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FIRST-PERSON: They’re going to cheat anyway …

Editor’s note: A version of this column originally ran in 2002. This column is being re-posted in light of recent studies regarding teens and sex.

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“Young people are going to do it and there is nothing that can be done to stop them,” the so-called experts declare. “Therefore they should be instructed on how to do it responsibly and done so in a way that is amoral.”

The aforementioned represents the current conventional wisdom in approaching young people about premarital sex. It is said to be the only rational and common sense approach to the issue. Anyone suggesting an abstinence message is scoffed at and branded puritanical, at best, and an irresponsible fool at worst.

It is interesting to note that the “we can’t do anything about it” approach is taken only in regard to teen sex. All other serious issues facing young people are approached in a much more “legalistic” fashion. Although teenagers historically have engaged in a variety of risky behaviors with potentially negative consequences, sex is the only activity in which we are told we must surrender.

Cheating, for instance, is an activity that young people have engaged in since chalk was invented. And several studies indicate that the deceptive practice is on the rise. With increased competition for admission into top colleges and graduate schools, some students succumb to the pressure and cheat. They plagiarize, share answers, steal tests, buy term papers and/or utilize cheat sheets all in an effort to obtain an eye-popping GPA.

It is clear that students are going to cheat and nothing can be done about it. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply foolish and/or living on another planet. I propose that we take the same conventional “common sense” approach that currently is utilized in reference to unmarried sex and apply it to cheating.

Classes should be introduced and students instructed in the pros and cons of cheating. A variety of effective study methods should be presented and the virtues of each extolled.

Care must be taken so this instruction is accomplished in an amoral way. Students should not be given the impression that cheating is somehow inherently wrong while being told studiousness is virtuous.

Since there will be those who are going to cheat, no matter how much they are told not to, there should be instruction on how to cheat effectively and discreetly.

But information alone will not be enough. In order to ensure that we do not stigmatize those who choose to cheat, an area must be set up where a student can have access to the best in cheat sheets and plagiarized papers. Cheating paraphernalia must be dispensed discreetly and without cost. There should be no barriers to keep students from cheating once they determine that they are ready to cheat.

If a student chooses to access the cheating materials, should the school tell the parents? Of course not! If parents were to find out, they might overreact. They might even revert to the Stone Age practice of grounding the student. Many parents don’t realize that just because a student experiments with cheating once or twice it doesn’t mean they are cheaters. Who knows, in experiencing cheating a student might realize that he or she is not really ready for the emotional consequences of cheating and will return to studying.

When you apply the current conventional wisdom used in approaching the subject of teenagers and premarital sex to any other subject — like cheating, alcohol, drugs or tobacco — you see just how foolish it really is.

Any behavior that has the real potential of adversely altering a
teenager’s life should be discouraged, not encouraged.

Will we ever stop all students from engaging in premarital sex — or cheating? No. There will always be some who will embrace that which is harmful. However, that is no justification for waving the white flag of surrender. Let’s give virtue a chance.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each Friday in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs