What parents can do to teach integrity

If you’re concerned with the national rate of cheating and theft (see Josephson Institute report) and want to make sure your children are not doing either — and that they will be protected from those who do — consider taking these steps:

  1. Take your child's integrity seriously. Be attentive to your child’s values and behavior. Remember how you taught your child to say "please" and "thank you"? Be equally relentless in teaching your child the importance of honor, trust and honesty.
  2. Discuss your values and establish ground rules. Don’t be accusatory, but initiate a serious discussion with your children within the next two weeks (if you put it off, you may never get to it).
    •  Ask them what they think about the results of the Josephson Institute’s national survey showing that at least 60% said they cheated on an exam in the past year and 28% stole something from a store. Ask them whether they think "a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed."
    • Ask them whether kids in their school are cheating or stealing. Let them talk.
    • Ask them what they think parents should do if they discover that their child cheated or stole.
    • Do not be value-neutral. Tell your children it is very important to you that they are honorable and trustworthy. State unequivocally that no matter the pressure, no matter the temptation, you think cheating and stealing is wrong — and you expect them to have the strength of character to be honest no matter what’s going on around them.
    • Talk to your children about the importance of building trust and credibility (explain to them what that means). Tell them it’s important to do well in school, but that you would be far more disappointed and upset if they ever cheated than if they did not do well on an exam.
    • Discuss the consequences on reputation, relationships and job opportunities if they are caught cheating or stealing.
    • Determine and clearly state what sanction you would impose if you learned that they cheated or stole. Leave no doubt that you will back up your talk with serious consequences. (The sanction ought to be very serious: loss of driving privileges, extended suspension from sports or other activities, denial of an important event. To be an effective deterrent, it must be something they really don’t want to happen.)
  3. Continually reinforce the value of integrity. Look for "teachable moments." Use news stories, TV shows and movies to highlight, discuss and comment on situations revealing the presence or absence of integrity.
  4. Take action to get your school to address the issue. If you’re not already a member of your PTA, join it and volunteer to establish a character development committee to help the school combat cheating and promote an environment of integrity and respect.
    • Ask to have a meeting with the principal of your school and in a constructive way, state the PTA’s concern about the national data on cheating and theft and indicate that you want to cooperate with the administration to proactively promote academic integrity.
    • Stick with it! Administrators have a lot on their plate and some will be resistant to focusing serious attention on this issue.

Tips for ParentsDownload or print our Tips for Parents (2 pages, pdf)

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