Talk to Your Kids About Cheating: 10 Conversation Starters

Have you caught your child cheating?Have you caught your child cheating?It is so easy to fudge the numbers, inflate the accomplishments, and highlight personal achievement. Children learn from a young age that winners receive glory, whereas losers receive questions. Sure, schools and sports teams have tried to make everyone -- even the 10th place finisher -- feel good about their accomplishments, but this strategy has backfired. Rather than discouraging cheating, it has led to an expectation of recognition.

Moms, you know that the buck stops with you.

Talking to your kids about cheating is no exception. While schools and sports teams should support your messages, it is the home that must set the pace and spell out the expectations of good sportsmanship and excellent academics. Ten conversation starters make it possible.

1. How do you use your electronic devices?

A cell phone is a middle school student's gateway to the Internet. Is your 12-year-old child tempted to play with her phone during a test? Discuss the right -- and wrong -- uses of gadgetry.

2. What is your definition of "sneaky"?

Writing formulas or vocabulary words on the hand, onto the desk or onto a paper hidden inside a sleeve are just some examples of sneaky cheats. Find out what your child considers to be sly. Be prepared to hear some tales of friends and schoolmates, and discuss the behavior without disparaging the other children.

3. Do you feel loved and supported in your academics?

Children who know that parents have their backs are less likely to cheat in school. A supportive home environment nurtures natural curiosity and inspires healthy risk-taking, even if the results are bad grades and failed assignments. Nevertheless, these activities foster learning. A home that values grades above all else, on the other hand, creates an atmosphere where the end justifies the means.

4. What happens when you get a bad grade?

Does your child speak of feeling sad when the marks are down? Does he worry about his future? Does the youngster express fears of parental punishment? Take stock of your child's answers and recognize what might cause him to cheat. Sadness, anxiety and fear are strong motivators to use deceptive tactics in an effort to avoid the unpleasantness.

5. Do your classmates (or teammates) cheat?

Never discount peer pressure! You would be surprised how many good students and excellent athletes cheat just because they see their peers do it. If your child witnesses dishonest behavior in school or in sports, there is a good chance that she will try it herself. Talk about peer pressure, cheating and the importance of honesty.

6. How was your week?

It sounds innocent enough, but what you are ferreting for are signs of stress. Overwhelmed youngsters will look for shortcuts that help to fit all the school and extracurricular activities into seven short days. If you need "people" to keep your child's schedule straight, the odds are good that he needs a break. Cut back on extracurricular activities if your child appears to be overwhelmed, admits to cutting corners or cops to cheating.

7. How do you feel when you lose a game?

Moms are good at observing a child's behavior and attitudes when a game ends. Even so, ask your child how she felt when she messed up the shot, missed the kick, fell off the beam, or failed to make that perfect serve. Look for strong emotions such as shame, guilt, pressure to perform, fear of letting down a team or coach, and of course for feelings of low self esteem. As you talk about these issues, emphasize the importance of good sportsmanship, which begins with the player's fairness to herself and her values.

8. How would you feel if I lied to you?

This is a loaded question but well worth the exploration. Ask the child to explore his feelings if a trusted person, in this case it is mom, were to knowingly deceive him. Let the scenario play out so that your child can think through the gamut of possible emotions and thoughts. At the end of the discussion, turn it around. Ask your child if he realizes that other people feel this, too, if he were to cheat.

Thus far, you have assumed that you are inoculating your youngster against the Siren's song of the quick fix, the dishonest cheat or the blame-shift. Yet there are two questions to ask when you catch your child cheating, or are informed -- by a teacher or coach -- that your child has been caught in some form of dishonesty.

9. How did cheating make you feel?

You are not looking at the aftermath of the action, especially when the child got caught and had to face the embarrassment of being singled out. Instead, you want an honest assessment of the child's feelings as she was in the midst of doing the deed. Did she feel true to herself? Did she feel cool, like a team player, concerned about teammates, selfish, or perhaps ashamed?

10. Why did you cheat?

In all my years of having children doing sports, you would be surprised to see the number of parents that launch into tirades and lectures when junior is caught cheating during a game. Even in the school setting, parents immediately turn into lecturers. Going by the wayside is the simple question of "why." Before you tackle the issue of cheating, ensure that your child knows you love him -- unconditionally. Once you reach this common ground, simply ask him why he cheated. Take it from there.

By the way, cheating is not the kind of issue you tackle in one sit-down conversation. Instead, it takes numerous talks, conversations and a lot of question-and-answer sessions before you can hope to put the topic to bed for good.

Content by Sylvia Cochran.