risk of getting caught. Technology has evolved faster than school policies. Many teachers lack the resources to detect academic dishonesty in the classroom.

Finally, some teens get confused about their parents’ values. They assume their parent would rather they cheat than get a bad grade.

It’s important to educate yourself about the various ways that today’s teens are cheating so you can be aware of the temptations your teen likely faces. Let's look at how teens are using phones and technology to cheat.

Text Messaging During Tests

Texting is one of the fastest ways for students to get answers to test questions from other students in the room—it's become the modern equivalent of note passing. Teens hide their smartphones on their seats and text one another, looking down to view responses while the teacher isn't paying attention.

Teens admit the practice is easy to get away with even when phones aren't allowed (provided the teacher isn't walking around the room to check for cellphones).

Storing Notes

Some teens store notes for test time on their cellphones and access these notes during class. As with texting, this is done on the sly, hiding the phone from view. The internet offers other unusual tips for cheating with notes, too.

For example, several sites guide teens to print their notes out in the nutrition information portion of a water bottle label, providing a downloadable template to do so.

 Teens replace the water or beverage bottle labels with their own for a nearly undetectable setup, especially in a large class. This, of course, only works if the teacher allows beverages during class.

Copying and Pasting

Rather than conduct research to find sources, some students are copying and pasting material. They may plagiarize a report by trying to pass off a Wikipedia article as their own paper, for example.

Teachers may get wise to this type of plagiarism by doing a simple internet search of their own. Pasting a few sentences of a paper into a search engine can help teachers identify if the content was taken from a website.

A few websites even offer complete research papers for free based on popular subjects or common books. Others allow students to purchase a paper. Then, a professional writer, or perhaps even another student, can complete the report.

Teachers may be able to detect this type of cheating when a student’s paper seems to be written in a different voice. A perfectly polished paper may indicate a ninth grade student’s work isn’t his own.

Crowdsourced sites such as Homework Helper also provide their share of homework answers. Students simply ask a question and others chime in to give them the answers.

Social Media Sneak Peak

Teenagers use social media to help one another on tests, too. It only takes a second to capture a picture of an exam when the teacher isn’t looking.

That picture may then be shared with friends who want a sneak peak of the test before they take it. The photo may be uploaded to a special Facebook group or simply shared via text message. Then, other teens can look up the answers to the exam once they know the questions ahead of time.

Homework Apps and Websites

While many tech-savvy cheating methods aren’t all that surprising, some methods require very little effort on the student’s part.

  • Numerous free math apps such as Photomath allow a student to take a picture of the math problem.  The app scans the problem and spits out the answers, even for complex algebra problems. That means students can quickly complete the homework without actually understanding the material.
  • Other apps, such as HWPic, send a picture of the problem to an actual tutor, who offers a step-by-step solution to the problem. While some students may use this to better understand their homework, others just copy down the answers, complete with the steps that justify the answer.
  • Websites such as Cymayth and Wolfram Alpha solve math problems on the fly—Wolfram can even handle college-level math problems.  While the sites and apps state they are designed to help students figure out how to do the math, they are also used by students who would rather have the answers without the effort required to think them through on their own.
  • Other apps quickly translate foreign languages. Rather than have to decipher what a recording says or translate written words, apps can easily translate the information for the student.

Talk to Your Teen About Cheating

Two-thirds of parents have never had a serious talk with their child about cheating. Many of them don’t think it’s necessary because they assume their child would never cheat.  

Don’t assume your child wouldn’t cheat. Often, ‘good kids’ and ‘honest kids’ make bad decisions. Make it clear to your teen that you value hard work and honesty.

Talk to your teen regularly about the dangers of cheating. Make it clear that cheaters tend not to get ahead in life.

Discuss the academic and social consequences of cheating. For example, your teen might get a zero or get kicked out of a class for cheating. And even worse, other people may not believe her when she tells the truth if she becomes a known cheater. It could also go on her transcripts, which could impair her academic future.

It’s important for your teen to understand that cheating can take a toll on her mental health as well. A 2016 study found that cheaters actually cheat themselves out of happiness. Although they may think the advantage they gain by cheating will make them happier, studies show cheating causes people to feel worse.

How to Deal with Cheating

Deciphering what constitutes cheating in today's world can be a little tricky. If your teen uses a homework app to get help, is that cheating? What if he uses a website that translates his Spanish into English for him?

You may need to take it on a case-by-case basis to determine whether your teen's use of technology enhances or hinders his learning. When in doubt, you can always ask the teacher directly if using technology for homework is acceptable.

  1. To help prevent cheating, take a firm stance. Tell your teen that you don’t condone cheating of any kind and you’d prefer a bad grade over dishonesty.
  2. Stay involved in your teen’s education. Know what type of homework your teen is doing and be aware of the various ways your teen may be tempted to use his laptop or smartphone to cheat.
  3. Help your teen develop a healthy moral compass by being an honest role model. If you cheat on your taxes or lie about your teen’s age to get into the movies for a cheaper price, you’ll send him the message that cheating is OK.
  4. If you do catch your teen cheating, take action. Just because your teen insists, “Everyone uses an app to get homework done,” don’t believe it.
  5. Find out why your teen is cheating. Is he overscheduled? Is he afraid he can’t keep up with his peers? Is he struggling to understand the material? Ask questions to gain an understanding so you can help prevent cheating in the future.
  6. Remove privileges for a specified period of time. Sometimes the loss of privileges - such as your teen’s electronics - for 24 hours is enough to send a clear message.
  7. Allow your teen to face consequences at school as well. If he gets a zero on a test for cheating, don’t argue with the teacher. Instead, let him know that cheating has serious consequences.

It’s better for your teen to learn lessons about cheating now, rather than later in life. Cheating in college could get him expelled and cheating at a future job could get him fired or it could even lead to legal action. Cheating on a future partner could lead to the end of the relationship.

Make sure your teen knows that honesty is the best policy. Talk about honesty often and validate your teen’s feelings when he’s frustrated that the students who cheat seem to get ahead, without getting caught. But assure him that in the end, cheaters really are only cheating themselves.

Sources:

Common Sense. 35% of Teens Admit to Using Cell Phones to Cheat. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/about-us/news/press-releases/35-of-teens-admit-to-using-cell-phones-to-cheat#. Accessed June 27, 2016.

Lenhart A. Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015. Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/. Published September 2015. Accessed June 27, 2016.

Stets Jan E., Trettevik Ryan. Happiness and identities. Social Science Research. 2016; 48: 1-13.  doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2016.04.011

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