Your Teenager Was Caught Cheating at School. Now What do You Do?

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.”

Coping with Head Injuries and Your Teenager

Coping with Head Injuries and Your Teenager

Anne, the mother of 14-year-old Davey, had a dilemma.

It started when Davey recently suffered his third concussion while skateboarding. It only took a quick trip to an ER to confirm that he had experienced a concussion. However, since Davey seemed all right, Anne was getting pressure to allow her son to resume his normal activities. She felt like everyone was giving her similar advice. Even Davey’s pediatrician said to her that “Davey needs to be in school.”

But Anne wasn’t convinced. While even her husband and her mother sided with the pediatrician, Anne, a psychologist specializing in work with children and adults with traumatic brain injuries, was aware of what the research told her. For instance, she knew that new research is suggesting that younger brains are more vulnerable to insult and injury than are adult brains.

And she was aware that although there is increasing concern in the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and Major League Baseball about concussions sustained by professional athletes, children’s brains are still developing and are even more susceptible to the effects of a concussion than professional players. Furthermore, she knew of studies that showed that children can face up to a 70 percent reduction in brain functioning after a traumatic brain injury.

Anne told her husband, who thought that Davey should just carry on with his usual life, that NHL star Sidney Crosby had a concussion in January, 2011, and by late March was still not playing.

“Everyone was telling me to do something that I just wasn’t comfortable doing,” Anne said. “What I had to realize was that despite rising concerns about concussions in sports, most people outside of professional sports were not aware of the research and what should be expected when a teenager has a concussion.”

Anne finally took the only position that made sense to her. She insisted that Davey stay home from school and be given time to recuperate. “I wanted to take the pressure off my son by not forcing him back to school and homework,” Anne remarked. “He needed to rest before resuming his normal, active life style.”

She also became an advocate and an educator with the people she came in contact with. This included her family, the school, and even her pediatrician. “I began to tell people about the research and the results of studies about brain injuries in children and teens,” Anne said. “I wanted them all to be better educated about the potential hazards of concussions.” However, she found that most people thought that if kids looked physically fit, then the best thing was to push them back into their school routine and their active life.

But, Anne faced another dilemma as Davey recovered. Davey had set a goal of becoming a professional skateboarder. While she never really embraced skateboarding, she realized he was a talented skateboarder who perhaps had a future in the sport – at least before his third concussion.                “I was convinced that he should never skateboard again,” Anne said. “Even though he always wore protective equipment, including a helmet, it was evident that if he continued skateboarding he would have more concussions.”

She knew she couldn’t just tell him to stop doing a sport he loved. Middle teenagers, like Davey, have a strong oppositional streak and when told not to do something they enjoy are likely to defy their parents. She knew she needed to educate her son about his brain and the potential consequences of repeated brain injuries just like she was trying to educate adults. Davey, she knew, would have to make his own decisions but he needed to have enough facts and information so he could make better choices.

She tried to explain how the brain works and she emphasized that what might seem like a minor head injury to a teenager can affect attention, memory, and concentration – all brain skills that will be vital for the rest of his educational life, but also for his adult career.

While at this time it is still on on-going process for Anne and Davey, as well as for Davey’s husband and other family members, Anne is convinced that having the facts will help Davey to make an informed and rational decision.

The facts, though, are still developing as research continues. Even professional sports teams are still learning more about the dangers of head injuries. Parents and kids can constantly monitor new reports while making sure – to the best of a parent’s ability – that their teen not only is alert to concussion symptoms but takes every possible precaution to avoid new head injuries.

Determining the Cause of Declining Grades in High School

Determining the Cause of Declining Grades in High School


If your child has always done well in school until they entered high school, you may be concerned as to why they don’t achieve as well as they did in elementary school or middle school.

This is a concern for many parents of high school freshman and sophomores this fall. For example, Diana said her 16-year-old son Joshua had always attained A and B grades until he started high school.

“We thought he would continue to receive excellent grades in high school,” Diana said. “But we noticed he began failing tests. He’s a sophomore now and his grades continue to drop as they did throughout his first year.”

Diana described Joshua as a talented football player who could receive college scholarship offers. “He is really a great kid,” she said. “Josh has a great group of friends who are involved in sports at school and they are all excellent students.  He never causes us any concern at home – except for his school grades.”

She says that Joshua seems to want to do well at school and he appears to try hard to pass tests and get good grades. “However,” Diana says, “he is very disorganized and he doesn’t want to take our advice about organizing his school work or changing his study habits.”

Furthermore, Diana says she and her husband have tried studying with Joshua, and they’ve done a lot of talking to him about what could be going wrong and how he needs to try harder to be successful in his academics. “But what we’ve found is that no matter what we do it doesn’t works,” Diana explains, “and he doesn’t seem to have the same kind of commitment to academics as he does to football. We’ve noticed that when he says he is studying he seems to be daydreaming rather than concentrating on his work.”

Diana and her husband wonder if they should be punishing Joshua or whether he needs some kind of professional help.

If you have a teenager with a similar problem, there are several possibilities that could explain the lack of success at school.

Many teenagers at about the time they start high school are trying to cope with all of the changes they have to endure as adolescents. Physical changes and puberty, relationships with the opposite sex, and trying to find a way of fitting in with their peers often take precedence over studying and grades. The perils of figuring out who they are, finding their way with peers, and beginning the process of becoming more independent from their parents leads some teens to become withdrawn and depressed.

However, there is at least one other possible explanation for the downhill slide in academics at this stage in their lives. A great many students had success prior to high school, but they got by on the basis of compliant behavior in the classroom along with intelligence and a good memory. However, high school is different. It requires more organization and study skills which some students never developed.

In the case of Joshua and other young people, their disorganized approach to school work along with attention problems create difficulties which they cannot overcome just by continuing to behave in the classroom and by being smart. While Joshua may not have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, he apparently does a lot of daydreaming and he is disorganized.  He may, therefore, have attention deficits which need to be addressed.

It is not uncommon for adolescents like Joshua, who have attention and organization problems, to resist advice from their parents. Many of them deny the symptoms that go along with attention deficit problems, which include a short attention span, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, because they don’t want to be tagged with a disorder. Because of their concern about not living up to the standards for academic excellence in their families, they sometimes become depressed. But depression is not the cause of their academic difficulties. Rather, it is a by product.

If this sounds like your teen, it would be important to have them evaluated by an experienced child and adolescent psychologist who has assessed many previous students for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Ruling ADHD in or out would be a first step in determining the cause of the declining high school grades. Once the difficulty has been identified, then it can be dealt with both by you and your teen.