Your Teenager Was Caught Cheating at School. Now What Do You Do?
Jasmine, the mother of 15-year-old Julian, was concerned about his cheating at school. Jasmine had received a phone call from Julian’s Algebra teacher that she had discovered Julian cheating on a test and had given him a zero on the exam.
“This isn’t the first time he cheated at school,” Jasmine said. “This happened in another class a few months ago.”
Jasmine was concerned about what her response should be.
“How should I handle it?” she asked. “I feel like I should try to make him feel ashamed because he doesn’t seem to have any guilt about cheating. Should I discuss it openly at home? Should I tell his grandparents? Should I punish him.”
She said she had talked to him and learned that he was aware that other kids in his Algebra class were also cheating. Therefore, he didn’t think he did anything so wrong. “Everybody cheats,” he said to her.
“But with his attitude,” Jasmine said, “I feel like I should teach him a life lesson. But I don’t know how to do that.”
Many parents might feel the same way as Jasmine. If your child was caught cheating at school, you would like to not only stop it but also teach an important lesson in the process. However, like Jasmine, many parents may be perplexed about how to approach the situation so something positive comes of it.
But how should Jasmine – or you — handle it when your adolescent is caught cheating?
Although I believe that guilt is important in helping us regulate our behavior, I’m not sold on the idea of trying to shame a teenager in order to attempt to bring about a change in behavior. The self-image of teenagers is often too fragile for public shame or ridicule to be effective. Better ideas might be the following:
- Make your rules and expectations as clear as possible. For instance, after a cheating incident you could say, “You know how I feel about dishonesty. It’s wrong to cheat in order to get a better grade. No matter why you cheated, there is no justification. I don’t want you to ever do this again.”
- Try to understand what motivated your teen to cheat. Was he trying to get a better grade in order to live up to pressure on him to succeed? Was he doing it because he thought everyone else was cheating? Is cheating a habit or pattern for your child? The more you know about the motivation, the better able you will be to help him deal with the cause.
- Help your child to problem solve and come up with a viable plan so he won’t have to cheat again. Knowing why he cheated can help you help him to devise a strategy so he can avoid cheating in the future. If he feels there is pressure on him to achieve very high grades, then maybe you can help him to view the pressure differently or perhaps you can help ease this pressure.
- Be clear in reasoning with him as to why you think cheating is wrong. You may have personal scruples, a moral philosophy, or religious principles that lead you to believe that cheating is wrong. When talking to your child, tell him why you believe it is wrong. For example, you could say, “I strongly disapprove of cheating because it is morally wrong. I believe it is not right for people to seek to gain something through dishonest means.” Or, you could say, “I find cheating to be a very poor habit because if you get away with it you may come to rely on cheating and you may do it again and in other classes. The more you cheat at school, the greater the likelihood that you will risk a suspension or expulsion. If you cheat in the future in a job or work environment, you may be labeled as untrustworthy or you may even be subject to criminal charges. Cheating is a very serious matter.”