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Does the Internet Teach Our Children to Cheat?

By Paul O’Reilly

It is possible that the Internet and the use of cell phones and smartphones encourage teens to cheat on their school work? Yes, suggests a new study by the Benenson Strategy Group commissioned by Common Sense Media.

An online poll of 1,013 students in grades 7-12 produced some surprising results. Over half (52%) of the teens admitted to some form of cheating involving the Internet, most notably copying text from web sites and turning it in as their own work. More than a third of teens with cell phones (35%) admit to cheating at least one with them, including texting friends for answers or searching the Internet during tests.

As well as copying text (38%), Internet cheaters also downloaded papers or reports and turned them in as their own work (21%) or searched the Internet to find published solutions to the textbook they were working on (32%).

In addition to texting friends (25%) and searching the Internet (20%), cell phone cheaters also stored information on phones to look at during tests (26%) and took pictures of a test or quiz to send to their friends (23%). Asked whether they had seen or heard about other people in their schools cheating with cell phones, 65% replied that they had.

There appeared to be no significant differences in the frequency of cheating between private and public school students or honors students vs. non-honors students.

When it came to parents, there was a clear mismatch between their view of other students’ behavior as a whole and what they believed their own children were up to. Over 75% of parents said that Internet and cell phone cheating went on at their child’s school but only 7% and 3% respectively believed that their own child had ever been involved!

Interestingly, although half the students interviewed said they believed that using cell-phones during tests was a serious cheating offense, that number increased when it came to copying text from web sites (58%) or downloading papers and turning them in as your own work (64%).

Clearly the all-powerful Internet and possession of devices that provide 24/7 access have presented opportunities to take short cuts that are too tempting for the average teenager to resist. A missing piece of the survey is the attitude of teachers and school authorities to the existence of this hi-tech cheating, which surely must come as no surprise.

If nothing else, the study again illustrates the gap that exists between perception and reality when it comes to parents and how they view their kids’ use of technology!

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