Why Kids Cheat and How to Deal With It

cheatingFrom peeking at someone else’s cards during a game of “Go Fish!” to copying answers on a test as an adolescent, the stark reality is that some children cheat. Everything from peer pressure and fear to the available means to take the easy way out, along with a variety of other factors, can cause children to cheat.

“In some cases, children cheat because they can,” says Dr. Rick Capaldi, California-based psychologist and co-founder of Outreach Concern, a non-profit school-based counseling agency. “Children are going to cheat because it’s an easier alternative then to invest time and effort, such as studying for exams or doing homework. It’s easier to cheat to be successful,” he says.

Uncovering the causes and the reasoning behind these actions is the first step to eliminate cheating all together, at home or at school.

Why Do Kids Cheat?

A young child is often told that cheating is wrong, but many adults don’t understand that kids don’t always know how to define cheating. Is it stealing? Is borrowing ok? Offering a clear definition of what cheating consists of can help clear up any confusion.

According to Lisa Share, coordinator for the early childhood education programs at Walden University, cheating can include copying from a classmate, pulling information directly from the Internet and passing it off as your own, allowing someone else to complete the work or looking at resources that are restricted during test and homework time. Provide your kids with examples to help them define cheating.

Kids cheat in the way they play, too, says Capaldi. “Whether it’s at sports or friendly games of competition, they want to win,” he says. “Ironically, they also cheat at relationships, something they carry with them well into their adult years.”

What prompts kids to cheat can vary, says Share. Older children, especially, may cheat for many of the following reasons:

  • Disengaged with the curriculum or teacher
  • Lack of time due to after school activities
  • Fearful of the stakes attached to doing poorly
  • Receiving pressure from family or teachers
  • Peer pressure
  • Exhaustion or poor sleep habits
  • Enjoyment of the challenge
  • Self-pressure to do well

Self-pressure is one of the most common reasons why pre-teens and teens succumb to cheating, says Ben Bernstein, California-based psychologist and author of “A Teen’s Guide to Success and Test Success.” Teens are under a lot of pressure from parents, peers, teachers and society to succeed, he says. “Pressure brings on anxiety and they are anxious that they will fail, they won’t get into a good college or that their elders will be angry if they get less-than-stellar grades,” he says. “Cheating is a shortcut – a quick, pressure-release valve.”

How to Derail Cheating

When your child is caught cheating, it’s important to take a hands-on, direct approach to change the behavior and help him or her understand the significance of the action. How you approach the situation, though, is crucial, says Debbey Thomas, coordinator of the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University. “It is my recommendation for parents not to holler, scream, spank or harshly chastise students who cheat,” she says. “Parents should first take time to sit down with their child to find out if there was not enough time to study, if the material was too hard, or if they were just goofing off.”

Outline and enforce consequences for cheating, too. “This should be something that matters to the child,” says Bernstein, “such as the loss of computer privileges, curtailing social activities or stopping a weekly allowance.”

Once your child and you have absorbed what has happened and the consequences, have a discussion about why your child chose to cheat. “Talk about the pressures and the anxiety she may be experiencing,” says Bernstein. “Cheating is not acceptable but the reasons for it need to be understood and addressed so that in the future your child can deal with the pressure and anxiety differently.”

To deter cheating, serve as the example, too. Cheating begins at home, says Cipaldi. “Parents, guardians and family influencers need to instill good values in their children; stressing the fact that winning is not as important as fair play and good sportsmanship,” he says. “Succeeding inside and outside of school is done by putting in the footwork, whether its practice at a sport or game or getting good grades by investing time in studying and doing homework.”

It’s imperative that parents instill in their children the real value of achieving success through good old-fashioned hard work, says Cipaldi.