A Note from The Principal: How Parental Pressure Can Cause Kids to Cheat

AUTHOR: | POSTED: August 21, 2012 | COMMENTS: 8 Comments
CATEGORIES: A Note From the Principal,

Carolyn Savage

I’d like to think of myself as my kids’ biggest cheerleader.  I try to support them in everything they do.  I want them to reap the rewards of their hard work, and sometimes that means offering encouragement when they’re wanting to quit.  My drive comes from the notion that the taste of success,  breeds the desire for more success.  What mom doesn’t want their child to be successful? 

So I encourage, and I cheer, and I push (delicately) and I prod (gently) in hopes of motiviating my kids to do their personal best!  But I’ve learned from my years as an educator that the fine line between healthy encouragement and damaging pressure is easily blurred and when crossed can do serious damage.

Case in point, Scrabblegate! 

Last week the world was rocked (okay not the whole world…but the Scrabble playing world…which I didn’t know existed until last week…but I digress…) by a cheating scandal at the Scrabble National tournament.  The player was ejected for hiding blank tiles in his lap in hopes of using them to bolster his word score during his next match.   Beyond my obvious shock that a National Scrabble Tournament existed (who knew?), I was doubly befuddled when I learned the culprit was only thirteen years old. 

What would cause a seventh grader to feel the need to cheat at Scrabble? 

The answer is simple.   Kids cheat when they’re stressed and the most common source of stress in a child comes from parental pressure. 

But I don’t pressure my kids…do I?

I admit, that in the heat of a competition or in the the face one of my kids’ failures,  the unedited thoughts that fly through my head are most inappropriate.  It happens when I see Drew running a race slower than expected, or when Ryan brings home a disappointing grade.  It’s my own disappointment that I can barely contain, and when the bad news hits–in those first few seconds–I am thankful for my ability to clamp down on my tongue.  It’s a skill that I developed during my years as a principal,  and it’s an exercise in self control that I’m grateful I have. 

Or, wait…do I have that skill?

I’m not so sure.  My kids can see when I am obviously disappointed because no matter how well I can control my mouth, my facial expressions are notoriously visible.   And I’m not sure that shielding them from disappointment is the right way to go, either.  It’s a delicate walk down the road of life’s lessons, and in the end I think it’s paramount that my children understand I have high expectations that they will do their personal best, but no matter the outcome, I will love them unconditionally.

My heart goes out to the young Scrabble player who learned an important lesson the hard way. Hopefully he’s got a good support system of adults who can help him learn from his mistakes, and move on to other successes.

In the meantime, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions to help parents define the line between encouragement and pressure.  It’s a list I wish I would have sent home to my school families back in my principal days.  I think it would have been helpful!

Swallow Your Desire to Pressure Your Kids.  Children will cheat when they feel that there is no other path to living up to high expectations.  Make sure your child knows that you expect them to do their PERSONAL BEST and that there ‘s a difference between personal best and the best!   

Reward with Caution.  When your child is successful at a given task, go ahead and praise them but do it correctly by commenting on their efforts and not the end result.  If you choose to reward the success (i.e. paying for high grades) make sure your child understands you are rewarding their hard work. 

Talk about Your Child’s Challenges.  Make sure you are checking in often with your child about his/her academic and extracurricular activities.  Inquire about their stress levels and ask if they need any help with their more challenging activities or courses.  Coaching kids through challenges can bolster a child’s self-confidence and help them to learn how to cope with disappointing outcomes.

Talk about Pressure to Cheat.  Rest assured, one way or another, your child will either be approached by another to cheat, or witness a classmate cheating.  Discuss with your child how he/she can set a precedent with peers by sternly declining to participate.  Role play how they can say, “no”, and explain that by not cheating they are protecting themselves and the other student(s) involved.

Take Advantage of News of Cheating.  It seems that we are all too often bombarded with news of athletes or businessman getting caught cheating.  When a news story presents itself use it as a teachable moment with your child.  Nothing is better than pointing out the damage that is doen when the integrity of a celebrity is tarnished through cheating. 

Remember, They’re Watching.  Regardless of what you say, your kids learn the most from your actions.  Little “white lies” or shortcuts to a desired outcome can make serious impressions on the minds of our kids.  And by all means, shower your children with stories of your own mistakes and how you learned from them.  It’s important to show that not only are you not perfect, but that you don’t expect them to be perfect either.

Going Green When Packing Their Lunches – Give Away

 Sticking with the spirit of back to school week, I’m giving away some really cool bags  from the Itzy Ritzy line of reusable lunch gear.


The concept behind Itzy Ritzy designs is to reduce lunch packing waste by doing away with disposable containers. 

From their website…

Itzy Ritzy Mini Snack Bags are washable and reusable snack bags made for little hands, snacks, fruit, sandwiches, school lunches, travel, crayons, cellphones, makeup, keys, license, toiletries, and much more! Goodbye ziplock bags, hello reusable, machine washable snack bags! Waterproof lining keeps contents securely inside. Help reduce the huge amounts of plastic bags going into the trash each day by using these washable, reusable snack bags. 100% cotton exterior is fashionable and fun, 7-inch by 3.5-inch reusable snack bags come in packs of two and are a wonderful, green alternative to plastic baggies for your lunch, snacks, daycare, school, work, litter free lunch programs. FDA approved & BPA Free, eco-friendly Snack Bags are lead free, phthalate free and CPSIA certified!

It’s my pleasure to have a gift bag of Itzy Ritzy resusable lunch packing bags to give away this week!   All you need to do to qualify for the give away is comment below by sharing your thoughts on why kids cheat or how we can help them to feel less pressure from parents.

Good luck!

8 Comments on “ A Note from The Principal: How Parental Pressure Can Cause Kids to Cheat ”

  • Rosemary Fisher | August 22nd, 2012 7:05 am

    One thing I have done in my home, raising 2 teenage sons, is slightly lower the bar on grades–which was a very hard thing for me to do, since I was a straight A student, including though my Masters program. It became clear to me early on in there school years that although they might not be straight A potential in every single class (most, but not all!), they definitely can consistently make 85 or above. I realized I would only cause undue stress if I expected something that might not be possible, for whatever reason. Although I would much rather see them make straight A’s, I do feel it took off a little pressure for them. We do reward them for straight A’s (they do pull it off some times!), and then take away privileges if grades happen to fall below 85 in any class. All in all, we are all learning together!

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  • Carolyn Savage | August 28th, 2012 8:40 am

    Rosemary, I like the 85 rule (although that’s barely a B around here). I think lowering parental pressure with regards to grades could possibly lead to higher performance for the right reasons! Great tip!

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  • Faith Szink | August 22nd, 2012 10:27 am

    My son (now a 6th grader) puts so much pressure ON HIMSELF that I had to start his year LAST YEAR by saying up front, 5th grade is about learning, and having fun. (Not allowing the stress of trying to achieve “a grade” to enter the equation, which sometimes meant closing the books in order to get plenty of sleep each night and asking for help when he needed to) I made it clear that the grades didn’t matter to me. I told him that if he was LEARNING and having fun, the grades would be there. Much to his surprise, when HE stopped putting so much stress on himself, he had a much happier year. It was unfortunate to have him come home week 2 of middle school already this year and say a boy was trying to cheat off of him in math. He decided to handle it by speaking with the teacher himself and asking to remain anonymous, because he feared that the boy may hold it against him for “telling the teacher.” It was definitely weighing heavy on his heart and he felt he had to say something. I praised him for the courage it took to do that. It is not always easy to do the right thing.

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  • Carolyn Savage | August 28th, 2012 8:44 am

    Wow. You have a brave little boy! Speaking up in the manner in which he did was super smart. Hopefully the teacher handled it discreetly!

    And, I’m glad to hear that you are teaching your little guy to take the pressure off himself! I think teaching how to keep things in perspective it a skill that often parents don’t realize needs to be taught (and modeled)!

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  • Jesabes | August 22nd, 2012 10:39 am

    My daughter is only 3, but I can already see how self-pressure might turn out to be a problem for her. She loves to learn and is very exacting about getting things right. I was the same way, so I suppose at least I’ll know what she’s going through.

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  • Carolyn Savage | August 28th, 2012 8:47 am

    Isn’t it amazing how you can already see their personalities shining through at such a young age? Good to know now what some of your future challenges may be with your little one!

    Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!

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  • Grandma Honey | August 22nd, 2012 12:18 pm

    I kept a quote I read in Reader’s Digest last year:
    “Treat a person as he is, and he will remain as he is.
    Treat him as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

    I think cheating and not telling the truth are cousins. If our children are honest they will not have a problem with either one of these.

    I was never much into punishing my children. Especially for saying a non truth.
    (I never liked to use the word ‘lie’ either.)

    Children are not “liars” anymore than they are “thieves.”

    They are little humans who come into this world not knowing much.
    They need to be guided and encouraged, not labeled. My opinion anyway.

    Okay, this is what I did. Disagree with it all if you would like.
    1. Don’t ever ask a question to your child you already know the answer to. Don’t say, “Did you hit your brother?” when you just saw that he did. I believe this encourages children to lie.

    2. Don’t punish a small child for not telling the truth. This will usually make them just try harder next time to lie better. It doesn’t seem like it should work this way, but it does! Don’t ever ignore it either. Instead, look them straight in the eye and say kindly and bluntly, “It’s important you always tell the truth.” Sometimes I added, “I need to always be able to trust you.” and then leave it at that.

    3. Praise them often for telling the truth when you know they have, by saying, “Thank you for being honest. I know I can count on you.” Don’t go overboard but state it matter of fact….like ‘of course I can count on you.’ not, ‘oh my goodness I can’t believe you told the truth!’

    4. Don’t use the word “liar” or “lie.” Those are labels they do not need. They do not deserve. They are children with unfinished brains.

    5. And the most important one of all. Be honest. If your children watch you make up stories to get out of things, they will probably do the same.

    Just my little take on honesty passed down from my parents.

    Sorry this is so long Carolyn, but can I say one more thing? I think what you did by giving Logan back to his parents, was the greatest act of honesty and truth I think have ever known. Your children will all be blessed all of their days by your example of goodness and truth.

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  • Carolyn Savage | August 28th, 2012 8:48 am

    Wow…what wonderful advice! Almost a blog post in and of itself!

    Love it when you comment! XOXO

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