Q: I’ve been working with 12-15 year olds who can’t help but cheat at every game, such as in games where players are expected to referee themselves and put themselves out when they are caught or lose.
Normally it’s not a problem when just one young person acts in such a way as the leader can deal with it. However, when a group of kids are acting in the same way the games become near impossible. I was wondering if you had any ideas on dealing with such problems?
A: This is such a great question because this is something many youth workers deal with. Often young people can be a little… shall we say… ‘flexible’ with the truth and rules, particularly when playing games.
Some reasons why young people cheat include:
- Wanting to be liked – They want their friends to think they’re great because they won the game or were the MVP (Most Valuable Player).
- Being overly competitive – Young people learn a lot of things, and sometimes excessive competitiveness (or a do-anything-to-win attitude) can be modelled for youth by their parents, coaches and teachers and it becomes the only way they know how to behave when entering any kind of competition.
- Fear of failure – Some youth *ahem, and maybe some adults too* have a serious fear of failure or being wrong, so this can cause them to act in less than honest ways to achieve what is, to them, the greater outcome of winning.
- Poor decision making skills – Not everyone is great at weighing up the possible outcomes to their choices; youth often have a hard time thinking through the negative consequences of cheating and can only see the benefits.
- ‘It’s just a game’ – Some young people will just think of it as just a game, rather than the more serious issue of integrity. Many youth, if you confront this behavior, will say things like ‘geez it was just a game’ or ‘we were just having a laugh’, but it’s important to take the time to turn every activity you do with youth into a teachable moment if one presents itself.
Here are four things you can try to address the issue of your youth cheating in games:
- Make it a group discussion – Ask the youth to discuss how they feel when someone cheats on a sport on TV (or in the case of football/soccer, when a player clearly dives and gets awarded a penalty). Draw parallels to the games that you play in your sessions. As we mentioned, they may not even think of it as a serious issue.
- Create and enforce consequences for poor sportsmanship and cheating – This can include removing the offending players one at a time for cheating or ending the game if the entire group is involved. It’s a shame when you have to stop the fun or end a game early, but there’s an important and transferable skill that’s taught when integrity is enforced with youth.
- Cancel self-regulating games for the foreseeable future – Talk honestly with the group about their behavior and share that you will be cancelling some of the games you have planned for a set amount of time, since they can’t be trusted to play honestly and fairly.
- Run specific youth work sessions – Run one or more sessions about sportsmanship, self-worth, decision making and integrity to drive home the importance of integrity and fair play. Use the games you play as practice in developing those skills.
When it comes to any kind of lying or cheating, I’m very firm with the youth I work with. I give it serious weight when I talk about it, I give it serious consequences when it happens and I work very hard to model it at all times with my youth and praise them when they get it right. This may be a great opportunity to affect some real, lasting change in the behavior of your youth.
Question: Why do you think youth cheat? Do you address it when you see it? If so, what do you do to stop it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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