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Child Admits to Cheating

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My third grader just informed me that he cheats in school. They have to grade their own daily papers and he will erase the wrong answer and write in the correct one. We went over all of his test papers, and I showed him he does well on his own and does not have to cheat. The temptation to cheat while grading his own paper is very great. Is it appropriate to grade your own papers? How can I be sure that he doesn't do this again? (He says he won't because he has been feeling very guilty about it). He is a twin and there is a great deal of competition; I do have them in separate classrooms. I am very worried about what would cause a nine year old to do this?

A: I think that this is a wonderful story of moral development in children. Far from being very worried about what would cause your nine year-old son to cheat, I think that your heart should be soaring because your son has internalized a conscience and a sense of honesty that compelled him to confess his cheating to you. Your parenting and modeling of honesty as a cherished value has been taken to heart by your son. He has shown courage and has brought honor to himself and should be praised accordingly.

Kids cheat all the time when they correct their own papers. Teachers know this and factor that temptation into this practice. There is nothing wrong with letting kids correct their own papers and see how and why they made certain mistakes. If the self-correcting is done in coordination with explaining how students should have arrived at the correct answer, then it's fine. In other words, using the correcting of tests as an extension of the learning process is a good learning technique. If a teacher merely hands tests back to kids and reads off the correct answers, there is no real learning going on.

Wanting to get better grades, wanting to do as well as or better than his twin, wanting to please you and his teacher, wanting your approval - how's that for a start in terms of why a nine year-old might consider cheating in this tempting situation?

I would turn this unsettling situation into a moral victory celebration for your son. Reassure him of your belief in his intelligence and let him know how pleased you are with his courage and his honor. Ask him if he thinks that he should have someone else correct his papers for him for a while? Ask him also what you can do to help him out with this dilemma. Make sure that his temptation to cheat is not borne out of his not understanding the coursework and that he has been afraid to admit this lack of understanding.

To this day, I can remember that in Miss Peterson's third grade class that we used to pass our test papers to the person in front of us to be corrected. Everyone corrected another student's paper. Jean Willis sat in front of me and would always voluntarily correct my mistakes for me (she liked me) and give me a 100% on my tests. I never asked her to stop. At our respective ages, your son had a higher moral sense than I. Funny how we remember certain moments of our childhood.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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