How To Talk To Your Kids About Cheating
Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.
For the last year I've been working with NBC's Dateline on their “My Child Would Never Do That” series. We started with an episode on what your child would do if she was a bystander to bullying. The series has continued with topics like drunk driving and stranger danger.
For some of these episodes I've facilitated conversations between parents and kids to show how parents can guide their children through these tough topics. One of the most important insights I've taken away from doing this series is that
Last Sunday, the topic was kids and cheating. To help parents, I've come up with some tips.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Cheating
Teaching our children honesty and why not to cheat can be more complicated than it seems. Why? Because we live in a world of mixed messages where the external rewards of winning often seem to outweigh the internal rewards of achieving honestly. From reality show characters who boast, “I didn’t come here to make friends” as a way to justify undermining and deceiving competitors to athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs, our children often see adults acting out the opposite of what many parents want to teach their children.
Use the bad role models in the media as examples. When you see someone in the news who has cheated or been dishonest, ask your kids why they think their behavior is against your family values.
It’s not enough to tell your children to be honest or do the right thing. Talk to them about specific situations in which being honest will be hard—like seeing the questions before a test—and about what you expect them to do. Admit that it doesn’t always feel good to be honest.
If your child is caught cheating, here’s what you can do:
Dig deep. Sometimes children cheat because they feel tremendous pressure to get the high grade or win the game. You need to find out why it was so important to your child to achieve his goal that he was willing to do so dishonestly.
Remind him that the faster he admits what he’s done, the less anxious he’ll feel, and the less trouble he’ll probably get into.
Don’t let your anxiety rationalize getting your kid out of trouble. It’s easy to become too worried about the long-term impact of having something on a student’s permanent record, but if you truly want to raise a child with integrity and self-confidence he has to see that you (1) will hold him accountable when it matters and (2) believe he has the strength of character to get through the process.
Express disappointment, but see this as the learning opportunity it is. Your kid may get really angry at you for holding him accountable, and that’s okay.
Remember that most of us develop integrity through a process of being tested and having adults we respect guide us along the way.
And be sure to watch the last episode about racial discrimination. It airs Sunday May 6 at 7 p.m. EST. It's guaranteed to be a great discussion starter with your kids. I know I'll be watching and talking about it with mine.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle.