If your child is caught cheating on a test in school or during a competitive activity, your first reaction is likely to be rage, the second, betrayal and shame, and the long term, suspicion. Even though cheating is legion in our society, nobody wants a “cheat” for a child.
Here's the deal: Cheating is very common (whoa, hold on, I'm not asserting that it is okay). Lawrence Kutner, author of Your School-Age Child, cites surveys showing that up to 70% of all students admit to having cheated at least once in high school. That's a lot of cheating. Why?
Competition is fierce in this world, and kids understand very early in life that they are expected to achieve. Since they are still developing their sense of ethics, most kids see nothing wrong with the fastest path between two points, even if that path uses cheating.
This culture gives people a silent message that cheating, as long as you are smart enough not to get caught, is perfectly all right. Going against cultural messages is hard, and the parent who tries to do so risks being labeled old-fashioned.
If your child is caught cheating:
- Try to understand the why of the cheating. Cheating is a symptom of other problems, and the best way to get your child to stop cheating is to treat the underlying problem.
- Check the competition level in your child's life. Cheating is often a sign of too much stress being placed on grades or winning. Try switching to noncompetitive sports for awhile to take the stress off.
- Don't expect too much from your child. Cheating is often a sign of a child having trouble with parental expectations. What is your message about grades and achievement? Is your child feeling too pressured? Would a tutor or coach help? Stress the process of good study habits and time organization, not just the grades that result.
- Give your child the message that cheating is not acceptable. To do this effectively, you'll need to examine your own behavior. The parent who cheats on taxes and keeps the extra change is teaching his child that those behaviors are acceptable.
- Don't label him a cheater. Kids tend to adopt their labels—they believe them, and they become them.
- Show your child that you understand, and sympathize with, the stress he's under.
- Talk with him about the cheating incident, but watch that you don't corner him into lying about it.