Teen Talk: Classmate’s leaning on her too much

DEAR KELLY: A guy who sits in my honors chemistry class is always asking me to see my notes, study questions, film notes, lab notes, etc. At first it was just that he forgot one time and I helped him out. Now he uses my work all the time.

He plays basketball and everyone knows him at school. He always tells me that he’s so busy practicing and doing stuff for basketball that he doesn’t have time to do all of his homework. So I feel bad for the guy but I don’t know what to do.

When I asked him why he was in honors chemistry and not regular chemistry, he said that he needs it for good grades so he can get a scholarship to a good college. He fails practically every test but he says that I help keep his grade at a C or B level by helping his with his homework.

Am I cheating, or just helping him? I would feel bad if I was cheating, but I want to help him, just not cheat because I don’t want to get caught and have it affect my grade. Every time he uses my work, I get nervous and hope the teacher doesn’t catch on.

I’m not sure how to do this or how to stop it. If I stop it, I think he”ll get mad and tell his popular friends that I’m not helping or stop talking to me in class, then things would be really uncomfortable. Don’t say tell the teacher because I won’t and be called a snitch. I even thought about switching classes and telling him I needed to do a schedule change, so then I don’t have to tell him the truth. Is that a good solution?

– Stuck Student

DEAR STUCK: Learning to disappoint people is a vital lesson you can learn as a young adult. It is one of the hardest lessons, but also one of the most important ones.

We are often taught from a young age to be kind and helpful to others. However, in some cases (like yours) people can take advantage of your kindness and generosity and expect more from you than is right or fair. The more you offer to help, the more favors they ask for and the more you start to feel used. People will take you for granted as long as you allow it. When the boundaries are crossed, it can be challenging to assert yourself and change the pattern of behavior.

You shouldn’t have to change your whole schedule just to avoid confronting him. It would be far easier to just deal with the problem than confuse and complicate your schedule. Think of it this way: Your education comes before his.

You are absolutely correct suggesting he be in regular chemistry rather than honors. If he can’t handle the advanced pace of the class, he has no business taking the class. He’s not doing himself any service by taking the class when he does none of the work and fails all the tests. What is he learning? How is this making him a better student? How will this prepare him for a “good” college?

To answer your question, you are allowing him to cheat and not helping him at all. You are contributing to his poor choices by allowing him to copy your work and take the credit for the grade he gets that he does not deserve. You are definitely not helping him and you are part of his cheating, which means you can get in just as much trouble as he can.

If you can, text him. This might be easier because you can tell him before he asks (or assumes) to use your answers again. If you send a text, be simple and direct. Something like “I’m not comfortable having you copy my homework or lab notes anymore. I’m afraid we will are going to get caught and I don’t want it to affect my grade. I’m sure you understand my position.”

If you don’t have his number, then you can just say something close to that the next time you are in class. If you say it casually and then move on to something else, hopefully he doesn’t have time to ask questions or make comments about it. If he does and you get uncomfortable, ask yourself who you would rather have angry with you – him or your parents or teacher when you get caught cheating?

Be prepared for him to be upset or angry. He has been skating by using your hard work. If he can’t handle school and basketball, then he needs to figure things out for himself. If he’s a true friend, he will understand and be OK with the boundaries you are setting. If he is a loser and has only been using you to better his grade, then he will stop talking to you and be rude. You will learn a lot about your relationship depending on how he handles you shutting the homework factory down and making him be responsible for his own grades.

He might ask you if you can “tutor him.” It’s a possibility – but only if he does the work and you are just there to help him with the process.

Stand firm. Hold your ground. Listen to your moral compass. Speak up. Don’t let your grades, or future, be in jeopardy for someone else’s lack of work, preparation or study skills.

Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.