A few years ago, I came across a group of boys playing ball. All but one were running around the field while a lone boy sat on the sidelines crying.
As a mom, my attention was instantly drawn to the tears.
"They won't let me play," he whimpered.
"Because he was cheating," was the unison response from the field.
It seems the penalty for cheating (in this game, at least) was swift and simple. You know the rules, you broke them. Therefore, you get to sit on the sidelines. But as recent events in national sports media have shown, somewhere down the line the perimeters that define dishonesty on the playing field, in the classroom, or at the workplace have turned into murky, easily justifiable shades of gray. Excuses have replaced personal accountability.
So as society watches high-profile sports figures make excuses for themselves, what can we do as parents to be sure the importance of integrity, honesty and fair-play remain a constant influence on the lives of our kids?
1. Talk about it
The rules against cheating should be a regular conversation with your children in different settings. Don't assume your child will never consider cheating.
"Watch how children play board games or card games, and you'll be surprised by the competitiveness, sometimes deteriorating into cheating," writes Karin A. Bilich in her article The Cheating Child. "Kids under the age of 5 generally don't attach any moral value to cheating. They're just playing. Kids between the ages of 5 and 7, however, will get a bit more sneaky with their cheating."
Make sure your child understands your stance on cheating and what the expected punishment will be for dishonesty.
2. What is the motivator?
Society places an incredible amount of pressure on winning, ranking and coming in first. Often kids respond to that pressure by cheating as a way to live up to those expectations.
In the Parenthood.com article, Why Children Cheat and What To Do About it,_ Darrell Rud, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals said he sees cheating behavior "emerging in first or second grade, when students are given increasing numbers of worksheets and the level of difficulty can cause them to feel overwhelmed. The intention is not to cheat, but to keep up."
Other times, the child simply prefers the easy path. Why study when the kid sitting next to you is willing to share answers for the test? Also, the ease with which information can be accessed through technology has changed the pathway for researching school-assigned papers. While the "P" word is a cardinal sin in the writing industry, some students fail to see they are, in fact, plagiarizing when they cut and paste online information to pass off as their own work. How could something so easy be so wrong?
"They know that cheating is wrong," wrote Joe di Prisco, author of Right From Wrong: Instilling A Sense of Integrity In Your Child. "Every healthy conversation around plagiarism and academic dishonesty is really about focusing on the kid's strengths. Kids want to do the right thing, but you need to connect the dots for them. Kids don't want to misrepresent themselves, so you need them to see that this is exactly what they are doing when they pass off someone else's work as their own."
3. A parent's message
Cheating is wrong, yet sometimes the child's actions are a response to the message parents are sending out. Is your focus on the grade or the learning? Does your child need to be the leading scorer, or is it more important she learn the value of teamwork? As a parent, your voice carries more influence than you may think. And if you are one who believes winning at any cost is the goal, your child will find a way to achieve it, even if it means cheating.
This is an opportunity for you to step back and evaluate what you value and the example you set. Are you doing your child's science project for her to secure her spot in the winner's circle? What message are you sending to your child? Are you angry your child brought home a "B" when you emphasized that he needed to earn an "A?" During the process of teaching our children to make choices based on integrity, can we accept the reality that this may mean our child will come in third?
"Kids cheat when they become stressed," explained Eric Anderman, Professor of Educational Psychology at The Ohio State University and co-editor of the book Psychology of Academic Cheating in the article Why Kids Cheat and How To Stop It. "The trick is to diminish the motivations that drive cheating in the first place."
Anderman added that as the pressure to get good grades and high test scores increases, so does the incidence of cheating. He says that although children who cheat in school do not fit any defined profile, they're usually students "who are much more focused on getting good grades and extrinsically motivated rather than intrinsically motivated by a desire to learn."
We want our children to do their best whether it is on the basketball court or the classroom. But, more importantly, we want to be sure our children can identify the merits of honesty and the advantages it creates in the future. By instilling those values within the home, our children will score big based on their own efforts and will be better prepared for the road ahead.