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Help Your Teen Steer Clear of Online Cheating

How To Discourage Your Child From Online Cheating

As a parent, you probably praise the value of the Internet when it comes to your student doing research. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 87 percent of parents believe that the Internet helps their children with their homework.

"Most online teens see the Internet as a giant homework helper and many use email and instant messaging to get their friends and teachers to help them when they are stuck on assignments," says Lee Rainie, director of the project. "Those are certainly the main reasons that parents hope their children are online."

But there is dark side to the Internet that parents might be overlooking. Although you may closely monitor your children's use of the 'net to protect them from pornography and adult chat sites, do you know what your child is doing when researching a school project? Is it information they are logging on for or are they tracking down "cheater sites" for completed assignments to pass off as their own?

Just as there are dozens of online sites to aid students with their studies, there are as many overt cheat sites. They offer assignments that students can copy, paste, print and then pawn off as their original work.

Plagiarism is a timeless issue for academia. Copying another's work is nothing new, but the advent of the 'net has propelled the problem to a new level. For the unethical student, being online makes cheating faster and easier.

There are more than 200 "term-paper mill" sites on the Web, and new ones are being added daily. Popular sites brag about their tens of thousands of clients, and add hundreds of manuscripts to their databases each week. Some are free. Others, with more detailed research, charge prices per page ranging from $4.95 U.S. to a $35 U.S. or more.

Don't think your teen would take advantage of these sites? A study of 4,471 students from 25 U.S. high schools conducted earlier this year by Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University School of Management in New Brunswick, N.J. and founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, found that 52 percent of students admitted to stealing material off the Internet.

And most students are resigned to the fact that cheating is a normal part of learning. According to a U.S. News & World Report poll, 90 percent of students believe that cheaters are either never caught or have never been appropriately disciplined.

So what can you as a parent do to discourage your child from falling victim to the temptation to plagiarize?

  • Open Up. According to McCabe, parents need to discuss the issue to help children understand why cheating matters and what appropriate use of the Internet is. The professor also adds that parents need to "be willing to accept the fact that your child may not always be a student. Don't put so much pressure on them that they feel they have to cheat to satisfy parental demands or expectations."
  • Check Internet Browser's bookmarks. Plagiarized.com suggests if cheating sites are bookmarked, it could be a sign that someone is making use of them. Ask your family who bookmarked it and why. Your having asked indicates you are keeping track, and that you care about what they see and do on the 'net.
  • Take your child to one of the sites. Have them look at a weak paper (There are plenty of these on the Web!) and analyze its failures. They will learn something about writing and also see that what's available to download may not impress their teacher.
  • Discuss. Don't preach. Approach it as an issue of intellectual property. Discuss the ways people use one another's ideas. A "Don't Plagiarize" rule will generally be ignored like other rules (i.e. put commas between items in a list) and students are genuinely surprised when plagiarism carries a stiffer penalty than not using a one-inch margin.
  • Don't complain. Do not write to the maintainers of the Web sites to complain or threaten. Cheater sites turn complaints into publicity and gain enough recognition to attract advertisers.

And finally, Joan Brockman, professor of criminology and coordinator of the University Board on Student Discipline at Simon Fraser University, observes that she regularly runs into third and fourth year students who either don't know how to reference material or ignore what they have been told.

"How does one convince anyone to follow the law?" she says. "Some appeal to morality, others appeal to the threat of getting caught."

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