George Lucas Educational Foundation

Why do children cheat?

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Gotcha—Why Do Children Cheat?

                Why do children cheat? It is a complex question with many answers.  Some students cheat because they feel they are unable to meet their parents’ high expectations.  Some students cheat as a challenge to see if they get away with it.  Some students cheat because they know they can get away with it.  Some students cheat because their parent enable them to cheat.   Some students cheat because our society glorifies the Jesse James and the Billy the Kids in media and they see this reflected in the behavior of adults in their personal life and in our government.   This problem is endemic, so how do we promote ethical behavior?

                After teaching honors Language Arts for decades, I am still amazed at the number of intellectually-gifted students who resort to copying their friends’ assignments, reading CliffsNotes instead of reading an assigned novel or having another student provide answers for a test.  I have always asked why would a gifted, young person with the skills to do his own work resort to unethical means to achieve his goals.  The problem is especiallyprofound in upper-middle class neighborhoods, where parents push their children beyond their capabilities.  Students are expected to be sports stars, master an active social life and take every advanced class offered while playing in the school band, singing in the choir and performing the leading role in the school play.  These parents check their student’s grades daily and if any assignment is missing or any grade deviates from perfection, they will be talking to their son or daughter and his or her teacher.  High expectations are wonderful and can help a child become all he can be, but a helicopter parent can put undue pressure on a child causing him to do the unthinkable—cheat.

                For other students cheating is a game.  They are especially motivated by the teacher who takes pleasure in catching him.  I must admit at the beginning of my career I was one of those teachers.  I would wander the aisles of my classroom stalking any child who exhibited the wandering-eye disease and then I would spring like a cat over desks, snatch the test, shred it and toss it dramatically into the trash can hoping to make an example for anyone even thinking of cheating.  What it actually did was motive those who wanted a challenge.  “I’ll show her.  I’ll figure out a way to get around her glaring eyes,” they would mutter with a string of deleted expletives.  (They would carve these same deleted expletives into my desks.)

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Jill! I agree that there are lots of reasons why kids cheat. I personally tried to make sure that my assessments were un-googleable AND that I gathered enough data in class to be able to make it impossible for them to snow me on a single data point like a test or paper. What do you think we should be doing to be help them make better choices?

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Great post, Jill - I would add that kids cheat when they're looking for a shortcut on a task they don't particularly enjoy -AND- they lack the personal values/morals to do the right thing and power through it anyway.

I'm fortunate in that in my classroom cheating is really a non-issue as COLLABORATION is the hallmark of our work together. (I teach in a STEM-infused computer lab, not a 'regular' classroom, and many of our projects are team-based.) I like to tell the kids it's not cheating - it's teamwork.

I wonder what folks in 'regular' classrooms do to encourage kids to 'do the right thing,' and, how effective their efforts are...thoughts?


Jill Jenkins's picture
Jill Jenkins
A retired teacher who likes to share her insight.

I agree. Engagement whether through collaboration or with the teacher reduces cheating.

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