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Parenting Solutions: Cheating (page 3)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 31, 2010

Step 2. Rapid Response

Do know that most kids will cheat at something, but whether they continue to do so often depends on how we respond. These responses help your child learn from this experience:

  • Stay calm and do not overreact. Yes, it is hard, but it's the best way to respond. Chances are this is a minor, first offense and not some deep-seated psychological problem. Do let your child know you are disappointed and tell what you saw or heard. "I just saw you move the ball. That's cheating." "I reread your report, and you copied most of it straight off the Internet." Be brief: merely state your observation and stick to facts.
  • Be private. It's best to cite your observations quietly in a one-to-one conversation rather than when your kid is with others. Public accusations of cheating usually only aggravate the situation, and your kid will most likely deny the accusation.
  • Do not label your kid "a cheater." This is both unhelpful and counterproductive. Focus on the child's action, not her character. "Moving the ball is cheating." "Copying your friend's answers is cheating."
  • Tell where you stand. Make it clear that cheating isn't how you want her to get the good grade or win the game, and that you expect honesty. "I expect you to do your own work and not copy your friend's answers." "I expect you to play by the rules."
  • Hear your kid out. Try to determine the reason she copied her friend's work or plagiarized the report so that you can develop a solution if necessary. Does she feel overwhelmed with no time to study? Then create a solution by cutting one activity to make time. Does she say the class is way too hard? Set up a conference with the teacher.
  • Assess her moral reasoning. Does she feel at all guilty? Does she apologize or say she will try not to let it happen again? Does she blame the teacher or peer and not take ownership? Does she say this isn't a big deal and that everyone else does it? If so, those are signals telling you to monitor not only your child's behavior but also her moral development. (See Not Knowing Right from Wrong, p. 191.) Your kid may need more intense honesty lessons. Although they will take time, don't deviate from that aim.
  • Set a consequence for repeat cheating. If despite all your efforts your kid's cheating continues, or if this is a repeat offense, it's time to set a consequence and make your child accountable. For younger kids caught cheating in a game, simply stop playing. "That was cheating again. It's not fun to play when you don't play fair. I'm going to stop playing now, and we'll try again later." Older kids who cheat on tests or plagiarize reports should be required to redo the assignment. A Redbook magazine poll found that 65 percent of parents said they would alert the teacher if their kid cheated; 35 percent said they would keep quiet to protect their child.13 If you catch your child, call the teacher and make your kid face the consequences.
  • Meet with the teacher. Find out what is really going on. Is your child prepared? Is she struggling and in need of a tutor? Is this a past problem? Or is she just taking the easy way out? Let your child know in no uncertain terms that you and the teacher will continue to monitor her schoolwork and that she will be held accountable for cheating. If she is accused, don't be so quick to blame the teacher. Instead, step back, be open minded, and gather the facts. As tough as this may be to hear, your child may be cheating.
  • Seek help if the problem continues. If cheating still continues, spend some serious uninterrupted time with your kid coming to an agreement on how further cheating will be prevented. Chronic cheating can be a symptom of an emotional struggle, peer problems, a learning difficulty, or even a more serious antisocial behavior issue that should be addressed. Seek the advice of a trained mental health professional if cheating continues or intensifies. (See the Pay Attention to This! box.
Pay Attention to This!

When to Worry

As much as we'd like our kids always to follow the straight-and-narrow path of honesty, the fact is that cheating is a common (but inappropriate) child behavior. Almost any kid may bend the rules, so your role is to help your child recognize that honesty really is the best policy and to make sure that cheating does not become a habit. But there are times you should seek help for your child from a mental health counselor, a child guidance clinic, or a psychologist to help you decipher what's really triggering this behavior:

  • Cheating habitual. Despite your efforts, your child's cheating is a chronic problem.
  • Reputation at stake. Peers, teachers, coaches, or parents see your kid as dishonest and label her a "cheater."
  • Other behavioral problems. Your child exhibits other troubling behaviors, such as stealing or lying, setting fires, acting out, bullying or being mean to animals or peers, acting defiant or aggressive.
  • No guilt or remorse. Evidence shows that your child is cheating, but she lies to cover it, sees nothing wrong with her actions, and displays no shame or guilt.

Step 3. Develop Habits for Change

  • Teach the lacking skill so that your kid doesn't cheat. Is your child plagiarizing because she doesn't know how to write a report? Does she cheat because she doesn't know how to lose? Does she copy the other kid's homework because she doesn't have the study skills to do it on her own? Ask the teacher for suggestions on how to teach the missing skill, and if you don't know how to do it, consider hiring a tutor.
  • Acknowledge honesty. Certainly we should tell our kids that it is important to be fair and honest. We also should let them know how much we appreciate their being truthful whenever they are. So do acknowledge your kid's honest efforts: "I really appreciate your honesty. I can count on you to say the truth." Do be sure to recognize her especially anytime she refuses to give in to peer pressure: "I know it was hard to say no to your friend. I admire how you stood up to him and told him he couldn't copy your paper."
  • Teach ways to buck the temptation to cheat. Tweens especially feel the urge to give their homework or test answers to a peer, usually because of the need to fit in. Bullying is also rampant these days, so check to make sure your child is not being threatened to supply answers. Standing up to a peer is hard at any age, but particularly during the years of ten to fourteen (when cheating also begins to peak). Discuss strategies to help your kid stand up to peer pressure or teach a few of the ones that follow. Just make sure you help her rehearse them over and over until she can confidently use them on her own. (See also Peer Pressure, p. 373.)
    • Say no firmly, then don't give in. Say no to the peer using a friendly but firm and determined voice.
    • Repeat your decision. Repeat your decision several times: "No, it's not right," "No, it's not right." It makes you sound assertive and helps you not back down.
    • Tell reasons why. Give the person the reason you're saying no so as to help strengthen your conviction not to proceed with what you've been asked to do: "I worked too hard to give you my paper." "It's against the honor code." "I could get a lower grade."
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