To stop a teenager who’s been stealing, firstly confront them with the evidence, without giving them the chance to lie.
First, you’ll need to catch them stealing. Your teenager has probably been taking things for a while, and almost certainly thinks you’re easy to fool. So don’t ask them for an explanation, and don’t believe the inevitable lies.

So say:

  • “I found £20 missing from my purse this morning.
  • And I found £20 under your mattress.’
  • I’m not going to ask how it got there.
  • I know you took it.
  • Please don’t lie about it.
  • What you were going to use the money for?”

If they deny taking the money say:

  • I KNOW you took the money;
  • I’m just waiting for you to be brave enough to admit it.

If they do lie, tell them you’ll be investigating their story.

  • ‘If you insist that’s true, I’ll give you half an hour to think about it.
  • And then I’ll ring your friend’s parents.’

If they get angry with you searching their room say:

  •  ‘The problem is the money that went missing from my purse.
  • That’s the only thing we’re going to discuss now.
  • Privacy is a privilege you earn, not a right.’

When they finally admit they’ve taken the money say:

  • ‘Thank you for admitting it and I’m glad you’re saying sorry.
  • What’s important now is that it never happens again. Or I’ll be calling the community police officer.
  • What else have you stolen?’

Secondly, insist they return or pay for anything they’ve stolen.
Everything that’s been stolen needs to be returned to the rightful owner. If they’ve spent the money, insist they pay it back from their savings or do jobs around your house at a fixed rate to pay for anything they’ve stolen. This is crucial! Even if it’s hundreds of pounds.
If the thing they’ve stolen was from a shop, they need to return what they stole, apologise, and accept the consequences. Be completely firm on this one.

  • Call the shop.
  • If they agree not to prosecute:
    Agree a time when you’ll bring your teenager in.
  • Go with them to the shop.
  • Afterwards, tell your teenager you’re pleased that they took responsibility for what they did.
  • And that you’re sure they won’t make the same mistake again.

Finally, once it’s dealt with, draw a line under it.
Don’t keep bringing it up. Once they’ve admitted their mistake, made amends, and agreed they won’t steal again, make sure you tell them you love them and forgive them. And that the matter’s now over.

So to stop a teenager who’s been stealing, 3 things you can do are:

  1. Confront them with the evidence, without giving them the chance to lie.
  2. Insist they return or pay for anything they’ve stolen.
  3. Once it’s dealt with, draw a line under it.

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child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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