Cheating and Technology: How Teens Do It

Most parents expect to hear cheating stories that include formulas written on wrists or knees, crib sheets hidden under a desk, or the infamous "flying V" (where students fan out diagonally from the person they intend to copy). But, it’s essential parents begin including calculators, cell phones, and other connected technology devices (e.g. iPod Touch) in this list. More and more young people are using these devices to cheat in school, and because this technology doesn’t fall under traditional anti-cheating instruction, many students don’t even consider it to be unethical.

If parents keep current, keep communicating, and keep checking, they can help their child learn to use connected technology responsibly and ethically in and out of the classroom.

Keep Current

Know how young people are using technology to cheat. In a poll by Common Sense Media, 35% of the students surveyed admitted to using a cell phone to cheat; however, only 3% of the parents surveyed believed their child had been involved in a cheating incident 1.

Common cheating methods include:

  • Storing notes on a cell phone or calculator.
  • Sending text messages with questions, answers, or pop quiz warnings.
  • Looking up answers on the internet.
  • Using a cell phone camera to take pictures of the test.

Many young people don’t realize these behaviors are unethical because so many are immersed in the culture of free information available on the internet. For example, according to the study:

  • 23% of respondents said they didn’t think storing notes on a cell phone was cheating.
  • 20% said there was nothing wrong with texting friends about answers during a test.

In addition to cheating methods, be aware of what your child’s cell phone policy at school. Your awareness of the realities of technology and cheating, plus your support of school rules can help create a school climate of honesty and responsibility.

Keep Communicating

The results of the Common Sense Media study reveal a significant disconnect between parents and children when it comes to ethics and communication. Assume your child has been exposed to some form of cell-phone-"friendly"-test-assistance. Let your high school/middle school student s read the results of the study, and ask direct questions about their cell phone use.

Calmly and openly discuss the ethics and consequences of taking cell phone pictures of tests, or informing a friend about a pop quiz. Be specific as you discuss the ethics of each situation.

Discuss a plan of action for receiving test materials or updates in unsolicited texts from friends.

Help your children learn how to draw the line between "being nice" and cheating.

Keep Checking

Keep talking to your children. Help them discuss ideas for avoiding pressure to cheat or "copy." If your child has cheated or has friends involved in cheating– inform the proper authorities at the school. The goal is to help children learn the necessity of academic honesty and build a school culture that supports this ideal.


1Common Sense Media & Benson Strategy Group (June 2011). Cheating Goes Hi-Tech. Retrieved from

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