Seems like lately all anyone can talk about is Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. The stories in the media may seem like a broken record, but have you considered how this could be the time to have an open conversation with your child about lying and cheating?
Children learn early on that winners receive glory, whereas losers do not. While most parents, teachers and sports teams have taken to trying to make everyone – even the last place finisher – feel good about their accomplishments based on their efforts more so than their results, the harsh reality is that the message our society conveys more often than not is that winners win. Period.
The Lance Armstrong scandal is an opportunity for parents to proactively talk with their kids about honestly, integrity and the pressure to win/be first at all costs, especially with older ones who may be engaged in competitive sports or academics where they would be more vulnerable to consider cheating. Here are a few suggestions as to how to get the conversation started:
Cheating will always catch up to you. Even if you don't actually get caught, you'll know in your heart that what you did was wrong. We often stress the external consequences of cheating—punishments—but don't talk as much about how cheating corrupts your soul. Talk with your child honestly about times when you did something you later regretted, not just because you got punished or hurt other people, but because you felt guilt and shame at letting yourself down.
Heroes are not just celebrities or sports stars. Talk to your kids about fire fighters, police officers, teachers, doctors, and nurses, and about people in your own lives, even family members, who have faced adversity or obstacles and have overcome them with honesty and integrity. You don’t need a million Twitter followers, an Olympic gold medal or an Academy Award to set a good example or to be someone to aspire to be like.
Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect, no matter how perfect they may initially appear. It's how you admit your own flaws and how you handle your own mistakes that determine your strength of character. Allow your child see you admit to your own mistakes and offer a sincere apology and/or forgive others when they have somehow wronged you. Remember that kids learn more by what you do than what you say, so it’s important to set a good example.
Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right. You would be surprised how many good students and excellent athletes cheat just because they see their peers do it. If your child witnesses dishonest behavior in school or in sports, there is a good chance they will consider doing it themselves. Talk to them about making their own choices and give examples of how you dealt with peer pressure when you were growing up, even how you deal with it as a grown-up, to show them that you understand how they feel.
We love you and are proud of you no matter what. It's important for kids to have goals, to work hard for them, and to experience authentic achievement and feedback. But it shouldn't come at any cost. Make sure your kid knows that he/she doesn't have to be the best at everything. And if their goals, hobbies, sports or after school activities begin interfering with their behavior or you notice changes in attitude or how they treat others, then it might be time to have a conversation about how effort, perseverance and dedication does not equate to winning at all costs.