Cheating All The Way To The Top

We want our kids to be successful. We tell them to work hard and get good grades. Higher grades will be rewarded, we say. That may or may not be true. There ARE rewards, however, at the high school level. There are potential scholarships and prestige at stake for those with high GPAs. 

Let us not forget that we teach by example, and they are watching us ever so closely. They observe and record all the little hypocrisies in our lives--all the "white lies" we tell, and maybe even ways in which we steal. In addition, we may even enlist them to lie for us. The phone rings…“Tell him I’m in the shower and can’t talk right now.” What parent, especially one who is on a budget, hasn't been tempted to benefit from another’s mistake? Example: The cashier accidentally gives you too much change. This is a moment for some quick rationalization, all of which is observed and recorded by the child at your side. 

We tell our kids to do the right thing, but we don’t drive the speed limit because no one else does. We see non-handicapped people parking in handicapped spaces. For those minor untruths and financial advantages, we tell our children it doesn’t matter. No one got hurt (other than a mega-multi-billion dollar company who won’t miss it, and it was someone else’s fault anyway). 

Considering what most kids see at home, added to the media portrayal of “normal”, it‘s no wonder many kids in school cheat. The reason? “No one is getting hurt. Everyone else is doing it. I have to get a good grade if I’m going to get into college. If I don’t pass, my parents will ground me.”

Who does cheating hurt? Everyone. Caught or not, cheaters develop a dependency on having an unfair advantage. It might even prove to be addictive and qualify for a 12-step group. 

Whatever happened to instilling integrity in our kids? Growing up, I had religion to instill guilt, and the fear of purgatory. But what happens when faith in a higher power holds no sway (teens still do question their faith, don’t they? Or was that a '60’s thing?)?

Maybe we should focus more on the fundamentals of true happiness and psychological well-being. I wish I knew as a kid what I know now--that my sense of personal self-esteem depends on perceiving myself as trustworthy, capable, respectable, and loved for who I really am, or as Pinocchio says, “a real boy.” By cheating, I am robbing myself of that pillar of emotional well-being and peace of mind. 

It might be safe to assume that people who cheat fear getting caught (which reduces happiness), but what about guilt? Doesn’t guilt get in the way of pride and self-assurance? Cheating hurts our sense of self. It feels natural to abhor cheating, and if I cheat, do I abhor myself?  

Have you noticed “Birds of a feather…?” It seems to me that cliques are partially formed by levels of integrity. Cheaters must hang with cheaters. Kids with integrity hang with other kids with integrity. It makes perfect sense that it should be that way, though of course there are exceptions. Who does your kid hang out with?

Maybe we need to spend less time telling our kids to get good grades and spend more time instilling in them the sense of honesty and fairness and the peace of mind that comes with it. How about “work hard, work smart and win the prize honestly"? When cheaters win, as they sometimes do, our kids can stand tall and be proud of their honest effort. What greater success is there?

Richard Tidyman

Grew up in Lakewood, graduated from LHS in '72.

Read More on Letters To The Editor
Volume 7, Issue 6, Posted 2:15 PM, 03.22.2011