Monday, March 28, 2005

Cheating Online

Note: this isn't about sex, it's about honor, and raising morally responsible kids.

"The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson." Tom Bodett

Our local newspaper recently carried an essay about the Internet's role in the prevalence of student cheating today. It got me thinking, especially because college admission letters go out this week.

Getting into college is competitive as hell, a crap shoot for most, and kids with better grades arguably have a greater chance of success. How they got those grades, and how they will maintain them in college is another story.

Do kids really cheat by going online to find existing term papers and other projects, then turn them in as their own? Regrettably, yes. How did this happen? Get ready: we showed them the way. And gave them our tacit approval.

Ecommerce is booming, legitimately and below the radar. People are shopping online in ever growing numbers; everybody and their Uncle Ed is trading on eBay. The Internet offers so many choices: from mates to medicines to music, from stock transactions to money raised for charities and political candidates. Jobs, college admission and mortgage applications are submitted, opinions are exchanged, travel is planned, bills are paid, music is downloaded - and high school and college papers are bought and sold.

There's really no mystery to that. Today's Internet is all about Convenience and Commerce. With the speed of broadband, we expect easy, instant gratification. And we've conveyed this mindset to our children. The lines have blurred. We jump online to find a reconditioned DVD player on Amazon instead of trekking to Circuit City; why shouldn't our kids use the web to locate widely available "previously owned" term papers?

Plus, the Internet is a legitimate teaching tool in schools; online research is not only acceptable, it's encouraged. Kids no longer have to trudge to the library for an assignment, they can get more comprehensive information in the comfort of their own homes or dorm rooms with the click of a mouse.

So it's no big surprise that the next logical step in Johnny's mind is why spend hours slaving over a paper when he can get one ready-made online. Is it a moral quagmire? Of course. And it will only get worse unless parents step up and step in. Because unlike the online world, parenting isn't easy and convenient, it takes a lot of time and energy.

Frankly, we're so busy saving time online that we're forgetting to teach our kids the value of taking time to study and learn, and the importance of genuine personal achievement. We spend so much energy protecting our kids from perceived online predators that we're failing to protect them from their own rash and immature impulses.

As the pressure to excel in school, and to get into a top college continues to increase, our responsibility to support our children's better selves -and guide them away from their lesser selves- becomes even more critical.

If we have kids who are high school or college students, our jobs aren't finished. We buy their computers, we pay for their Internet access, and so we should set the standards, goals and rules to help them use those tools honestly and wisely.

The next time your kid gets a term paper assignment, sit down next to the computer and help with the research, review the various drafts, pitch in for the final edits. Encourage him or her to feel proud of such honest hard work... and hand out lots of praise for a job well done.

Oh, one more thing: make sure your budding little entrepreneur doesn't try to sell that diligently sweated-over term paper on eBay.

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