Rite of Passage or Cry for Help?
Why Teens Shoplift
What to Do?
Shoplifting may be common, but that doesn't mean it should be
treated lightly. If you suspect that your child is stealing, it is time for a
serious talk. Children need to know that stealing can lead to consequences far
worse than being grounded, including juvenile detention centers or prison and a
permanent mark on their record. If you're certain the merchandise is stolen,
encourage them to take it back. If it's a first-time offense, most businesses
will accept a teen's apology and won't press charges.
Nancy Gannon, executive deputy director of the Coalition for
Juvenile Justice, says that in most states, kids can be criminally prosecuted
and retailers can demand and collect financial damages in civil court. But
cases involving first offenders are often remanded to juvenile conference
committees or teen courts in which teen volunteers decide real cases involving
teen defendants. (There are some 500 teen courts in 45 states.)
"One major principle of juvenile courts is to give children
who've made a mistake a second chance," Gannon says. At the same time, the
courts want kids to understand the consequences of wrongdoing and to make
amends. In the case of shoplifting, a teenager might be asked to meet with the
storeowner. He might be fined or be assigned community service work. (Crimes
that involve serious offenses, such as weapons possession, are remanded to
Repeat offenders are arrested and may be confined for a period
of time. If shoplifting keeps happening, the court would order a psychological
assessment and further explore the child's life. "Is he stealing because
he's hungry or is this an impulse control problem? Is the child on drugs?"
For most teenagers, simply getting caught acts as a deterrent.
The best thing a parent can do is to convey to the child the risks of
wrongdoing. Wolf says the message goes something like this: "'You are
now dealing with something outside of the safe and protective confines of
family. We cannot protect you and you are putting yourself at risk. '
That's the main message you want to get across, and with the majority of kids
it will work."
If the problem continues or if it's accompanied by other
destructive behaviors -- a sullen or violent manner, falling grades, suspected
substance abuse -- you may need to consider seeking professional help.