- Sometimes they just want what someone else has got, and don’t think before they take it. They may have developed some sense of entitlement – often because they have not had the opportunity to contribute in their household or work for money.
- Many teenagers steal because they feel they are unloved or that they don’t belong. They think they have a right to hurt other people because they feel hurt inside. They are trying to make up for the pain they feel in what can be seen as an attempt to ‘get even’, so it is important to make sure that if a child is stealing you go to extra lengths to help them feel loved, important and wanted.
- It could be because of jealousy – if they feel you favour one child over another. It is useful to listen attentively to the emotions behind what they are saying and discuss their feelings in a positive non-judgemental way.
- It may be because they want to pay for gifts for friends or family to feel accepted
- Or they could be doing it out of a sense of danger or bravado in front of peers, or perhaps encouraged to steal by peers, or wanting to fit in with a group or gang where stealing is normal.
- It could be to fund a habit such as gambling, on-line gaming or funding cigarettes or alcohol. Sadly parents now need to consider carefully if their teenagers could be stealing money for drugs. (Please don’t rule this out as a possibility despite your initial doubts. Just be vigilant.)
- It could be out of a fear of dependency – they take what they need so they will not feel dependent on anyone or obliged to anyone –particularly if there is resentment or bad feeling towards the people they rely on.
- Or they may just feel jealous that other kids have what they want
- It may be that they are unable to trust others or form close relationships
- Or it could be due to demands from a bully for money or items
What you can do about it
Consider all the following possibilities and choose which ones might work for you.
1. When you discover something is missing, if you can, collect your evidence. Get your investigators hat on – find out which child is spending more than usual. It is best if a conversation about stealing is done when there is no doubt.
2. When confronted with the evidence, if your child insists they got the money elsewhere tell them you will make inquiries in a couple of hours to check their story, to give them a chance to think about it and come clean
Have a serious talk with them.
3. Ask them why they are stealing. What is it that they wanted?
4. Then say ‘Now I need to explain my side…’
- Stealing is wrong –there is always a victim.
- As a parent it is your job to instil morals. If you let this go, you will be failing as a parent to stop them stealing. If this is the first time you will deal with it at home, but next time there will be much harsher consequences.
- Stealing is illegal. It is a crime and the child could get a criminal record which will affect their chances of future employment and their reputation.
- It is difficult to shake off the label of ‘thief’ once caught. If their friends and school find out it will damage their reputation and you don’t want that for your child.
- The habit of stealing is hard to break and often extends outside the home, where police are much more likely to get involved.
- We can’t have everything we want. We need to work for it.
- Tell them what it feels like to be stolen from: Hurt, let-down, shocked, disbelieving, sad, upset, disrespected, privacy invaded, devastated
- Tell them what it feels like not to trust your child: expected better, feeling more distant, distrusting in other things, worried for the future, like a bad parent, wanting to search their room when items go missing, stressed, pained, not sure what to do, how to stop them & how to help them learn, but knowing if you fail what the consequences could be.
- Explain that trust is the basis of all relationships. We need to trust people to feel close to them. When trust is broken it is hard to re-establish.
- Tell them what you will do the next time valuables or money go missing such as visit to the Police or local Youth Offending Team (This would be for a chat, but don’t threaten anything you won’t follow through on)
- Make it clear that it goes against your family values and the expectations of your community
- Tell them how disappointed you are in their behaviour. Tell them they have let themselves down and they have let you down.
- Avoid predicting that their future is in prison or referring to a child as a thief.
- Explain how important it is that they never steal again
- Tell them that somehow they must pay back ALL the money that was stolen and what the consequences will now be (choose your own or pick one or more from the list below)