Guest Post: Truth and Consequences

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So it happened. One of my kids was caught cheating. Using a little “study aid-age” when he wasn’t supposed to be using nothin’ but his noggin. And I’m so embarrassed. Remember, I’m a Mom-Teacher. So whatever goes down in school hits me doubly hard.
Ah, the irony of life. Earlier that day at the teacher lunchtable, the same group of us who talked about overscheduled kids three weeks ago now shared our “first time” stories. First time we cheated on school assignments, that is.
“Our whole class cheated on a test in the sixth grade,” one of my friends said. “And I’m the one who ‘found’ the test and handed it to the others.”
Another teacher friend lamented, “I cheated for the first and last time in seventh grade. I wasn’t caught, but I felt too guilty to ever do it again.”
I piped in. “Yeah, me too. Seventh grade. Computer class. The teacher was out, we had a sub, and I hadn’t studied, so I slid the book out and copied down the answers. Thing is, next day, she gave us our tests back to work on them again and I felt so bad that I erased all of my answers and started over.”
Then I told them about the second time I cheated in school – in college, no less. Sadly, it too, was a computer class.  “Introduction to Computers” was so easy the first few weeks that I thrilled in the “Easy A” I was sure to receive. We labeled parts of the computer on our first test: monitor, hard drive, keyboard. Three days after the drop date, the prof introduced the obsolete computer language, Fortran. He taught this archaic program language to the first three rows of students while the rest of us sat in the back and cracked jokes about the nerds up front. Individually, we struggled to survive. Ever the fiction writer, I devised stories I could tell the dean, but my best ones required a doctor’s note, which I was unwilling to forge. After deciding that an actual “unplanned” pregnancy was too drastic a measure to withdraw without penalty, I resorted to the recycle bin wedged between the computer lab entrance and the Coke machine. Although I was pretty sure the programs I found weren’t worth copying, I had absolutely nothing in my head to produce a substitute, so I plugged in someone else’s work and never questioned my grade: an angry, red F.
So most of us have done it. But like all of the mistakes we made when we were children, how do we — as parents — guide our kids through the bad choices and resulting remorse to the penultimate land of “I won’t do that again because it was wrong and it felt lousy”?
Like most Moms struggling with a new parenting problem, I called a friend and asked her opinion. She said, “Have him write a letter of apology to the teacher. He should say he’s sorry, what he did wrong, and what he should have done instead. He should also lose a privilege. Something big that he has to earn back as he wins back your trust.”
I agreed with her, had him write the letter. But the loss of privilege around here has lost its power. He’s so used to losing his treasures that it doesn’t impact him much anymore.
Another friend suggested that we focus on the value at hand and give him homework – in this case – to practice being honest. I really liked this idea and talked to him about it, but I’m not quite sure how to implement and monitor it. I’m thinking of devising an “Honesty Log” in which he summarizes and reflects upon moments in which he told the truth when he’d considered lying instead. His father and I could read and sign off on it like we do his Reading Log for school.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Or, I’ll embellish it, just a little, when I write so I have a more interesting story.
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Kathy Smaltz writes for BristowBeat.com the original copy of this article can be found at their website and is reprinted with permission.  BristowBeat provides hyperlocal coverage for readers in Bristow, VA and the surrounding areas.  
Like many moms, Kathy drives a mini-van full of booster seats and Disney/Pixar DVD’s. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids, ages 10 and under, to school and activities, she teaches for Prince William County Public Schools, writes fiction and poetry, and blogs about the challenges and rewards of being a mom to young children.