One of my children cheated on their homework. This was terrible. A really bad infraction of the rules, a breakdown in moral code, a gateway to even worse behavior—I was furious, hurt, sad, and feeling punitive. My ex-husband and I work on parenting together, so we planned a meeting of the three of us to confront the cheating child and administer punishment. Before this happened, my handsome fiancée solicited some advice from a learned person as to how we should handle this.
(Sidebar: If there’s any advantage to divorce, it’s that if the parents end up with great partners, the kids wind up with four parents… This may not be what the kids want, but it’s terrific for parenting if you all work together.)
The advice handsome fiancée received was that “You should not punish the cheating child.”
I couldn’t possibly have heard him correctly. But that’s what it was. No punishment. Here’s why: The experienced parent that we’d asked for advice claimed that if you punish them, the child will just cheat again and figure out a way to do it that you won’t catch them. His advice was to find out why the child was cheating and solve that problem. Did they not understand the homework? Did they run out of time? Were they just feeling lazy?
At first, my ex and I thought this approach was insane, but after more discussion, it really made sense. We went to talk to our child with a carrot not a stick. (Okay, maybe just a much smaller stick.)
Turns out our kid didn’t understand the homework. That’s an easy problem to fix. But what about the more difficult problem of cheating? We didn’t feel right about no punishment at all. So because the cheating happened with the help of technology, a certain app was removed from my child’s phone for three weeks. Then came the real consequence—letters of apology needed to be written and delivered. First to the teacher (who had remained blissfully unaware of the cheating for now). Then to the friend who helped them cheat. This we saw as less of a punishment and more of a consequence. Semantics, maybe, but this consequence hurt more than the app removal.
The letters were written, approved by us, and delivered to the injured parties. That day, the teacher wrote back a beautiful note stating she was proud of the admission and looked forward to helping our student continue to learn. Phew.
We all learned something. If you cheat, you’re going to get caught. If you do the right thing and come clean, you’ll feel much better. And if you ask for advice (this is for the parents), you’ll probably make a more informed and often better parenting decision.
This week I wish you truth and positive consequences.