Why Do Kids Cheat?

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



9 thoughts on “Why Do Kids Cheat?”

  1. My eye-opening moment happened while I was cleaning up the odds and ends of my room this August. A wonderful, sweet, kind and smart young lady from last year’s (non-CI) class came in to visit since she was in the building helping as a peer embassador for incoming Freshmen. As we chatted, she admitted the following: “Can I be honest with you? I really like you and you made class fun [note: how possible with grammar-focused instruction, I’ll never know] but for the first 3 whole months I copied all my homework from another student…”

    I can’t say I was stunned. I was surprised that she’d admit it and surprised that she would do it and surprised that she valued it so little (and valued my consideration so much, I think) that she would tell me. But to say, at this point in my understanding of homework value and the place it has in a CI room (at least, the type I gave last year) I cannot say I was at a level of STUNNED.

    Something clicked right there.

    1. Yes, so many teachers value homework for all the wrong reasons. I personally think 95% of homework assigned is a waste of time, not only for students, but for families, which daily have to devote hours to helping students and/or fighting over it. Furthermore, homework is discriminatory against kids whose parents work full time, don’t speak English well, or lack education in general. I’m all for students copying homework, whatever it takes to make sure that crappy busywork does not infringe upon precious unstructured and/or family time.

      1. Two issues here.

        Homework. Waste of time. Haven’t given homework now in 10 years. No regrets.

        Cheating. Cheating is just a form of lying, and apart from psychotic disorders, human beings only lie for one reason: fear. Remove the fear (or the threat that invokes the fear) and the lying ceases. I’ve been working on this very topic since 1995 and I have not found an exception to it.

        1. Hi Bob, we identified the same two issues. You are just much more succinct.

          I would love to know more about your research because while I can see how fear is often the cause of lying, I’m not sure I would call it the sole cause. Case in point: I lost a friend this year because his hatred of a particular political candidate was greater than his love of the truth. Every time I pointed out the lie that he was disseminating (gleaned from others), he went off on me. I suppose you could argue the basis was a fear that his candidate will lose the upcoming election, I saw antipathy as well as a certain amount of greed.

          1. Hi Robert. I have to say that this conclusion was not a matter of research, but of working with and observing students and human beings in general–including myself. Years ago, early in my career, I was asked by the administration of the school to take the position of Dean of Students, in charge of discipline. I took the position and held it for three years after which I asked to return to the classroom. I learned so much. This was one of those golden insights, for me. Students always lied/cheated because they were afraid of (fill in the blank). I began to test the idea, sort of Buddhist style: try the idea. See if it works. See if it works always or only in certain conditions. As I stated earlier, apart from a psychotic condition, I have not found a situation where a person lied/cheated without a fear motive.

            The situation with your former friend strikes me as a situation where the friend accepted something that you knew to be lie as truth. There could be many reasons for this, but the one I see most commonly here in the South (where FOX News and the Truth are one and the same for many people) is that the person has an identification with a group at stake. To allow any other possibility threatens belonging and that is pretty low on Maslowe’s hierarchy. Threaten my sense of belonging and you threaten my security. I do not know your former friend, and I certainly did not experience this person, but what the former friend was doing does not strike me as lying, but as accepting a lie as part of belonging to a community. That’s more complicated than simple lying and cheating where fear is the basic motive. In a sense, I think it may be much more dangerous precisely because it is complicated. I can look a student in the eye, reassure him/her of my support (take fear off the table) and get the student to admit lying and come clean. Then, the only question is how to proceed to a better place. Your former friend is living into a communal deception. The amount of reassurance needed for him/her to admit the problem and step out of the community would be more than you or any one person could muster.

            This is powerful stuff to ponder.

          2. Thanks for your comments, Bob, they make a lot of sense. I would think that the “art” of what you are talking about is removing the fear so that everyone is dealing honestly without removing consequences of actions.

            You are right about my friend, i.e. I did not think that he was deliberately lying, simply forwarding things that were not true. The problem was his reaction when I pointed out, with documentation, the falsehood. One of the things that bothered me about the unknown originators of some of these communications is that there was no way their creations could have been the result of misunderstanding; whoever created them did so with the intent of lying. My friend wouldn’t or couldn’t accept that these were lies, and I – as you noted – couldn’t muster whatever was necessary for him to be able to do so.

            Another aspect of this that, I think, bears scrutiny is why some people, when faced with the same level of fear, will choose to remain honest, facing the fear and its consequences, while others will choose to lie (or cheat). Perhaps you gained some insights into that as well in your position as dean.

          3. Robert, more fascinating stuff to ponder. First, you make me realize that those who create these false, really deleterious stories may just be those psychopaths. Psychopaths can be brilliant, and all it takes is one to snag souls who need a story that makes them feel like they belong and then . . . (we know how powerful stories are).

            But, to your question. This is ongoing inquiry for me. I appreciate the questions. They send me into more inquiry, back into the art of observation and reflection (two tools which I think are most powerful in the hands of teachers). My experience is that people, when frightened, will lie. When something intervenes and stops the fear, people will tell the truth. I’ve seen two possibilities for that: 1) someone offers the individual sufficient support that the fear takes a back seat to the support/trust and they are able to tell the truth. 2) An individual gains enough spiritual and psychological strength to transcend the current fear, which allows him/her to tell the truth. The first is something that anyone can offer to another human being: I am not interested in judging you. I just want to help you move out of this place. Tell me the truth. Teachers can do this. I do this all the time. I have had more students who have cheated tell me the truth with this approach in one month than I did in the three years that I was Dean of Students “in charge of discipline.” The second, in my experience, is more rare,and comes after a long journey of personal spiritual work.

        2. I’m taking a Concepts of Curriculum and Instruction class this semester while working on my Master’s and the professor said on Monday that if students are able to cheat on an assessment then it wasn’t a good assessment.

  2. While I certainly agree that the overwhelming majority of homework is either useless or less than useless, there are two issues addressed in the article:
    1. Homework
    2. Integrity

    Although they certainly interrelate in the school setting, they are separate issues. I think students, parents and teachers should be agents for change in the homework arena. Rather than having a default setting of “give homework”, teachers should be required to justify each individual assignment and not just the concept of homework. So far this year I have given one homework assignment in my lower levels: go home and share this with your parents so they know what you are doing in German class. I have given several assignments in the upper levels: go home and think about what we discussed in class and be ready to talk about it some more; go home and read in German. Thinking and reading are skills that people need their entire lives; practicing them brings proven benefits; they are not onerous. Of course, I haven’t graded students on the homework, and I won’t. Perhaps students and parents should apply the advice of Nancy Reagan to another issue and “Just say ‘No’.”

    Even though I can understand why students choose to cheat, I cannot condone it. It is still a choice that they are making. Once we have started down the slippery slope of justifying cheating in certain instances, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop. Will the pressure to succeed decrease after high school? Why is falsifying a college application okay but lying on a job application wrong? Blaming “the system” is quite popular, but where does personal responsibility and accountability come in? If integrity, responsibility, trustworthiness and other pillars of character are missing from society, we must be counter-culturalists and both model them for and require them of our students. I will work very hard to help students who come to me and are honest about an issue; I have little tolerance for those who try to scam me. Among other things it shows a lack of respect for themselves and for me; it destroys my trust in them; it often results from a sense of either victimhood or entitlement.

    Articles like the one above are useful in bringing to light inequities and failings in society, but they all too often simply provoke a response of “Tsk, tsk, that’s so terrible” and no attempt at correction. Or fall into one of two extremes: exonerate the individuals and blame the system, or lay all of the guilt on the individuals. Neither approach is particularly productive. Just as we in the PLC refuse to throw up our hands at the state of foreign language education, we must also, be pro-active in supporting the development of character among our students. To quote the founder of the university where I earned my BA, “Do right even if the stars fall.”

    Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben