By Dana Spencer
A teacher has discovered at least some in his class have worked collaboratively on an exam; in this scenario, group work on a test is considered academic cheating. The instructor emails the class letting the students know he is aware of the dishonesty. He offers a choice: a student may admit to cheating and take a 0 on the test with no further consequences or the student may take his or her chances, but if proven guilty will be suspended from school with notation of the offense on his or her academic record. This is only one story of hundreds of actual events coming out of distance learning. We discussed in our last piece how to have a conversation with our teens around academic integrity, but what do we, as parents, do if our child faces an accusation of academic dishonesty?
Watch the awfulizing; bad choices aren’t bad people
Awfulizing is when we take one moment of time and project it into a tornado of worst case scenarios: fearing our kid will be expelled from school, will never be accepted into a good college and/or hold a good job, will be a liar and a cheat in life…This is one mistake in one moment in time. Stay present and take one step at a time.
Don’t engage your teen if you are spiraling
Our kids need us to be calm, to be clear headed and to help guide them especially when they mess up. If you find yourself in a spiral, use what Brene Brown calls an SFD (I’ll paraphrase, a Sucky First Draft). Write down all your emotions, fears, get it all out, then go back and look at what’s true in this moment and what’s not. Repeat this process as many times as needed.
Check our judgment and embrace humility
Who among us doesn’t occasionally break the speed limit? Not unlike our kids, we tell ourselves stories like, “it’s okay everyone else is doing it,” or “it’s unlikely I’ll get caught” — even though in the case of driving it’s against the law. It’s important we remember compassion and empathy as we uphold expectations.
Resist the urge to punish
Punishing, such as grounding or taking away the phone, will shut down communication. Punishment says “I will decide for you how you will learn this lesson,” and often this means the life lesson isn’t learned at all. We want our kids to think about what he or she could do differently and how to make amends, not be focused on how mean, unfair or unreasonable my parent is being.
Give love and space
Give them and yourself at least a night to sleep on it. Time allows the story to evolve, emotions to calm and clarity to arise. Give your child room to handle his or her own mistake. Use reflective listening to listen, really listen, not judge or lecture or panic. Give lots of hugs. Say I love you. This is scary and your teen needs reminders you love him or her unconditionally.
Mistakes as an opportunity to learn
Life mistakes are always an opportunity to learn and to grow. Gently encourage your teen to tell the truth sooner rather than later and to take responsibility. Making mistakes is human and making things right is the measure of character.
This too shall pass
We all have stories tucked away in our memories of when we screwed up, how we survived and that we moved past those events. Draw on the knowledge that this experience too will one day be just a memory.
PEP has a library of on-demand videos for more guidance on communicating, motivating and supporting your teen.
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