When Your Teen Steals: Step-by-Step Advice for Parents
As a parent, discovering that your child steals can be a devastating experience. You may feel immense disappointment in your teen and blame yourself. To effectively address the issue, first remove self-blame and focus on these steps.
Find Root of the Issue
The act of stealing can go beyond your teen simply wanting something they cannot have otherwise (e.g. money, a credit card, expensive items). You may be quick to react with outrage, anger and judgement, but it will only cause him or her to deny or act defensively. Approach the situation sternly, but give your kid an opportunity to confess on his or her own terms and timeline. Meanwhile, explore reasons why they stole:
- Entitlement: Teenagers face mounting social competition and peer pressure. From wearing designer clothes to having the latest gadgets, teens will go to great lengths to fit in. They believe they deserve what they're stealing and rules don't apply to them.
- Void and Attention: If your teen is sad or depressed, he or she may steal to feel rush and excitement, thus filling an emptiness and feeling better in the short-term. Teens who may feel neglected may also steal as a call for attention.
- Envy and Aggression: Stealing may be an act of jealousy or aggression. Your teen may steal as retaliation over a sibling who is seemingly favored or given more. He or she may also steal in response to a quarrel or disagreement in which your teen feels powerless or unheard.
Explain the Emotional Impact
Whether your teen has yet to admit any wrongdoing, talk to your him or her about the emotional effects stealing has on a family, and that it's more damaging than just material loss. Family members often feel insecure, suspicious, hurt, angry and anxious over it happening again. You may even explain that this level of immoral behavior corrodes their character and integrity. Indifference between right and wrong can lead to more serious problems and consequences down the road, affecting their future.
Discuss Consequences, Reparation and Trust
Once your teen confesses, firmly subject him or her to consequences, starting with an apology. Suggest that he or she pays back the cost of what was stolen and enforce a loss of privileges until trust rebuilds. Rather than tighten you watch on your money and possessions, put your teen in charge of a certain amount of cash. This lesson is a chance for your child to pursue moral and ethical behavior, as well as re-establish a sense of trust within the family dynamic.
Keep in mind, responsibility doesn't have to fall entirely onto your teen's shoulders. These solutions can also help curb his or her motivation for stealing:
- Help your teen find ways to make extra money that can buy the things they want.
- Praise your teen for their accomplishments; give attention to their positive attributes.
- Plan activities that elicit excitement to replace boredom that may prompt the thrill of stealing.
Employ Next-Level Accountability
For your teen to earn your trust back can be a challenge, especially if stealing arises from mental instability or the need to pay for more serious things like drugs. This can be scary and may require more drastic measures, such as installing a home security camera system, if your teen continues to lie and deny. Stealing is not only a violation of trust, it's a crime. Home video footage serves as proof of stealing, which puts you into the position to state the behavior will absolutely not be tolerated. Don't hesitate to get the police involved and reach out to a therapist or psychologist. If the behavior continues, your responsibility as a parent is to take the next steps before negative behavior escalates to an unsafe, damaging level.