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My Child Cheated?!

Research indicates that twenty - two percent of children begin to cheat in the first grade. By eighth grade, forty nine percent of children admit to having cheated, and seventy-five percent of freshmen high school students cheat on their exams.

From these numbers, it’s clear that cheating is an issue which most parents will face at one point or another in their child's lifetime. Why do children cheat? And more importantly, what can parents do to prevent their children from cheating in school?

Some children cheat in school simply to see what it feels like. “Does the end justify the means?” is the unspoken question in their minds. These children are the ones who will cheat once or twice, perhaps discovering that the payoff for cheating isn't worth it, and will then return to studying hard and being honest. Other children, however, cheat because the end does, indeed, justify the means. Cheating “whether on homework or on an exam” can bring great rewards, especially in the high pressured, achievement oriented city in which we live.

Almost from birth, parents in New York are asked, “Where are you sending him for preschool?” Everyone "knows" that if you don’t get your child into a good preschool, his chances of getting into an Ivy League University at age 18 are practically nil. And a good preschool is only the beginning. Many parents hire professionals to "coach" their children on the ERB’s (the entrance exams for Kindergarten) so that they’ll be accepted into the best of the private schools. Throughout elementary, junior high and high school, children are tutored one, two, even five days a week to enhance their academic abilities. Why all this pressure? The answers parents give range from "That’s just what you have to do when you live in New York City," to "I want the best for my child. I want to give him the opportunity to thrive academically." But what message does the child hear? Well, unless parents are very knowledgeable and experienced in the field of communication, and unless they are very careful on top of that, the child hears "My parents love me if I achieve. I have to get "A's" and do well in school so I can earn their love."

So, what’s the big payoff for cheating? Love. And is it worth it to your child? Of course. What children want most in the world from their parents is to be loved. If your child feels she has to earn your love through what she accomplishes she will lie, steal and cheat to accomplish bigger and better things. Nothing is as important as your love, not your anger, not her fear of being caught and not even her fear of or experience with being punished.

If it's important to you that your child not cheat in school, then take the pressure off. You can still be supportive and encouraging about study habits and hard work, and you can still show that you value a good education without your child getting the message that you’ll only love him if he does well. To do this, keep these points in mind:

Be a role model - what are you studying right now? Does your child see you making an effort towards increasing your own knowledge in some way? Do you read in front of your child so she can see it's value? When education is something that all the members of a family value, the child is more capable of separating her educational achievements from how the members of her family feel about one another and about her.

Emphasize process, not product. Report cards and exam grades are the product of the child's work, not the process. Focus on the child's efforts in his day to day learning, calling his attention to his feelings of pride in working hard and honestly.

Downplay your child's report card. Focus instead on how she feels about her grades. Does she think she did well? One child came home with a report card of mostly "A's," a few "B's" and one "C." Her mother asked "How do you feel about your report card?" The daughter beamed. "Great!" she said. "I got the best report card!" Mom beamed too and wisely replied 'I can tell you take a great deal of pride in the honest, hard work you put into school." By the end of the next term, the "C" had been raised to a "B." By complimenting her child on the process - honest, hard work- she gave her child the motivation to apply herself in a weaker area. The child's thought was "I work hard, and I’m honest." Some parents think they must point out a lower grade to their child, so that the child will work harder in that subject next time. What they fail to take into account is that children notice these things on their own. Pointing out their weak areas only makes the child feel as though the hard work they put into their other subjects makes no difference. After all, Mom or Dad only seem to notice and point out the poor grades. The child's thought is "I'm a failure. Even if I work hard and I’m honest, I still can't get all "A's." What's the use?"

Examine the underlying messages you send your child about schoolwork. Is there a possibility that your child has mixed up your pride in his achievements with your love for him? Remember that this is dangerous. Children will go to great lengths if they think it will earn your love.

Discuss cheating with your child. Children need to hear what cheating is and why it's wrong. Because cheating is often difficult for adults to define, it's no wonder that it may be confusing to children. One father said that his son was calling up a friend to "discuss" homework every night. While the school encouraged a "buddy system" so that classmates could exchange ideas and learn from helping each other, this father was concerned that his son would simply get the answers from his friend. Where do you draw the line? The rules regarding cheating must be clear cut for a child to be able to adhere to them. This means that parents must first think through for themselves what those rules should be.