Teens: Stealing & Shoplifting
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Teens: Stealing & Shoplifting
I am writing for some friendly responses to my quandary--sometimes
I find the responses here very harsh. In a moment of Severely
Lapsed Judgement, my teen stole some good liquor in beautiful old
bottles from a very elderly relative's house which he visits
regularly (and loves). He threw out the wonderful bottles and
transferred the alcohol into plastic bottles with an eye to
transporting it more easily and giving some hypothetical friends a
treat at a future occasion of some kind. We have already gone
through all the hard and sad discussions re: matters of trust,
respect, legality, choosing friends, personal character, etc. etc.
etc. at great length over some time. My question is about how to
make good at this point. I thought he could use his savings to buy
new bottles of what he took and put them back next time he's there.
But he might not remember exactly, this wouldn't get this relative
back the elegant old stuff, and the new bottles might call
attention to the fact that something's gone on on that shelf that
no one might notice otherwise (relative doesn't drink, can't
physically get to where the liquor is kept, will likely never
know). Or, he could put the old alcohol into new bottles? Or he's
already ruined it by putting it in plastic? And what to do with
what he stole? He should have to pour it out? Or... Please share
your thoughts about what you think would be wise and fair.
Wanting to Be Wise and Fair
That sounds like a really difficult situation, and as the mom of
teen boys who have done some really dumb things, I won't be
sending any judgment your way. IMO, your son should talk to the
elderly relative, apologize for what he did, and ask how he can
make it up. It may be that the relative doesn't care at all
about replacing the liquor bottles, but would really like some
help cleaning out the basement. I don't think it teaches him the
right thing to try to find replacement bottles and put them back
without the relative noticing. This problem is not really about
what he stole, it's the fact that he stole from a vulnerable
person. It's harder, and will likely make more of an impression
on him, to have a conversation with the person that he harmed.
Dear Wise and Fair,
I think your son needs to confess to this relative that he cares
for. Why? Because this is really not about liquor, this is about
breaking trust. I know it seems like it was about liquor to your
son at the time, and possibly seemed like a victimless crime if
the relative doesn't drink and can't even get to the liquor
cabinet to admire the bottles.
Having to confess to this dear person will be the punishment that
your son will remember forever. It is the right and mature thing
to do. It will be hard but it will build his character in an
An apology may well be enough making good for relative. If not
the relative can say what else would be.
Unless there is an issue of cognitive decline in the relative,
then I think this is the way you should go. If there is, and the
relative might not understand or get unduly upset, then your son
needs to think about another way to make good. Do something
special with the relative, or donate the value of the liquor to a
cause that is important to him.
Replacing the liquor in any way is more about hiding the misdeed
than making good, in my opinion, if not paired with a confession
Good luck to you. These things are hard. But it should be hard on
your son - these are the incidents that make us who we are.
Have had my share of hard apologies to make
Our son did something similar when he was 13 - he stole $200 from
his grandmother. Honestly, she never would have known as she
keeps way too much cash around. But we insisted he tell her (in
front of me) and pay her back in installments with allowance and
work at her house. That was hard for me and for my son, and for
my mother (the grandmother) as well. It was uncomfortable, and
it took a few months for her to really forgive him. She still
loves him, but I'm not sure she trusts him so much. Although I
think she was over trusting in general to leave hoards of cash
around when she has 5 grandsons old enough to want some of it. I
think your son should have to fess up, otherwise you are to some
extent saying it's OK to have these family secrets. Maybe it's
not worth the pain it would cause in your family to open up about
this, I can see that being something you have to balance - what
is best for your son and what is best for your family as a whole.
For your son, I think he should come clean and make reparations.
The person he took from should be the one to help decide what
those reparations might be. For your family - your own
relationship with the family member and your son's, and for that
person - definitely take all that into account. It will be
painful either way - keeping it secret or not. That is something
your son should definitely learn from it. Mine did and he'll be
a stronger man because of it. Good luck!
Kind of understand...
You've done some good things with him and covered some relevant
topics, and the interactions about it between him and his parents
is an important part of the process of restoration... but it's a
little off to the side. You're protecting him from the very thing
that will teach him more than words ever could, confessing to the
relative. That should be requirement number 1. That is what will
lay the groundwork for restoring trust - knowing he feels the
ramifications of his own actions so that he is changed and
He made the choice to steal, let him see how his actions affect
the relative when he/she knows. Let him feel the response of the
other person. It could be bad, could be good, could be both. It
could change. After anger there could be sadness, forgiveness. A
rich lesson. He needs to take responsibility to confess and ask
the person he wronged what he can do to restore her trust. You
can talk to him until you're blue in the face, he can experience
your reaction in the bubble of his home, but to restore the
situation to equilibrium I think he has to tell. You could go
with him for support but let him talk. He'll be a better person
It's irrelevant that the person can't reach the shelf and could
be easily fooled. The fact that you are latching onto these
things shows that you value your son's comfort over doing what's
right. Maybe deep down you know you're protecting him from his
own actions, maybe that's why you asked people to be kind. For
what it's worth, all parents of teenagers including myself have
been there or someplace worse with their kids.
I'm a bit confused by your post. No where in your message do you
say your son will admit to the elderly relative what he has done
and apologize. That's the first step in ''making good.'' After
that he can discuss the right resolution with the relative.
Maybe they don't want the alcohol back, since they don't drink
it, and it was probably the bottles they valued. Maybe your son
can take them on an outing as a special treat or do something
else for them that they value. In any case, trying to find a way
to replace the items without being found out doesn't seem to
solve the problem and won't help your son learn the right lesson.
Is your teen contrite or are you coming up with the consequences?
Your teen should make it up to the relative somehow and it should
cost him something: extra time reading or doing chores? Somehow
he needs to FEEL that what he did was wrong and the act of
contrition should come from him. The important part is that your
teen understands you don't take something from someone even if
he'll never know.
The best way to make good is for your child to come clean to the
elderly relative and apologize, often older folk are surprisingly
tolerant about youthful mistakes. If that is out of question
then I wouldn't bother with returning the liquor in any way, but
ask that your child do some volunteer work for a worthy
Dear Wanting to be wise and fair,
It would be helpful to place yourself in your elderly relative's
position. Ask yourself what you would want if you were in his
place. Genuine remorse, integrity and a true sense of right and
wrong may help make this situation better with your elderly
relative. It's important how you handle it with your son as it
is going to affect how he makes decisions in the future. Is it
just and fair to trick your infirm relative, either with new
bottles or by not saying anything in the hope that the missing
bottles go unnoticed? Is this course wise and fair to your boy
who is in the process of learning right and wrong? Instead,
could your son confess his mistake to his relative and ask what
it would take to make amends? He could suggest the purchase of
new bottles and make good on his offer if it is accepted. He
could certainly return the alcohol (so that he or you are not
tempted to imbibe the ill gotten stuff). Even if he is not
forgiven, your son's conscience will be much clearer if he does
the right thing and he will be stronger next time if he handles
this situation honorably.
Good luck. It's hard to do the right thing, but your son will be
infinitely better off in the long run and you will be more
Wanting you to be wise and fair
I think your son needs to come clean to the relative. Admit what
he did, sincerely apologize, and the ask the relative what he can
do to make it right, whether it is replacing the bottles and the
booze, doing work for the relative in exchange for the monetary
amount lost in bottles and alcohol, etc. You son should be
grounded until all reparations are made.
Your elderly relative will be very disappointed in your son, but
this relative has probably lived and seen enough to know that
teens do stupid and bad things sometimes. Also, your son needs to
own up to this. If he is too mortified to deal with this face to
face, then all the more reason he should do it. This can be a
real learning experience for him.
I would come down VERY hard on him so he knows not to ever push
these limits with you again. My philosophy is that if you go too
soft with kids on the first serious infraction, then they will
play you in the future.
Your son should confess to the relative and ask him/her what he
can do to make it right. (If the relative doesn't want the liquor
back, it should definitely be poured out.)
If the relative is unlikely to understand at first what is going
on, you might want to have a private conversation with the
relative first telling them what to expect.
don't feel too bad--my son has done worse (doing better now
You don't say how old your teen son is and perhaps it doesn't
matter. What does matter is that he is a boy, and some tactics
work better with boys than with girls and vice-versa.
Specifically, it sounds like there's already been plenty of
discussion about what happened, but in the end, it's actions that
matter. Here's what I suggest:
- First, ask your son what HE thinks would be sufficient to
''make good''. If need be, give him some time (a day or two) to
think about it. You may be (pleasantly) surprised at what he
comes up with; when asked, children often suggest harsher
consequences or punishments for their actions than parents are
- Second, what YOUR stance should be is this: what he did was
wrong, regardless of the ''reasons'', and deeply disrespectful
and unloving to the elderly relative he ''visits regularly and
loves''. He took advantage of them, plain and simple. If
stating this causes him some pain, that is a GOOD thing. There
is such a thing as ''appropriate shame''. In my view, he should
have to tell this relative and accept the fallout of his actions.
Your son is preparing for adult life, and dealing with the
consequences of his actions is part of that preparation -
something he'll need to do for the rest of his life. He might as
well begin to assemble a skill set now.
As for what to do with the liquor - that is mostly a side issue,
and I feel is distracting from the real issue - his actions. The
liquor belongs to the elderly relative, and should be returned to
I hope I don't sound harsh - what I wish to convey is that a
direct, no-nonsense and matter-of-fact (adult!) attitude is
what's important here. And also that what your son may LEARN
from this experience is what will make it ''good'', in the long
p.s. Please find, and read, Michael Gurian's ''A Fine Young Man''
- AWESOME book on how to raise adolescent boys!
- parenting is not a popularity contest
First off, sorry you're experiencing this, but what a great
lesson for us all, so thanks for posting. I feel you should both
go talk with the elderly relative that your son really likes and
come clean. It's a sign for respect to your relative. Your
child will build integrity and character which will serve him
well as an adult. Then the elderly person can tell him what's to
be done. It's basic and simple and really hard. That's life
though. Doing the right thing isn't always easy but he will gain
self respect this way. Good luck.
Seems to me he should tell the elderly relative about the theft
himself, and apologize, and ask THEM what he should do to make
good -- something like, ''I did this bad thing, I'm sorry AND I
want to Make Good. Please let me know how/what to do. I'll await
your response.'' then leave the person alone to figure out what
they think of this new shocking disclosure. He's a teen, not a 7
year old, I think he should knock on the door all by himself, but
if you must be there at least stay in the car. If a teen I knew
came to my door saying this, I'd want a couple of days to come up
with a truly effective thoughtful response that would repair
things, not be beholden to my first hurt outrage shocked
Dear Sensitive Question,
I think you may be missing the point of how to make good on this
transgression. Your child stole liquor from a family member.
There are two issues going on here. The issue you seem focused
on in the post is how to make good with the family member whose
trust has been violated. I don't think it's about restoring the
liquor so much as restoring the trust. Were it my child in this
situation and if the relative was willing, I'd like to see my
child make up for this behavior by ''working it off'' for the
family member. This allows for time spent together, an
opportunity for trust building, and an intimate understanding of
interdependence. Menial labor provides opportunity for
reflecting on one's behavior and developing empathy with the
victim of one's crime. Working it off can involve cleaning out a
garage, raking leaves, painting a room... Taking on a project
that leaves everyone feeling like the situation has been thought
through and things left better off somehow.
The more important issue lies with why this teen has committed
theft and underaged drinking. What is the teen communicating by
such behavior? What if they had not been caught? Has this
behavior occurred before? Good luck!
eye on the bigger picture
How about the most basic approach of being honest? Have your son
tell the relative what he did. It is not as important if the
relative understands or remembers, it is a lesson for your son in
owning his actions and learning from them.
By working with your child to extend the deception into either
assuming that the relative won't notice, or tricking them with
different bottles the lesson you teach is 1) that you will fix
what your son has done wrong, and 2) deception is okay if it
preserves appearances and family peace.
Telling the truth might not feel great in the short term, but it
is a valuable long term lesson. Lying and stealing isn't made
right by pretending it didn't happen.
honesty is the best policy
Thanks to so many of you who replied to my question about the liquor taken
from a very elderly relative. My predicament was only clear enough for some of
the readers here, though--thanks especially to those who understood that
''very elderly relative'' meant very elderly: 93, wheelchair-bound (and thus
can't get to where the liquor is, as I wrote), very frail, nearly deaf, nearly
blind, often disoriented, prone to panicky responses to anything disruptive.
This is why I haven't been thinking my teen would handle the ''making good''
directly with this beloved relative--and not because my values are as
off-the-mark as some presumably well-intended advice-givers imagined. I will
certainly think about the suggestions that he should talk (bellow?) with the
relative, but with my question re-framed to include what one respondent
recognized as ''an issue of cognitive decline in the relative,'' would so many
of you still feel my teen should confront this elderly person with a
confession? And if not, then... back to my original question: how can I (his
only parent) have him make good (without directly involving the person he took
Wanting to be Wise, Fair and Clear
I didn't see the first post, but some thoughts... Making amends is
about taking the time and energy to do something meaningful and
positive. Often that means talking to the person one has taken
something from, but in this case it sounds like that would not be
appropriate. So the making amends could address either the person who
was wronged, the theft issue, the issue of taking advantage of the
elderly, and/or the alcohol issue.
To you and to your son, what would feel like making amends? Grocery
shopping for this person, or cleaning house? Or if nothing seems quite
right for this person, perhaps your son could volunteer at a soup
kitchen or in some other way offer help for the elderly over the
holidays. Perhaps he could use some of his money to make a food basket
(which counters the theft aspect). And perhaps a note of apology to
*you* might be appropriate.
Sounds really hard to make good, in a meaningful way, to this particular
relative because it sounds so upsetting to the relative, which kind of
subverts the intent.
Instead, how about just putting in some quality time with this
relative--maybe reading to him or going through old family photos and
describing their content out loud. If even this is too disruptive, the
teen can ''pay it forward'' by going to a nursing home and donating
volunteer hours in whatever way the home needs. Alternatively, he can
work weekends making money doing lawn work or washing cars until $100 is
saved and then donate that to an elderly cause of his choice. Or to a
charity that this old relative would want helped.
The point is for the teen to do the inner work of remorse, so these
other acts can also symbolize that.
Best of luck.
You might consider taking a page from To Kill a Mocking Bird and have
your son do some home care and/or chores for his relative as a way of
Fan of Making Good
I was one of the original responders and am not sure if I am part of the
group that ''understand'' the cognitive capacity of the aged relative or
not, but wanted to follow-up from what I originally suggested: honesty
and confession because that is the right thing to do.
I also have family members with significant memory and cognitive
impairment. My suggestion to you does not change because this actually
has more to do with your son making amends for what he did and less to
do with how the victim responds. When you do something to harm someone
else the apology you give is an actor contrition acknowledging for
yourself that you did wrong. Ultimately you can't control how someone
responds to that apology regardless of their cognitive status.
Finally, your elderly relative may or may not understand what it being
said. People speak to individuals who are comatose in the hope that they
might hear. If your son is truly sorry for what he did his honest
confession and apology can be made with the hope that he is understood
because he wants to communicate that information, the resulting
understanding is less important.
do right because it is right
If you feel uncomfortable about having your son confront his very elderly
relative, have him volunteer at the homeless shelter. Have him do this not just
for a week or two, or a month, but a YEAR.
Years ago, my son was was given a year sentence for a crime he committed. He's a
good kid, very soft, and sometimes does not make good decisions. I knew he would
never survive prison, he would not come out the same.
Without getting into the details of how we did it, he was given a year of
probation in exchange. He was to work at a homeless shelter EVERYDAY, rain or
He got up every morning before the sun, caught the bus, and was at the shelter by
6:30 AM (including weekends). He did his 1 hr of work, caught the bus and went to
school. In the beginning he absolutely miserable - hated it, but over time, by
the end of the year it became a very positive part of his life.
After his probation period, he continued to work/volunteer at the shelter for
many years. Now he is now an adult. A very kind, caring, hard working person, and
of course law abiding.
The shelter made a positive impact on my son's life. I am so happy things turned
out the way they did
Many months ago, my daughter asked to purchase something on Amazon using
my debit card. It was a very reasonable purchase, and I personally placed
my card number in her account for the purchase. Recently, my husband and I
are were looking over a bank statement (which we don't do all that often
together) and found multiple Amazon charges that we didn't recognize. It
is coming to light only now because, as it turns out, he had thought they
were my purchases, and I had thought they were his, and we are each fine
with that. I called Amazon and had my number deleted from her account,
which I had not done (and didn't think way back then I needed to - my
mistake) but now, when I do the math, our kid has charged, slowly over
many months, a total of over $1500 worth of items. She's 17 and a senior
in high school. I plan to bring this to her attention, and think it
reasonable to be paid back because, as far as my husband and I are
concerned, these were unauthorized. Before doing so, I'd like to ask my
fellow parents-of-teens for your take on this. What to say? What terms to
reach? She may deny/pretend/act that she knew what was going on and/or
actually believe that these were legitimate charges. I never learned
anything about good money management from my own parents, and want to do
better by my own kids. We giver her a reasonable amount of money at the
start of every month for her clothing/books/food and we pay for all
appropriate life expenses, anything school related, and so on. She has
worked over the summer, saved up some money, and has a savings account
that she has spent many years building up. I'd really like advice on both
the big financial picture and the specifics of how to deal with this
particular, unique situation before I discuss this Amazon issue with her.
Needing a little Suze Orman
I think you are missing the most important part of this episode.
It's not really about money management. It's about theft. Your
daughter has essentially stolen $1500 from you. This is a far more
serious issue. She has totally abused your trust. So the bigger
discussion you need to have is about trust and theft. Then she
should of course be required to pay back the $1500. But as a
parent I would begin to wonder what else she may have done that's
not particularly trustworthy. It is extremely important that you
hold her accountable for her behavior.
Oof! $1500 is no joke. She definitely needs to see the total, and
she definitely needs to make some form of restitution that's going
to hurt a bit.
You can give her an opportunity to explain her behavior and ask her
how much she thinks she spent. Then show her the actual amount and
go through the charges together. This is how freshmen in college
end up charging up their credit cards, so it's a good lesson for
her now. Ask her to propose a way to pay ALL of it back. She can
use her savings, she can do chores, she can turn over half her
paychecks for a certain period of time. Ask if the items she bought
still feel worth it. Can any be returned? Explain that this would
be considered theft if the card belonged to a boss, a friend, a
grandparent, etc. so you take it very seriously and this needs to
be an experience she remembers for the rest of her life.
You can do all this kindly but firmly. But make sure it hurts a
bit. This is a serious amount of money and a serious breach of
trust. And make sure the payment plan will finish before she goes
off to college.
It's hard to give your kids painful consequences, but your actions
will give her an important life lesson. Which lesson do you want it
to be? That there are no consequences? Or that being
responsible/honest is the way to go? Try to steer by that. When
she's fifty years old, the $1500 she's going to pay back will not
seem like so much, but the lesson she learns will still be part of
You didn't say what she bought but she was being dishonest and knew
what she was doing was wrong. She needs to pay you back.$1500.00 is
a lot of money for a teenager so maybe who could ask for $1000.00
and at the same time, cut the allowance you give her. If any of the
items can be returned I would do that, if they haven't been used.
If she has a really large savings account, ask for all of it back.
I'd have a really good discussion with her as to why she felt she
could do this. Is it because she thought she wouldn't get caught or
because she thought you wouldn't care? The first is troubling if
that is the reason and if the second, she needs to have a lesson on
how much it costs to run a household. Sometimes I think my son has
no idea what food, utilities, cable, cell phone cost.
IMHO you do not need a little Suze Orman. This is NOT a financial
issue. You need family counseling. Your daughter stole your money.
I do not know what your family dynamics are. Maybe she stole
because she feels unloved or neglected. Perhaps she craves
attention from you. Whatever the reason, I would get your family to
a counselor's office ASAP.
I wonder if your daughter knew she was charging to the wrong
account. My kids both have a monthly allowance that is
automatically transferred into their bank account, and have debit
cards that they use to make purchases, both online and in person.
Once the card is registered with a given vendor that is the default
payment arrangement unless its changed.
I also allow them from time to time to use my credit card instead
of their debit card because the purchase they're making is one I
would have paid for anyway (school clothes, shoes, text books).
They know to ask first. I also get a notice from Amazon every time
a purchase is made. For other vendors I complete the transaction
If your daughter thought you approved of the use of your card, or
thought she was using her own account, I would focus on fixing the
situation for the future. If she knew you didn't approve I would
have her pay you back over time, particularly if she has money from
working. You might consider having her repay half of the amount,
and get her a debit card for future purchases so she has more
control and responsibility. That will also further your goal of
teaching her financial responsibility.
Parent of semi-financially literate teens
I think you are the one who made a mistake. You gave your daughter
access to the debit card without ever telling her what her budget
was. You assumed it was zero. She assumed it was more. Now you have
to tell her about your mistake. I would not ask for the money back.
I would just be very clear about expectations in the future.
Perhaps the three of you could work on a total budget for
i think you are doing the perfect thing. holding your daughter
accountable for the charges teaches her that credit is really
money. it seems like you have some doubts. maybe you feel like
you should have ''taught'' her something before now. there was no
way to do that--this is the time to teach her and you are seizing
it. additionally, you might consider a consequence about stealing.
i can't believe that she did not know that what she was doing was
wrong. if she didn't--it is up to you to teach her now. if she
did and did it anyway, it is up to you to teach her that it was a
disrespectful act to her parents and you didn't appreciate it.
after a year of my son stealing money from me and denying it, we've
sought professional help and i now understand that my continuing to
give him the benefit of the doubt because ''maybe something else
happened'' eroded his respect for me over time. children expect us
to be their moral compass until they can hold it on their own.
your instincts are accurate on this one, i recommend you follow
My 14 year old son was caught shoplifting Skittles in a
Walgreen. They called me, and let him go upon my
request. Today I received a $300 bill from a law office
in Florida, asking that I settle this Civil matter with
them within 20 days. It seems like (and looks like) a
scam to me, and I really don't have the $300 right now.
But I also don't want to ignore it and have it get worse
or cost more later. Any experience or helpful advise
My child was caught twice shoplifting. The first time we got a letter from the
Florida law firm we paid the charges ($250, evidently the price has gone up). The
second time, we just ignored the letter, especially because the store in that case
seemed very uninterested in pressing charges or even banning him from the
store (which the first store did). I think we got a second letter threatening higher
charges if we didn't pay, but we just ignored that one too. The second incident
was over a year ago and we haven't heard anything again.
(A lot of other things were going on with this child at the same time, which
helped drive this from our mind.)
I think it is a scam, too, but they sure make it sound scary.
It's not a scam. My teen was caught shoplifting at
Safeway. Before the the security people would release my
teen to me, I had to sign a form acknowledging that a
civil charge would probably be levied against me, ranging
from $50 to $500. I just received the settlement offer
($250), also from a law firm in Florida. I'm going to
make my teen pay it back over time. On the form I
received, a phone number is listed to call if you can't
afford the amount.
Next time I'm not coming to the rescue
The amount, $300, is no surprise. My daughter got caught shoplifting a
bottle of finger nail polish at a grocery store and had a $250 fine (which we
paid and had her work off with interest) plus six months where she could not
enter the store. The store gave us a contract-like paper that stated the
amount of the penalty payment, the banishment from the store and
consequences if not carried through which we and our daughter signed. We
paid the store directly on the day she shoplifted before we took her home.
If the store ''let him go on your request'' and you didn't pick him up, perhaps
there's something the store required that your child should have told you
about. However, call the store. Find out what their policy is. Then you'll be
able to decide if the law firm's letter is legitimate.
Personally, I was glad that my daughter got caught (on video tape which we
sat and watched with her) and had to face stiff consequences. Stealing is not
a behavior that's acceptable in our family. She found out that the broader
world isn't cool with it, either. At the same time, we were glad the store
handled her shoplifting internally--instead of turning it over to the police.
It is a scam. Throw the letter away. Do not replay or
they know they ''got'' you on the hook. If they call hang-
up. It's up to them to take the next legal step and no
lawywer will do much more to recover $300.
Hope your child learned a lesson and won't do it agin.
Ignore. It's very common for my shoplifting clients to get
letters (read: plural) demanding civil restitution for a
shoplifting incident. Don't respond by agreeing to pay any
portion of the $300. It is highly unlikely that they'll
come after you.
If it helps you feel better, have a lawyer write a letter on
your behalf. Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to Macy's
Loss Prevention on behalf of a client and she wasn't hassled
Criminal Defense Attorney
This is not about Shoplifing. My case was about DUI. I did
not get DUI but I was tested for it. I received a lot of
letters from many atterny farms. Can polices sell my
information? I have not known how they got my
information. You should talk to your atterny if you need
i missed the original post... but are you REALLY going to
manage your legal problems from a bulletin board? Contact an
experienced lawyer (i am NOT a lawyer and think that as a
society we don't rely on enough honest integrity and wish we
didn't need so many laws, but that's another discussion)
i am close to a few families (friends' kids) that have been
caught stealing and what i have seen lately is a certain
lack of consequences for the kids. and every one of my kids
has had some police ''attention''...
Lets not use excuses like: ''adults get away with much worse
offenses'' which i heard from one mom, making excuses for her
Citizen at Large
I suspect that my 14 year old daughter has shoplifted. Can't prove
it, so I can't confront her. However, if she has, chances are she
will again. I'd like to know what happens when a minor is caught
shoplifting. I assume the store would hold her and call me (if I'm
not in the store already). In Alameda County, does it go to the
District Attorney's office or somewhere else? I do hope I'm wrong.
when my daughter was 21, in college, she confessed to me that a
couple of years before she shoplifted a pair of expensive designer
jeans at Nordstroms. I was shocked of course. (She has always liked
nice clothes & now, at 25, spends a fortune on them.)
As time goes on she has confessed in passing how she shoplifted quite
a bit from stores like Target and the stores on Telegraph Avenue.
Of course I had NO IDEA EVER that this was going on.Parents simply do
not know! Do I wish she had gotten picked up for it? YES. I wish
they had caught her and do whatever the legal consequences are. This
is wrong & I don't think as parents WE can do that much about it.
Fortunately store security is much better than it was back then so
your chances of getting caught are higher I think.
Mom of former teen shoplifter
My daughter, who is actually a very responsible, nice kid, was caught
shopllifting TWICE. The first time, at 14, Target caught her and two
friends. We had to pick her up, sign papers that said she couldn't
come into the store again without an adult, and pay back the amount
plus expenses of the store's time, several hundred dollars. My
daughter was upset but defiant re the store not needing the money
anyhow. We made her pay us back, explained how we strongly disagreed
with her philosophy re capitalism (!), had her stop hanging out with
those guys, and told her if it ever happened again, she'd be in BIG
trouble. I thought that was it. A year later, I got a call from
Nordstrom's in SF and I had to go into the city and pick her up. They
did much the same thing as Target. In front of the girls, I asked if
the police could keep her overnight...and boy was I ready for them to
take her. But they don't do that. I also told them how embarrassed I
was that kids who have so much could steal. My daughter looked
stricken. We took BART home and I barely said a word to her. At home,
I expressed my disbelief and told her how horrible it was for me. She
said she was truly sorry, that she'd done a ''really stupid'' thing and
never never again. This time, she seemed to understand. So she worked
for us to pay it back and was grounded for a while, and no shopping
for a month. That was it, and my daughter has grown into a respectable
If your child is caught shop lifting the store may or may not press
charges. I have recently had some experience with this. My son was
caught along with some other teens shoplifting at Safeway. They
called me to come and pick him up. I actually asked them to press
charges and they would not. I have suspected him of shoplifting for
awhile and I warned him that I would have no sympathy if he got
caught. I told him I would let them arrest him and put him in jail
so he was forewarned. Now if they are caught stealing somehing that
is illegal for them to have (alcohol) that is a different story. My
son got a warning that he could not go into a safeway for 6 months
and I had to sign a piece of paper stating that I was aware I may
have a fine to pay ranging from $50.00 to $500.00. Be creative, find
some way to talk to your teen about shop lifting without accusing
them of it. MAke sure she knows what you plan on doing if she ever
thinks of trying it and good luck.
keeping one step ahead
My 14 year old daughter came home from hanging out with friends
along Telegraph and told us that her friend shoplifted at a store.
The friend's rationalization was that it won't go on her permanemt
record because she is under 18 and she would only spent 2 nights in
Juvenile hall if caught. We told our daughter to never go into a
store with that friend again in case she gets caught up in a
potential arrest. Now we are wondering if we should do more. Should
we banish this friend? Disallow outings on Telegraph? Tell the
girl's parents? I looked up this subject online and could only find
tips for if your own child shoplifts.
Dear fellow parent,
When I ask myself whether to tell another parent of his/her kid's
misdeeds, I also ask myself: Would I want to know? In this case, the
answer would be a resounding YES. I would want to know if my child
had shoplifted, and perhaps more urgently, I would want to know that
my child thought that ''only two days in Juvie Hall'' was not a big
deal. I would see the need for some re-education there. I think it
is fairly common for kids to shoplift, but the reasons for not
shoplifting need to be expressed more broadly than just in terms of
how the shoplifter is punished. Why should people refrain from
shoplifting? Who is hurt by shoplifting. Here is an opportunity for
a good conversation on ethics, I think.
Another thing I ask myself about talking to other parents: How would I
like to be addressed if my child were to do something wrong?
Obviously I don't want to be blamed or have someone talk down to me.
So I would be careful to adopt a tone of ''I felt that you would like
to know this, I know it would concern me if it were my child. What do
you think we should say to our kids about this, if you agree that it
is a problem.'' I would enlist the other parent as an ally if I could.
I had a parent call me once to tell me about some behavior of my
son's that she perceived as wrong. This behavior did not seem
problematic to me. Her tone in speaking to me implied that I was
naive or permissive or... a bad mom. Subsequently she called back to
apologize, because she realized that she had crossed a line. So I
would be careful not to adopt a superior attitude. But do let the
parents know, I think.
part of the parents' community
Everything you stated about what your child's friend thinks is incorrect.
Juvenile records must be petitioned to be sealed. They are not
expunged automatically. I have seen many young adults being dropped
from nursing programs, etc. because they failed a background check.
Your child coming to you to tell you this is occurring is a good sign.
I think if she knows it is wrong and if you emphasize her feelings
she will make up her own conclusion about this ''friend''.
County Employee Mom
It is wonderful that your daughter shared this information with you.
I can understand you feeling worried about your daughter's contact
with this friend. Sometimes it's appropriate to ''tighten the
leash'', so to speak, to protect your child from consequences of
immature decisionmaking or from situations she is not mature enough
to handle. Whatever restrictions you decide to place on your
daughter's activities and contact with this friend, however, your
daughter will still be in plenty of situations where she is making
her own choices.
Where your most important influence lies is in your relationship
with her, which allows for discussions in which you share your
feelings, thoughts and values with her, and open space for her to
share hers with you. This will help you evaluate her maturity, her
judgment, and her ability to withstand negative peer pressure. You
may look at her disclosure in this instance as a test - she may be
thinking (consciously or unconsciously) - how will my parent(s)
react? Can I talk to my parent and share both sides of my
ambivalence? Can I share my confusion? I know stealing is wrong, but
what if my friend's reasoning kind of makes sense to me - can I
explore this with my parents without feeling like the discussion is
going to get shut down with anger or moralizing? She may also want
you to provide more structure or limits, such as not allowing her to
go to Telegraph.
I encourage you to provide positive reinforcement to your daughter
for sharing this, and use it as a way to be in an ongoing
conversation with her about her social world, the moral/ethical
challenges or dilemmas she and her friends face, whether it be about
dating, peer relationships, drinking, drugs, driving, cheating etc.
Some parents find it useful to have their teen's friends over to
their home a few times before the teen is are allowed to go
and ''hang out'' with the new friends in an unstructured way. Some
parents who do not feel it realistic or sustainable to impose
stringent restrictions on their teens as they get older, use a sort
of buddy system, where if their teen is going to be with two trusted
friends who are well-known to the parents, then the teen is allowed
to also hang out with new friends. Many parents find it useful to
confer with other parents for support and sharing information.
Best of luck to you and your family.
Integrity is in question here and I would want my daughter's friends
to have integrity as part of their character and not live their
lives trying what they can get away with - deciding their actions
based on the penalty, not on integrity. Nobody is perfect, but if
you have compromised integrity, I would expect that you keep your
bad actions to yourself and not make witnesses, tempt other people's
integrity or burden them with a moral conflict based on your
actions. It is just not smart to have bystanders or telling others.
So if this girl is otherwise intelligent, she must have a strong
psychological need to share her daring behavior (and increase the
dicovery of it). I think it is very important that you have a deep
conversation with your daughter about how the incident went, how she
felt about it then and now, and if she feels like telling her
friend ''I am your friend but I do not want to be a witness to your
stealing nor be part of it. As my friend, I hope you can accept that
and do your stealing on your own.'' Of course, teens have their own
way of talking to one another, but have your daughter think up a
script of her own along those lines or even stronger if she (not
you) feels like it. I don't think you can forbid friendships
(backfires) nor should you call the other parents. They obviously
did a consistenly lousy job many years ago - morals usually manifest
around age 7 after a few years of testing the boundaries. Let the
parents find out when the police notifies them in the future. No
reason to get involved now. Keep the connection with your daughter
and teach her how to set her boundaries, keep herself safe and how
to stand up for herself. We have attended a couple of Kidpower
seminars (www.kidpower.org) but your story reminds me that we are
about ready for the teen workshop.
Looking for any advice to deal with 16-year-old on first
instance of shoplifting; appropriate consequences... is
some sort of counseling warranted if no other evidence of
potentially dangerous behavior? Have heard it is a fairly
common thing and don't want to overreact but meanwhile want
to be extremely clear about it being unacceptable and also
try to understand if there is something else going on that
would lead to the behavior in an otherwise non-problem
child (good grades, study habits, friends, etc.). Also are
there steps that should be taken to minimize any negative
legal/record issues that might follow? How to emphasize to
a teen the seriousness of the situation?
For piece of mind...ask your kid if there is an adult they
can talk to about it, otherwise you have them check in with
a professional for a one time visit.
Shame and embarrassment are almost always enough.
Do some research...make sure the friends are a good group.
Have your kid write a letter to the store to apologize.
And then show your kid you love and trust them.
Regarding legal stuff...let your kid know they are keeping
track...and once might have been interesting/exciting...the
second time would be stupid and totally not worth it.
I think a lot of us have done the same thing...at least
once, whether its shoplifting, white lies returning an item,
personal calls on work time, etc.
Sounds like she was caught because you mention legal issues.
You would know better if it's a misdomeanor (sp?), but I
have heard that someone with a felony on their record can be
denied financial aid for college. You might want to tell her
that. I would ask her what her motivations were (thrill,
saving money, peer pressure), and ask about the feelings she
got when she took that thing (excited, scared, cool). If you
think it's a one-time thing then just leave it. If it keeps
happening (at least you'll know if she gets caught), then
maybe some kind of counseling or a bigger allowance? Good luck!
I am sorry your teen shoplifted. I don't know if it's common or not
but it's wrong and she needs to understand that in no uncertain
terms. This happened to me when I was young and aside from the beating
I got, I would suggest a serious punishment. Mine was that I was
totally restricted, no phone, no friends, no social activities, no
t-v, nothing. I couldn't even walk to school, my parents drove me to
and from. I was only allowed to go places with my parents. This lasted
for 4-6 wks, I don't remember exactly. Harsh? Yes. Did I ever steal
again? No. These days, I think education about morals is necessary and
appropriate, understanding from a legal and spiritual standpoint, but
that doesn't mean punishment is not in order. Your child needs to
understand what she did is serious and that you mean business.
Without boundaries, kids suffer. You're in charge mom. Be strong. No
beatings of course. Good luck.
This process worked for us:
First ask your child to tell you all the details of what
happened. Assure your child that you will not involve
other parents, the school or anyone else. Then,
1. Get the items which were lifted.
2. Call the retail establishment anonymously and ask a
manager if they will arrest your child if you bring your
child in to return the items. If they agree not to arrest
or prosecute, set a time to bring your child in to return
the items. Ask the manager to speak with your child about
the seriousness of the issue and to tell your child that
many places have cameras which catch such actions on film
(these statements are true, by the way. And if you don't
take the items back, you are an accessory to the crime!).
3. Take your child in to talk with the manager. Be
prepared to leave quickly if the manager steps out of
line. Leave the items with the manager or make your child
pay the manager for the items.
4. Ground the child for one week to school, work and
activities ONLY with friends whom you are certain are not
the friends who pressured your child to do this.
Otherwise restrict activities with any peers for a week.
5. Tell your child you forgive them, love them and know
that they will not make the same mistake again.
Move on. ALL teenagers make mistakes. I imagine you did,
too. My bet is that your child will move away quickly on
his/her own from any peers involved. That's what our
This is not advice for you,just my own experience. I was
caught shoplifting when I was about 17, after I had
shoptlifted for quite a while (clothes, candy). I was
arrested, my parents had to bail me out, our family friend
and lawyer assisted with my court case, and I never ever
stole anything from anyone again. That experience really
turned my life around and made me super honest. Today I am
a successful professional. I think if my parents had caught
me earlier I may have stopped, but the public humiliation
was the final straw that stopped me.
former shoplifter, not proud of it
I am a parent of two teen age girls. I didn't have this problem
however, My advice to you is from my own personal experience with
shoplifting. The answer is restorative justice approach with your
teen. Set up a meeting with the store manager, your teen, your self,
and a local policeman if you can. It is very important that each
person present have the ability to leave their professional hats off
just for this meeting. The idea here is to have everyone speak in turn
about how they were or are effected by shoplifting. Than to have the
teen suggest ideas on what he or she can do to begin to restore their
credibility. Than have everyone present offer ideas. develop a system
of checks and balances. End on a positive note if you can. Purchase
''The Little Book Of Restorative Justice''. Good Luck.
Shoplifting is not so much about the thing stolen as about
the excitement of the stealing. My kid went through a phase
where he was addicted to it, and doing it often. When he
was caught stealing a pack of chewing gum I was so unaware
that I thought it must have been his first try, but he
admitted it had been going on for months. The Andronicos
undercover guy was pretty good at frightening him, although
because we came and picked him up the police were not
involved. As well as being horrified and disappointed we
were at first inclined to blame his friends, so when we got
him home we grounded him for two weeks. That night I asked
him to write about what he'd been doing and why as well as
to list out other ways he could get thrills, and he did
that. He was pretty astonished that we were serious about
the grounding, somehow expecting the essay to get him off
the hook. He also had to do extra chores for me to pay back
the $50 fee Andronicos charged. I contacted his friends
parents and let them know what happened, but overall I was
as focused on the addictive part of it as the illegality.
We worked to find things to do that would give him
excitement, such as rock-climbing. I'm pretty sure this was
effective. Later his sister let me know that he had been
shoplifting clothes - before he was caught. If I'd known
that at the time, I would have made him sort out those
clothes, give them to charity and also save up to make an
equivalent donation, but at that point he was doing a lot of
other good things and I let it go. The shoplifting is
definitely gone, but we've had to have several discussions
about alcohol use and parties so he's definitely still
vulnerable to peer pressure and the desire for excitement.
Oy! Just when things seemed to be going so smoothly, we got
a call that my 15 yr. old was caught shoplifting with two
friends. My first reaction was to be very upset and to try
and figure out what else was going on. Then I calmed down
and remembered that I stole cosmetics when I was 13 (I
haven't told her this) and it put things in perspective so I
wasn't so hysterical. As terrible as this is, it seems like
so many kids experiment with taking something. We talked to
her and are having her work at home to pay back the amount
they're charging, which is a lot more than the item itself.
We discussed the option of not being able to socialize with
those kids because I can't trust them together. Each
situation is different, but I feel that getting caught was
pretty embarrassing...even though at first she tried to act
cavalier...and that is punishment in itself. I have a strong
sense that this will not happen again. And if it does, that
will let me know that something much bigger is wrong. For
the record, my daughter is generally very responsible and
not into alcohol or drugs.
That's my story.
I am the Dad of a seventeen year old who is on the verge of
a criminal life. She is a wonderful girl and widely liked
by adults and has a group of close friends. Problem is
since kindergarten, my daughter has had sticky fingers, and I
even have a note from her kindergarten teacher, back east
at a private school, about her taking things that did not
belong to her.
My ex and I share 50-50 custody and my ex lives in shared
housing, We have discovered that for 6 mos. my daughter had
starting ordering jeans and shoes on line using the credit
card number of one of the people who lives in the house.
Without getting into details, this is not the first
incident of calculated stealing and I know its a matter of
time before she goes to prison. So we live in Albany and it
would be great to find an excellent therapist for my child.
in that general part of town. She is agreeably to going
into therapy. She is very smart and needs someone who can
hopefully do cognitive therapy. I almost think some people
have chemical imbalances that predispose them to theft.
I dunno since I can't explain why she does this and seems
to feel compelled to steal.
Another issue is that her mum has paid the roomate the
large amount of money spent on credit card fraud and is not
requiring that my daughter pay her back- since where will she get
the money- since her school work interfers with ability to
work. When I mention consequences are necessary for this
behavior, my ex accuses me of going negative and so guess
who gets alienated and painted as the bad guy.Please any
comments in addition to therapy referrals would be helpful.
I understand how painful your situation is, and I recommend
Margaret Rossoff 658 0389, a family therapist in S. Berkeley
with extensive experience with troubled kids. I realize
that you're requesting a therapist for your daughter, not a
family therapist, but in our experience a kid's recovery is
not possible without family therapy, and Margaret can help
you find a separate therapist for your daughter. Your
daughter's behavior sounds like compulsive (essentially
addictive) behavior, and our son suffers from quite similar
compulsions/addictions. Our son has seen several therapists
(each briefly - he was not open to treatment), and no one
was able to help. Now my husband and I see Margaret, and
our son is in intensive residential rehab. Your daughter
may not need such an intervention if she's open to
treatment, but Margaret is very knowledgeable about programs
if it becomes necessary. I've also found -Anon groups
essential to my own recovery, and a 12 step program
essential to your daughter's recovery. A theme in 12 step
programs is (as you suggest) that the addict make amends to
those they've hurt as a way of (re)building personal
integrity and responsibility. Our son may wind up in jail
even after rehab, but we have bailed him out of far too many
situations, and doing so has not changed him one bit. It may
feel loving in some ways, but, based on our experience, the
outcome is no change or even worse behavior, so the best way
to love a troubled kid is ensure that they address the
situation and struggle with the consequences of their
actions. Believe me, I understand the pain of all this, and
I wish you and your daughter and your ex the very best.
In much the same situation
Dear Dad (and Mum)--
I am a family psychotherapist and so my response to your
post is informed by this perspective and my experience with
children, teens and adults consulting for this problem. In
your brief description of Katie's stealing problem, you
have identified a number of concerns affecting your family
relationships and your daughter's safety. Children and
teens often use action/behavior to communicate anxiety,
distress and a wish for attention (not an exhaustive list!)
when they are unable to name and talk about feelings. This
has little to do with intelligence and being talkative.
Sometimes these matters flourish when (either in divorce or
intact familes)there is a gap in communication and
consistency about parenting expectations. What this means
to the child/teen both in the present and in the past, is
important to elaborate and repair as needed.
In addition to parenting, your daughter, at 17, is on the
threshhold of leaving home, which marks another big change
in your family structure and relationships. This inevitable
and much anticipated milestone can increase anxiety in both
teen and parent!
You also note that your daughter has had a history of
stealing and wonder about compulsive behavior perhaps
fueled by a chemical imbalance. I agree that these, too,
would be very useful questions to explore.
I recommend a ''multi-modal'' therapy -- meaning therapy that
addresses parenting and parent-teen relationships;
psychopharmacology; and also some form of group treatment
or 12-step program (for example Stealers Anonymous).
I am co-parenting my little sister-in-law (age 15). She had a pretty rough
childhood with a lot of losses. Anyway, although she's a great kid, she has
always stolen, and then lied about it. When her mother started getting
sick, and didn't seem to be able to help or even deal with her, she came to
live with us. Since she's been with us, she's made major improvements,
academically, socially, etc. I think the trick was getting an accurate
diagnosis of a learning disability, which helped us all understand her
better. Once she started having some success in her life, and feeling
better about herself, most of the negative behavior went away. In fact,
she's usually very trustworthy, and a hard worker.
However, it pains me to say that we just found out she is still stealing.
She stole some money from us (I don't think she has yet graduated to
shoplifting, but I wouldn't put it past her to steal from anyone else (i.e.,
a guest) in the house, if the opportunity arose). We feel so betrayed, sad,
hurt and angry, but my strongest feeling is fear and concern for her future.
Although I love my in-laws, I wish she had come to live with us at a younger
age; we are dealing now with her first 12 years of punitive, shaming
discipline and corporal punishment, coupled with inconsistency, lack of
structure and not a lot of demonstrations of affection.
I can't even begin to describe the different ways we've tried to approach
this. She was in therapy ("talk" therapy) for a year, the first year she
lived with us, but that is all. So one thing I am asking for advice on is
what TYPE of therapy might be good for helping her with this issue, which
seems like a compulsion. It's clear that it's not about the money, that
there are underlying emotional issues that she needs help dealing with.
She's a little distant emotionally, and doesn't like to express sadness or
anger. She also doesn't like to be touched, hugged, anything. I don't
think it's like full-blown attachment disorder, but I do think she has some
real issues in that department, probably stemming from a traumatic birth and
early infancy and compounded by the way she was raised. Anyway, I'M not the
therapist here: I can't figure out how to help her, and I feel so desperate!
So, again, if anyone has ideas about what type of therapy might help her
develop some self-control, get at the underlying issues, etc., it would be
very helpful. I suspect she needs something other than "talk therapy" to
get past her (well-developed) defenses.
My second request for advice is if anyone knows any particular therapists
and/or groups that they think might be good. We have Kaiser, so anyone at
any Kaiser in the bay area would be great (we'll go anywhere!). However,
our primary concern is to get her skilled help, so we are willing to pay out
of pocket for a private therapist. Moreover, I think it's really important
to find someone who is culturally competent, especially with urban teens and
families, and women of color. She's not a "defiant" kid, or really "hard,"
and she doesn't have ADD, so those types of groups would be inappropriate.
My third request for advice is simply for ANYTHING folks can think of that
might be helpful! Like I said earlier, it's too much to try to describe
everything we've done in the past and everything we are doing now, but I
will say that we are VERY STRUCTURED. Rather, we have been fairly
structured, and then have given her more independence and trust when she
seems to be proving trustworthy, and now feel the need to "clamp down" on
her again. So, any commiseration and recommendations would be much
I am a therapist with years of working with young people and their families.
Of course it is really impossible to know the whole situation from your
message, but your 15 year old "sister-in-law" is lucky to have such
committed family caring for her. But despite your commitment she seems to be
testing whether you will be there if she is really "bad". If this is what is
going on (and again, it is not possible to really know from this vantage
point) it is important that she knows that there is nothing that she can do
that will make you abandon her (assuming this is true). This does not mean
that her stealing is ok and there needs to be appropriate consequences for
this stealing (or other misbehavior), but you love her and will be there for
her no matter what. Although this message has to be clearly conveyed, it
sounds like she and the rest of your immediate family would benefit from
seeing a family therapist together. This will allow the many layers of
feelings that you all have to be explored. Make sure that anyone you all see
does meet your wise criteria of 'cultural competency with urban youth'. She
may need, and hopefully may want, to also see a therapist on her own. At 15
she should feel very sure that anyone she sees alone is HER therapist and
that it is a private confidential place for her.
I am going to recommend to the "parents" of the teen with the troubled
past that you give her a lot of time and love first and foremost!
Secondly, I think you should be calling something like Big Sisters of
America and get her some one she can relate to that is not a relative.
She may be embarassed as heck to talk with you all.
Next, ask them to suggest options for urban kids with all the listed
problems. But I feel a mentor might be great. I myself don't have
these issues but did have a problematic past and desperatley needed
someone outside the loop to help.
All I can really offer is commiseration, because I know how painful it
is. My daughter has a somewhat similar history (in an adoption context) --
pre-adoption physical abuse, loss, etc. Recently she was caught shoplifting.
She acknowledged ( after a visit to youth court) that getting caught was the
best thing that could have happened to her.( Plus her best friend gave her
hell and this helped her) She can now acknowledge a problem and a self
destructive tendency that can get the best of her unless she is vigilant.
It turns out that marijuana use was involved in this incident - a problem
we are now addressing with drug education classes we go to together. She
now undergoes random drug testing and has been clean since we began to
address this together. So, one suggestion would be to check whether or not
there is possible drug use. If there is, address it. My daughter is also
a fantastic person, rich in insight and often quite reliable who just goes
frighteningly wrong sometimes because of old emotional wounds. I believe
this is just part of the territory for kids who have suffered certain
intensity of abuse and loss -- and therefore part of the territory for
Although my daughter has been in therapy for many years, recently she
has initiated a change to a less frequent and more intense therapy. It is
helping her steady her life in general but I am not sure it is addressing
underlying issues per se. Seems sometimes kids can't do that - they need
help coping with the present. My experience is that letting the
consequences fall hard for the destructive behaviors -- no rescuing ! --
helps (even somewhat dispassionately -- in our case I tried to respond
with minimal drama -- she had to pay reparations to the store, go to youth
court, will have to do community service, has to go with me to the drug ed
class and submit to random testing -- i.e. consequence that are imposed not
just by me but that have institutional support from the outside - youth
court, etc -- its is a response from the real world, not just a parent
thing). This helps, while at the same time continuing to be loving,
structured, and trying hard not to take the episodes of this kind of
behavior personally or emotionally -- all this does help.
A very hard thing is to fully accept the complexity of the situation --
which you seem to have already done -- that the kid IS wonderful, one does
love them and they love back and STILL can act in ways one finds outrageous
(and which can indeed be dangerous to them) because of their past wounds.
I have been told that stealing is not at all uncommon for older adoption
kids and they often take from the people they love. Youth court does
have a "stealing education class" -- I don't know much more about it but it
was mentioned at our preliminary youth court hearing. I can try to get more
information about it when we go back for the formal hearing later this week
and post the info for you here. But if it is anything like the drug ed
class we have been doing it might be helpful -- the drug awareness class is
very helpful - even if one already "knows" the information -- the experience
of going over it with other people ( other adolescents and their families)
can be very moving and productive. Finally, seek support from other
parents dealing with kids who have had these tough early experiences -
because it is just different, in some ways, from normal parenting. I hope
some of this might be helpful -- good luck and courage.
Your little sister-in-law sounds like she has an attachment disorder,
based on her history and the behavior you are currently seeing.
Definitely get her (and you and your husband) back into therapy with a
therapist who has expertise in Reactive Attachment Disorders. In the
meantime, your instinct about being very structured with her is right on.
It is important to be consistent (to the point of inflexibility) and
logical so she can trust you. This is hard work. Good luck. She sounds
like she really needs you to help her heal.
We had a somewhat similar situation with our daughter. In all other ways
she was a 'good kid' doing well in school, no drugs/sex etc but at 13 she
began stealing from stores compulsively. I wanted to have her visit a
courtroom procedure for juveniles or juvenile hall so that she could see
the serious consequences of what she was doing. These options wereen't
possible so what I finally ended up doing is calling Berkeley Police to
ask if they could 'scare her straight'. We went in together and an
officer talked with her about shoplifting and its consequences. He had
her go home and write an essay on what she wanted to achieve in life and
then met with her again n one week to discuss the essay. They were very
respectful and the method worked. Unlike your step-sister, our daughter
never stole from other people but you may want to try this technique if
you catch her stealing from stores. We also made her go in and return
the things that she stole from the stores.
My foster daughter, who is now an adult, came to live with me when she was 6
after a very difficult early childhood. Her early deprivation left her with
a number of troubling behaviors, including stealing. She stole from our
home, from guests, from school. I also tried everything, but nothing
particularly worked except her growing out of it (after developing more
serious problems, like substance abuse, in adolescence). I don't think any
special therapy is necessary, but Kaiser might not be the place to find her a
therapist, because this could take some years to deal with. My daughter did
eventually go to work, get her own money and have a pretty normal life. The
one piece of advice I could offer around parental response is: don't
concentrate on trying to control or change the stealing behavior; just stay
with your normal consequences and structures. I came to take preventative
measures of not leaving cash around, etc. I think some of these behaviors
are a form of testing: kids who have been mistreated want to know if they are
still loved when they act out. Good luck.
was one of the worst aspects of my daughter's behavior problems that
our therapist told us arose from incomplete attachment. It was worst
in her elementary years, but I remember that she took things even as a
preschooler. They just don't call it stealing until the kid gets
older. With a lot of the behavior that comes with incomplete
attachment, behavioral therapy worked very well - especially since we
went as a family. But not for the stealing. Our therapist just kept
telling us that she would have to grow out of it, and probably as the
attachment issues were resolved, it would die away. This seems to be
the case. She went to therapy individually during the hideous middle
school years, and now that she's in high school she's much more mature
and in control of her behavior, and she doesn't steal.
Daughter's friend is stealing her things
I am the single parent of a young teen. In the last six months or so, my
daughter has noticed that a friend of hers "happens" to have a lot of
identical clothing and other personal items, concurrent with my daughter
noticing the items absent. None of these items is expensive (makeup,
clothing, stickers), and when my daughter mentions to the girl how "odd" it
is that she has the same things, the girl is not defensive at all in
explaining how she came to have the same things. But the items are
enough that it is very unlikely that she could have gotten the exact same
things. She even went so far as to tell a mutual friend that my daughter
gives her the makeup my daughter doesn't want. Outside of the obvious
problem, the girl's mother is a friend and we carpool, etc. and I don't
want to offend the family by bringing this to their attention. Anybody
have any suggestions?
Please talk to the mother of your daughter's friend that is
stealing. If the mother is offended - well better to be offended than
not to have knowledge of your children's activities that are signs of
trouble. If your daughter's friend was MY child and you DIDN"T tell
me, I'd be upset.
I'd start off my saying: "I have something to say to you that its
difficult for me to talk to you about but I think you should know -
its about your daughter - I'm telling you this because I care.. Then
just say what you said in the posting - too many coincidences and in
On another note: why does your daughter still hang out with a "friend"
who's stealing from her? Doesn't sound like much of a friend and I
think your daughter should stand up for herself and NOT be friends (or
at least seriously evaluate the friendship) with someone who has
betrayed her trust and who is being a thief and a liar - at best the
"friend" is using her (sounds harsh but its true). If the "friend"
has "issues" (self esteem, wants material things that her family can't
afford, etc.) then her family needs to deal with it and your daughter
needs to think about the friendship. Is the friend doing other things
like shoplifting? What if your daughter was with her at the time?
It sounds like your daughter's friend steals compulsively and my guess
is she has been doing it for a long time. I have experience with
this. My 16-year-old has been close friends since pre-school with a
kid I'll call Oliver who has gone through periods of stealing (and
worse) over the years. Even in preschool, when his mom came to pick
him up, she would pat him down to see if he was taking anything home
of ours. My theory is that this gave him the idea she was expecting
him to steal, and he was living up to her expectations, because he
continued stealing for a long time after preschool. He has also
always told big whoppers - for example his hand was once bitten off by
a shark and it grew back! Later the whoppers became more serious - a
maintenance guy at a local park who Oliver was taunting grabbed his
arm in anger and Oliver reported to his parents that he was "touched".
My son was there, I got a visit from the police (I told them what
really happened). Oliver has his good points too, and my son has
stood by him loyally through thick and thin, despite my own
discouragements and obstacles over the years. Even though he now lives
in another city, he calls my son many times a week and they get
together every month or so. I suspect my son is his only friend.
Once Oliver's problems became obvious, I sharply restricted what they
could do together and never allowed Oliver in the house when I was
away - I still don't. In middle school I would not allow my son to go
with Oliver to the nearby shops, though he was allowed to go with
other friends, because Oliver had been caught shoplifting at the local
toy store and I didn't want my son to be there when he did it the next
time. My son didn't like this, but I think he understood my position.
I have spoken with the parents many times over the years. It is not
very effective to talk to the parents in this case. They are well
aware of the problems their kid has, have tried various strategies
over the years (therapy, meds, changing schools, even moving). They
have heard it so often, they are somewhat defensive, maybe in an
effort to protect their troubled kid. Also their approach to parenting
is to require their kids to always take responsibility no matter what,
even in cases where the parent ought to be taking responsibility, and
the penalties they impose are quite harsh in my opinion. For example,
they once called off a special Iceland birthday party the morning of,
disappointing all the invitees, because Oliver broke a minor family
rule. (The 10-year-old Oliver was required to phone all the kids - we
parents were not informed.) Or cancelling Halloween trick-or-treating
at the last minute because Oliver called his sister a name. So I only
phone them in extreme cases (i.e., police coming to my house to ask
about Oliver's next-door-neighbor's broken window - my son was there
when it happened so Oliver told the police to talk to him.)
When it became clear that toys (and even money) had disappeared from
our house during the time Oliver was there, I did not call his
parents, but I did confront him. This was when he was in his early
teens. He denied it very vigorously. I told him that I like him, and
I want him to stay friends with my son, but we can't have things taken
from the house and I will have to do whatever it takes to prevent that
from happening. I also had a talk with my son. He defended his
friend and was upset that I might stop them from seeing each other,
but he also acknowledged that his friend was stealing and had always
had this stealing problem. Initially this seemed to work, Oliver
seemed to appreciate that I was dealing directly with him, and things
of ours stopped disappearing. But then another friend had some very
special collectables taken when my son and Oliver were visiting his
house. This other kid wasn't friends with Oliver - my son took Oliver
over there, so I felt somewhat responsible. When the collectables
turned up later at Oliver's house, my son told me. I phoned Oliver
and very earnestly tried to convince him to return them. He denied he
had taken them. So I phoned the other friend's mother. She had to go
to Oliver's house to collect them, had to insist to be taken to
Oliver's bedroom to prove to Oliver's parents that he had taken them.
So I guess my advice is to do what you can to protect your things, and
make sure your own child understands what the problem is and takes
similar protective steps. Calling the parents might not work if they
have been receiving reports from years from lots of other people.
I urge you to put the welfare of this child before your relationship
with her mother, or your desire not to feel awkward. She is learning
that theft and lying have positive outcomes...you MUST tell her mom,
and insist on return of your child's possessions. Even if their
embarrassment estranges them from you, they will thank you later for
caring enough to do the right thing.
I just found out that my middle daughter (sixth grade) who will
be tweleve next month has been stealing money from my purse. I
am so upset. She has been stealing since she was in second
grade. She stole a CD from her dance teacher, she has stolen
pencil boxes from her class mates. She takes things from her
sisters (ages 13 and 8). She steals candy in the house etc. So
far I have made her write pages and pages of lines saying she
knows it is wrong to steal, she won't steal again etc. I have
taken away activities she likes to do etc. I thought I was
handling the problem properly. Now I am devastated. I don't
know what to do. I cleaned out her room and took away all her
things, except her clothes. I found her diary and read it. She
seems to be completely normal, her diary did not reveal she is
having any problems at all. She is a honor role student who had
math anxiety a couple of years ago. I spent a huge amount of
money getting her tutored, and now she gets A's in math. I am
aware of the middle child syndrome and always make sure she does
not feel insecure. She is a little overweight, whereas her
sister are not. When I ask what makes her steal, she says she
does not know. What can I do?
I don't have any great answers for you but I was a big shoplifter
starting at age 6 (I
stole candy) through middle school.
What did it for me was actually being arrested -- It didn't eliminate
entirely, but I was able to start weighing the potential consequences
versus the gain.
I've since read/heard that children steal because there is an
unfulfilled sense of
entitlement. In other words, I deserve X and am not getting it, so I
steal to help fill
that hole. Although I never ever could have articulated that as a
child, it really
resonates with me now. I'm sure your daughter has NO idea why she
questioning her probably won't help.
I guess there's no advice here . . . just a note that you're not alone.
steal and just need help in understanding the consequences and growing
out of it.
I might be able to offer some advice from the perspective of
someone who has finally grown out of her middle child syndrome.
Of course, I have no idea if my family was anything like yours,
but the age differences were similar and we were also a family
with three girls. I didn't steal, but I lied all the time.
Nothing my family would do (punish, shame, discuss) would really
help. So, we got into a pattern where everyone just recognized
me as the problem child. After I moved away for college, I
started thinking of myself less as the problem child, and more
as the symptom of larger problems in the family. Now that I
have even more distance and a wonderful relationship with
everyone in my family, I realize it was really somewhere in
between. But, if there is one thing that I think my parents
could have done better, it would have been to differentiate
between us more, instead of just thinking of the three of us as
a unit -- ''the girls'' -- and treating us all the same way. For
example, my parents just assumed that I would take up all the
same hobbies as my older sister, and they didn't encourage or
support any of my individual interests. Of course, I'm not
saying that this is anything like what your daughter's
experience is like. But, I bet that if you find a way to give
her a little extra positive attention, it couldn't hurt.
A child who steals is often expressing a deeply-held feeling of
deprivation that she
may only dimly be aware of. This may be why your taking things away
from her or
disciplining her by making her write lines may not be working (as this
increase her sense of not getting enough through legitimate means).
implying that she is actually
deprived, only that her stealing from you and her sisters may be the
only way she
can presently express an unconscious feeling of deprivation. This
warrent consultation with an experienced child psychologist who could
sort out what is going on with her and what you can do to help her.
Anonymous Child Psychotherapist
My middle sister was what we called a ''klepto''. My other sisters
and I actually admired her daring and skill when we were kids --
we joked about her Christmas shoplifting expeditions at the mall
and we'd put in an order for a bottle of fingernail polish or a
tube of lipstick. I'm ashamed to say this now. I have no idea
why she stole, and the rest of us didn't. There were a lot of us
kids, and my parents were so entangled with a multitude of adult
problems that they didn't pay much attention to us. And I was the
smart overachieving big sister, and she was a year younger and
constantly compared to me. Maybe that's why. My klepto sister got
into a lot of trouble all through her youth and teen years - ran
away from home, dropped out of high school, had two babies while
still in her teens. Even as a young adult she stole - I can
remember going shopping with her in Santa Monica when we were in
our 20's and being horrified when she tucked an expensive bottle
of wine under her jacket and walked out with it. She went through
a series of husbands and a series of religions, and eventually
settled on one, and has been pretty stable for the past 20 years
- she doesn't remember the wine bottle incident and denies that
she ever stole anything as a kid! She was always the kindest,
most compassionate of all of us, and she still is. She would do
anything for anyone, and has none of the penchant for fighting
and argument the rest of us have! Now she is in her late 40s, and
she is the director of a non-profit that provides home services
to poor senior citizens. She is one of those people that everyone
loves, and no one dislikes. Just a really sweet, loving person.
When I think of her teenage self, it makes me so sad that such a
sweet person had such a hard time of it for so many years. I
really do not have any answers for you about your daughter, but
maybe she is a sweet person like my sister, who really just wants
to please. Maybe it would help to give her some extra attention
and try to develop any special skills and talents she has, so she
can be good at something besides stealing? Good luck
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