Teen Shoplifter: What To Do When Your Child Starts Stealing

With teen shoplifters, there may be both family consequences and legal consequences.
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Have you just found out your teenager is shoplifting? Or perhaps you have good reason to suspect.

It’s natural to feel a wave of emotions in this scenario, and it’s easy to blame yourself for your child’s wrongdoing. Knowing the reasons why teenagers shoplift and what you can do about it can help to remediate the situation.

Perhaps you’ve noticed plenty of new expensive items which can’t be explained, or worse, the cops have given you a call to say you’re teen has been caught red-handed. It might feel like every parent’s worst nightmare, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your child is on the road to criminality. In fact, research shows as much as 25% of arrested shoplifters are in their teens. Shoplifting may be common, but it does not mean tackling the issue should be avoided. So, what can you do about this risky behavior, and what consequences can you give? We have compiled everything about teenage shoplifters in one place so you can find out what would work best for you and your family.

We also have plenty of other articles relating to teenagers, such as supporting a teen traveler or exploring social media and self-esteem.

Why Do Teenagers Shoplift?

When asked why they committed an act of shoplifting, many teens respond with 'I don’t know'. In many cases, research says the reasons as to why do teens shoplift fall into three main categories. The first is they went to steal something just for the thrill and buzz of stealing. The second reason is due to peer pressure, the result of a 'dare', or to achieve social status. The third primary reason for shoplifting is because they wanted an item they are forbidden to have or cannot afford from the store. This might be alcohol, cigarettes, or expensive makeup. Another element to consider is hormonal changes in the teenage brain, such as poor impulse control. Naturally, it could also be a combination of these factors, and of course, we must not neglect deeper reasons such as emotional unhappiness, low self-esteem or stress, and bullying.

What To Do If Your Child Is Caught Shoplifting?

Have a serious conversation with your teen about the implications for stealing

If you are sure your teen is stealing or has been caught stealing, it’s time for a serious conversation and consideration of the shoplifting consequence. It’s important they understand why going to steal anything is wrong and that ultimately someone will pay the price, whether it is them personally or the store who will make a loss on their takings. It’s a good start to try your best to understand why your child has done this and examine their logic. They might feel a sense of entitlement towards the item they stole or a strong sense of competition within their social circle. You could even ask them to write an essay about what led up to the event to understand further their motivation. For example, if they want expensive things, you might want to encourage them to take up a part-time job. Understanding the motivation will help guide you accordingly.

Remember shouting, yelling, and being aggressive towards your teen, regardless of how upset you may be feeling, will not resolve the situation or change the behavior.

If it’s the first time you are dealing with a teen caught stealing, one option is to encourage them to return the stolen items to the retailers and try to make financial amends. Many businesses will accept an apology and not press charges. This level of owning up to their actions also provides a level of accountability that will prevent them from stealing again. You may wish to serve an additional consequence, such as forbidding them to go to the shopping mall again for two weeks, and then give them a chance to earn your trust back.

You may wish to consider forbidding them to go back to the mall for a period of time as a consequence.

One of the best things you can do as a parent is to explain that the risks are beyond your control. You could say something like, 'This is beyond what I can help with, I cannot protect you, and you are putting yourself at risk'. You can also explain to them the sense of betrayal you feel and the value of trust.

Consequences Of Shoplifting

In many cases of teenage shoplifting, the fact your teen was caught stealing acts as enough of a deterrent to prevent them from doing it again.  However, your teen’s age will play a part in deciding which consequence to serve. For younger teens, some shoplifting consequences for minors could be sending them to their room with a heavy chat about what happened. Remember to focus on the child comprehending the impact of their actions instead of them just saying sorry and accepting it right away. The volume and frequency of what was stolen is also a factor to consider. For example, if your teen stole a large sum of money, the police should be involved. It may also be that the point of being arrested is when you find out about it, so police involvement is out of your hands.

Persistent shoplifting at age 15 and over could be a sign of a conduct disorder and require therapeutic intervention. As teens grow older and develop, so does their ability to process consequences. They need to understand that stealing can lead to far more significant implications than being grounded at home or withdrawing a mobile. Explain that the severity of their actions can lead to juvenile detention centers and a criminal history that may flag up future checks.

In most states, teens can be criminally charged, and the retailers have their rights reserved to retrieve any financial damages through civil court proceedings. Generally speaking, court cases involving first-time offenders are usually remanded to teen courts or a juvenile conference committee. In these cases, teen volunteers work on real cases involving teenage offenders. The overarching aim of any teen court is to provide the offender with a second chance. They might be asked to make amends with the store owner, commit to community service, or be issued a fine for the actions.

Whilst stealing is by no means a rite of passage, it is not always a serious cry for help. However, if stealing is a repeated behavior, or in combination with any other behaviors such as failing grades or substance abuse, a psychological assessment will help understand if this is a cry for help within your teen and how you can help.

If you found this article helpful, why not check out our examination of types of behavior or types of consequences and what works for different children?

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