Stealing & Shoplifting in Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • My son mentioned a shoplifting incident that happened recently with his friend I'll call "Sam".  This is a friend he was close to when they were younger, but now they only see each other a few times a year. Sam and my son were with a group of friends, and they stopped at a convenience store for treats. My son told me he saw Sam put a bag of candy in his pocket that he didn't pay for and later offered to the group. My son seemed sort of baffled, like he was asking me what he should think about this. We talked about stealing and what he might have said when the candy was offered. He asked me not to say anything about the incident to Sam or to Sam's mom.  

    Now I'm thinking that someone needs to clue Sam in about the shoplifting. I don't think his mom will do it, so maybe I should. I had a sister who stole things at his age. Our parents weren't paying attention, and it got worse as she got older, and caused a lot of problems. Sam doesn't have anybody either who will tell him he's done the wrong thing. He's always been kind of a sneaky kid, but his mom makes excuses for him and is sort of in denial. Once he broke an antique wall sconce at my house. The kids were playing, it was not intentional, but I was home at the time and he didn't tell me about it, and when I saw what had happened, he denied responsibility. I decided I should tell his mom, NOT because I wanted her to pay for the damage but because I would want to know if my kid broke something that was important to someone else, and then didn't apologize or take responsibility. I'd known them a few years, so I felt comfortable calling. She thanked me for calling but then told me that Sam is very sensitive and has a hard time dealing with criticism, so she didn't feel she could bring this up with him right now.  So after that, I didn't tell her about Sam's misbehaviors. I don't think she would take any action this time either.

    So ... if you were me, would you wait until an opportune moment and have a private chat with Sam? Or would you call his mom?  Or would you just keep your mouth shut and mind your own business?

    I would bring the subject up again with your son, and tell him 1) you are concerned that Sam's misbehavior is going to escalate and your son will be caught up even more in it, and 2) request your son's permission to share his observation of the shoplifting incident (which was in fact a crime) with Sam's mom. If you can have an open discussion with your son about both those things, regardless of if he agrees that you can share it or not, you should feel reassured about your son knowing right from wrong, which is the bottom line here. Sam obviously sounds like a challenging kid and if your son was younger, you'd simply refuse to let them associate, but obviously a 16 year old can pick his own friends so you simply have to trust your child to choose wisely. You didn't observe the shoplifting yourself, so that's another reason to let your son "guide" you on that too.

    I am very glad you had the wisdom of considering 'minding your own business' as an option.  You do not know this family's circumstances and they do not need to fill you in on them.  I'm sad 'Sam''s mom had to explain things private to you.  On the same note, we all think we know better and our values are the best.  Values are subjective.  I suggest you have compassion for the kid and the mom and leave them alone.

    If your son doesn't want you to say anything you should leave it alone although you should have a talk him about whether or not he wants to continue having Sam be apart of his life.

    Come on. You have tried with this mom before, she doesn't care or can't make herself confront it, you're not going to suddenly get thru to her this time. Just encourage your son to keep distance from this walking disaster, which it sounds like he isn't interested in him anyway, and keep your own distance. The mom sounds like an absolute idiot. Telling her is NOT going to save this kid. 

    Of course you should tell his mom that you suspect he is stealing. However-- your tone seems very judgey-lucky you for having a well behaved child but believe me there are plenty of parents out here who do our best to raise law abiding and morally correct children - yet still they push the limits. I invite you to channel some compassion prior to your outreach.

    I disagree with another parents description of not saying anything as a sign of "compassion" .

    Not saying anything is a sign of weakness and cowardice.

    My daughter was friendly with a girl who was shoplifting ... at age 8!! I immediately told her her mother- as kindly as I could. She was grateful that I had the guts to talk about a difficult subject and immediately set her own kid straight. 

    Shoplifting is a serious problem. It can lead to arrests and getting a criminal record which can complicate a young persons chances for future success. 

    Telling a parent the the truth is the biggest the gift you can give this family. It's not easy- but it's the right thing to do!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


14 yr old shoplifting-help!

April 2013

My friend's son has been shoplifting. He has not been caught by any store security yet but he has told his sibling who has then informed the parents. Parents have taken teen to store-apology-strong words from store owners/ security yet teen continues to steal. My question is this: have you had teens who have shoplifted and if so-how did you address both the shoplifting and the underlying issue? how does one figure out why this is happening? and stop it from happening without getting the teenager arrested and in the juvenile system? Teen is seeing a therapist currently. Parents just divorced recently so I am certain this is adding to his stress level and perhaps this is behind it all? Lastly-if you were a shoplifting teen-why did you do it? and what enabled you to stop? concerned friend

Yes, I was a shoplifting teen.

Why? It was culture. It was a fun thing that we did together & talked about.

What made me stop? A conversation... certainly not with a grown up, that opened me toward realizing that it was stealing. Not, 'bagging' or whatever culture words we had, but actually stealing from someone. So, then I stopped. We also used to 'pan handle' until someone asked why we were begging on the street. Yeah, culture! Is it cool? Or yucky? Words & attitude... An old Hippie

Making good for teen's theft from elderly relative

Nov 2011

I am writing for some friendly responses to my quandary--sometimes I find the responses here very harsh. In a moment of Severely Lapsed Judgement, my teen stole some good liquor in beautiful old bottles from a very elderly relative's house which he visits regularly (and loves). He threw out the wonderful bottles and transferred the alcohol into plastic bottles with an eye to transporting it more easily and giving some hypothetical friends a treat at a future occasion of some kind. We have already gone through all the hard and sad discussions re: matters of trust, respect, legality, choosing friends, personal character, etc. etc. etc. at great length over some time. My question is about how to make good at this point. I thought he could use his savings to buy new bottles of what he took and put them back next time he's there. But he might not remember exactly, this wouldn't get this relative back the elegant old stuff, and the new bottles might call attention to the fact that something's gone on on that shelf that no one might notice otherwise (relative doesn't drink, can't physically get to where the liquor is kept, will likely never know). Or, he could put the old alcohol into new bottles? Or he's already ruined it by putting it in plastic? And what to do with what he stole? He should have to pour it out? Or... Please share your thoughts about what you think would be wise and fair. Wanting to Be Wise and Fair

That sounds like a really difficult situation, and as the mom of teen boys who have done some really dumb things, I won't be sending any judgment your way. IMO, your son should talk to the elderly relative, apologize for what he did, and ask how he can make it up. It may be that the relative doesn't care at all about replacing the liquor bottles, but would really like some help cleaning out the basement. I don't think it teaches him the right thing to try to find replacement bottles and put them back without the relative noticing. This problem is not really about what he stole, it's the fact that he stole from a vulnerable person. It's harder, and will likely make more of an impression on him, to have a conversation with the person that he harmed. Anon

Dear Wise and Fair, I think your son needs to confess to this relative that he cares for. Why? Because this is really not about liquor, this is about breaking trust. I know it seems like it was about liquor to your son at the time, and possibly seemed like a victimless crime if the relative doesn't drink and can't even get to the liquor cabinet to admire the bottles. Having to confess to this dear person will be the punishment that your son will remember forever. It is the right and mature thing to do. It will be hard but it will build his character in an important way.

An apology may well be enough making good for relative. If not the relative can say what else would be. Unless there is an issue of cognitive decline in the relative, then I think this is the way you should go. If there is, and the relative might not understand or get unduly upset, then your son needs to think about another way to make good. Do something special with the relative, or donate the value of the liquor to a cause that is important to him.

Replacing the liquor in any way is more about hiding the misdeed than making good, in my opinion, if not paired with a confession and apology.

Good luck to you. These things are hard. But it should be hard on your son - these are the incidents that make us who we are. Have had my share of hard apologies to make

Our son did something similar when he was 13 - he stole $200 from his grandmother. Honestly, she never would have known as she keeps way too much cash around. But we insisted he tell her (in front of me) and pay her back in installments with allowance and work at her house. That was hard for me and for my son, and for my mother (the grandmother) as well. It was uncomfortable, and it took a few months for her to really forgive him. She still loves him, but I'm not sure she trusts him so much. Although I think she was over trusting in general to leave hoards of cash around when she has 5 grandsons old enough to want some of it. I think your son should have to fess up, otherwise you are to some extent saying it's OK to have these family secrets. Maybe it's not worth the pain it would cause in your family to open up about this, I can see that being something you have to balance - what is best for your son and what is best for your family as a whole. For your son, I think he should come clean and make reparations. The person he took from should be the one to help decide what those reparations might be. For your family - your own relationship with the family member and your son's, and for that person - definitely take all that into account. It will be painful either way - keeping it secret or not. That is something your son should definitely learn from it. Mine did and he'll be a stronger man because of it. Good luck! Kind of understand...

You've done some good things with him and covered some relevant topics, and the interactions about it between him and his parents is an important part of the process of restoration... but it's a little off to the side. You're protecting him from the very thing that will teach him more than words ever could, confessing to the relative. That should be requirement number 1. That is what will lay the groundwork for restoring trust - knowing he feels the ramifications of his own actions so that he is changed and learns.

He made the choice to steal, let him see how his actions affect the relative when he/she knows. Let him feel the response of the other person. It could be bad, could be good, could be both. It could change. After anger there could be sadness, forgiveness. A rich lesson. He needs to take responsibility to confess and ask the person he wronged what he can do to restore her trust. You can talk to him until you're blue in the face, he can experience your reaction in the bubble of his home, but to restore the situation to equilibrium I think he has to tell. You could go with him for support but let him talk. He'll be a better person for it.

It's irrelevant that the person can't reach the shelf and could be easily fooled. The fact that you are latching onto these things shows that you value your son's comfort over doing what's right. Maybe deep down you know you're protecting him from his own actions, maybe that's why you asked people to be kind. For what it's worth, all parents of teenagers including myself have been there or someplace worse with their kids. anon

I'm a bit confused by your post. No where in your message do you say your son will admit to the elderly relative what he has done and apologize. That's the first step in ''making good.'' After that he can discuss the right resolution with the relative. Maybe they don't want the alcohol back, since they don't drink it, and it was probably the bottles they valued. Maybe your son can take them on an outing as a special treat or do something else for them that they value. In any case, trying to find a way to replace the items without being found out doesn't seem to solve the problem and won't help your son learn the right lesson. Teach responsibility

Is your teen contrite or are you coming up with the consequences? Your teen should make it up to the relative somehow and it should cost him something: extra time reading or doing chores? Somehow he needs to FEEL that what he did was wrong and the act of contrition should come from him. The important part is that your teen understands you don't take something from someone even if he'll never know. Sensitive advice-giver

The best way to make good is for your child to come clean to the elderly relative and apologize, often older folk are surprisingly tolerant about youthful mistakes. If that is out of question then I wouldn't bother with returning the liquor in any way, but ask that your child do some volunteer work for a worthy organization. Laura

Dear Wanting to be wise and fair, It would be helpful to place yourself in your elderly relative's position. Ask yourself what you would want if you were in his place. Genuine remorse, integrity and a true sense of right and wrong may help make this situation better with your elderly relative. It's important how you handle it with your son as it is going to affect how he makes decisions in the future. Is it just and fair to trick your infirm relative, either with new bottles or by not saying anything in the hope that the missing bottles go unnoticed? Is this course wise and fair to your boy who is in the process of learning right and wrong? Instead, could your son confess his mistake to his relative and ask what it would take to make amends? He could suggest the purchase of new bottles and make good on his offer if it is accepted. He could certainly return the alcohol (so that he or you are not tempted to imbibe the ill gotten stuff). Even if he is not forgiven, your son's conscience will be much clearer if he does the right thing and he will be stronger next time if he handles this situation honorably.

Good luck. It's hard to do the right thing, but your son will be infinitely better off in the long run and you will be more content. Wanting you to be wise and fair

I think your son needs to come clean to the relative. Admit what he did, sincerely apologize, and the ask the relative what he can do to make it right, whether it is replacing the bottles and the booze, doing work for the relative in exchange for the monetary amount lost in bottles and alcohol, etc. You son should be grounded until all reparations are made.

Your elderly relative will be very disappointed in your son, but this relative has probably lived and seen enough to know that teens do stupid and bad things sometimes. Also, your son needs to own up to this. If he is too mortified to deal with this face to face, then all the more reason he should do it. This can be a real learning experience for him.

I would come down VERY hard on him so he knows not to ever push these limits with you again. My philosophy is that if you go too soft with kids on the first serious infraction, then they will play you in the future.

Your son should confess to the relative and ask him/her what he can do to make it right. (If the relative doesn't want the liquor back, it should definitely be poured out.) If the relative is unlikely to understand at first what is going on, you might want to have a private conversation with the relative first telling them what to expect. don't feel too bad--my son has done worse (doing better now though)

You don't say how old your teen son is and perhaps it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he is a boy, and some tactics work better with boys than with girls and vice-versa. Specifically, it sounds like there's already been plenty of discussion about what happened, but in the end, it's actions that matter. Here's what I suggest:

- First, ask your son what HE thinks would be sufficient to ''make good''. If need be, give him some time (a day or two) to think about it. You may be (pleasantly) surprised at what he comes up with; when asked, children often suggest harsher consequences or punishments for their actions than parents are considering.

- Second, what YOUR stance should be is this: what he did was wrong, regardless of the ''reasons'', and deeply disrespectful and unloving to the elderly relative he ''visits regularly and loves''. He took advantage of them, plain and simple. If stating this causes him some pain, that is a GOOD thing. There is such a thing as ''appropriate shame''. In my view, he should have to tell this relative and accept the fallout of his actions. Your son is preparing for adult life, and dealing with the consequences of his actions is part of that preparation - something he'll need to do for the rest of his life. He might as well begin to assemble a skill set now.

As for what to do with the liquor - that is mostly a side issue, and I feel is distracting from the real issue - his actions. The liquor belongs to the elderly relative, and should be returned to them!!

I hope I don't sound harsh - what I wish to convey is that a direct, no-nonsense and matter-of-fact (adult!) attitude is what's important here. And also that what your son may LEARN from this experience is what will make it ''good'', in the long run.

p.s. Please find, and read, Michael Gurian's ''A Fine Young Man'' - AWESOME book on how to raise adolescent boys! - parenting is not a popularity contest

First off, sorry you're experiencing this, but what a great lesson for us all, so thanks for posting. I feel you should both go talk with the elderly relative that your son really likes and come clean. It's a sign for respect to your relative. Your child will build integrity and character which will serve him well as an adult. Then the elderly person can tell him what's to be done. It's basic and simple and really hard. That's life though. Doing the right thing isn't always easy but he will gain self respect this way. Good luck. good luck

Seems to me he should tell the elderly relative about the theft himself, and apologize, and ask THEM what he should do to make good -- something like, ''I did this bad thing, I'm sorry AND I want to Make Good. Please let me know how/what to do. I'll await your response.'' then leave the person alone to figure out what they think of this new shocking disclosure. He's a teen, not a 7 year old, I think he should knock on the door all by himself, but if you must be there at least stay in the car. If a teen I knew came to my door saying this, I'd want a couple of days to come up with a truly effective thoughtful response that would repair things, not be beholden to my first hurt outrage shocked response.

Dear Sensitive Question, I think you may be missing the point of how to make good on this transgression. Your child stole liquor from a family member. There are two issues going on here. The issue you seem focused on in the post is how to make good with the family member whose trust has been violated. I don't think it's about restoring the liquor so much as restoring the trust. Were it my child in this situation and if the relative was willing, I'd like to see my child make up for this behavior by ''working it off'' for the family member. This allows for time spent together, an opportunity for trust building, and an intimate understanding of interdependence. Menial labor provides opportunity for reflecting on one's behavior and developing empathy with the victim of one's crime. Working it off can involve cleaning out a garage, raking leaves, painting a room... Taking on a project that leaves everyone feeling like the situation has been thought through and things left better off somehow.

The more important issue lies with why this teen has committed theft and underaged drinking. What is the teen communicating by such behavior? What if they had not been caught? Has this behavior occurred before? Good luck! eye on the bigger picture

How about the most basic approach of being honest? Have your son tell the relative what he did. It is not as important if the relative understands or remembers, it is a lesson for your son in owning his actions and learning from them.

By working with your child to extend the deception into either assuming that the relative won't notice, or tricking them with different bottles the lesson you teach is 1) that you will fix what your son has done wrong, and 2) deception is okay if it preserves appearances and family peace.

Telling the truth might not feel great in the short term, but it is a valuable long term lesson. Lying and stealing isn't made right by pretending it didn't happen. honesty is the best policy

Thanks to so many of you who replied to my question about the liquor taken from a very elderly relative. My predicament was only clear enough for some of the readers here, though--thanks especially to those who understood that ''very elderly relative'' meant very elderly: 93, wheelchair-bound (and thus can't get to where the liquor is, as I wrote), very frail, nearly deaf, nearly blind, often disoriented, prone to panicky responses to anything disruptive. This is why I haven't been thinking my teen would handle the ''making good'' directly with this beloved relative--and not because my values are as off-the-mark as some presumably well-intended advice-givers imagined. I will certainly think about the suggestions that he should talk (bellow?) with the relative, but with my question re-framed to include what one respondent recognized as ''an issue of cognitive decline in the relative,'' would so many of you still feel my teen should confront this elderly person with a confession? And if not, then... back to my original question: how can I (his only parent) have him make good (without directly involving the person he took from)...? Wanting to be Wise, Fair and Clear

I didn't see the first post, but some thoughts... Making amends is about taking the time and energy to do something meaningful and positive. Often that means talking to the person one has taken something from, but in this case it sounds like that would not be appropriate. So the making amends could address either the person who was wronged, the theft issue, the issue of taking advantage of the elderly, and/or the alcohol issue.

To you and to your son, what would feel like making amends? Grocery shopping for this person, or cleaning house? Or if nothing seems quite right for this person, perhaps your son could volunteer at a soup kitchen or in some other way offer help for the elderly over the holidays. Perhaps he could use some of his money to make a food basket (which counters the theft aspect). And perhaps a note of apology to *you* might be appropriate. Good luck

Sounds really hard to make good, in a meaningful way, to this particular relative because it sounds so upsetting to the relative, which kind of subverts the intent.

Instead, how about just putting in some quality time with this relative--maybe reading to him or going through old family photos and describing their content out loud. If even this is too disruptive, the teen can ''pay it forward'' by going to a nursing home and donating volunteer hours in whatever way the home needs. Alternatively, he can work weekends making money doing lawn work or washing cars until $100 is saved and then donate that to an elderly cause of his choice. Or to a charity that this old relative would want helped.

The point is for the teen to do the inner work of remorse, so these other acts can also symbolize that. Best of luck. lane

Dear Sensitive, You might consider taking a page from To Kill a Mocking Bird and have your son do some home care and/or chores for his relative as a way of apologizing. Fan of Making Good

I was one of the original responders and am not sure if I am part of the group that ''understand'' the cognitive capacity of the aged relative or not, but wanted to follow-up from what I originally suggested: honesty and confession because that is the right thing to do.

I also have family members with significant memory and cognitive impairment. My suggestion to you does not change because this actually has more to do with your son making amends for what he did and less to do with how the victim responds. When you do something to harm someone else the apology you give is an actor contrition acknowledging for yourself that you did wrong. Ultimately you can't control how someone responds to that apology regardless of their cognitive status.

Finally, your elderly relative may or may not understand what it being said. People speak to individuals who are comatose in the hope that they might hear. If your son is truly sorry for what he did his honest confession and apology can be made with the hope that he is understood because he wants to communicate that information, the resulting understanding is less important. do right because it is right

If you feel uncomfortable about having your son confront his very elderly relative, have him volunteer at the homeless shelter. Have him do this not just for a week or two, or a month, but a YEAR.

Years ago, my son was was given a year sentence for a crime he committed. He's a good kid, very soft, and sometimes does not make good decisions. I knew he would never survive prison, he would not come out the same.

Without getting into the details of how we did it, he was given a year of probation in exchange. He was to work at a homeless shelter EVERYDAY, rain or shine.

He got up every morning before the sun, caught the bus, and was at the shelter by 6:30 AM (including weekends). He did his 1 hr of work, caught the bus and went to school. In the beginning he absolutely miserable - hated it, but over time, by the end of the year it became a very positive part of his life.

After his probation period, he continued to work/volunteer at the shelter for many years. Now he is now an adult. A very kind, caring, hard working person, and of course law abiding.

The shelter made a positive impact on my son's life. I am so happy things turned out the way they did anon

Daughter's unauthorized charges to our credit card

Sept 2011

Many months ago, my daughter asked to purchase something on Amazon using my debit card. It was a very reasonable purchase, and I personally placed my card number in her account for the purchase. Recently, my husband and I are were looking over a bank statement (which we don't do all that often together) and found multiple Amazon charges that we didn't recognize. It is coming to light only now because, as it turns out, he had thought they were my purchases, and I had thought they were his, and we are each fine with that. I called Amazon and had my number deleted from her account, which I had not done (and didn't think way back then I needed to - my mistake) but now, when I do the math, our kid has charged, slowly over many months, a total of over $1500 worth of items. She's 17 and a senior in high school. I plan to bring this to her attention, and think it reasonable to be paid back because, as far as my husband and I are concerned, these were unauthorized. Before doing so, I'd like to ask my fellow parents-of-teens for your take on this. What to say? What terms to reach? She may deny/pretend/act that she knew what was going on and/or actually believe that these were legitimate charges. I never learned anything about good money management from my own parents, and want to do better by my own kids. We giver her a reasonable amount of money at the start of every month for her clothing/books/food and we pay for all appropriate life expenses, anything school related, and so on. She has worked over the summer, saved up some money, and has a savings account that she has spent many years building up. I'd really like advice on both the big financial picture and the specifics of how to deal with this particular, unique situation before I discuss this Amazon issue with her. Needing a little Suze Orman

I think you are missing the most important part of this episode. It's not really about money management. It's about theft. Your daughter has essentially stolen $1500 from you. This is a far more serious issue. She has totally abused your trust. So the bigger discussion you need to have is about trust and theft. Then she should of course be required to pay back the $1500. But as a parent I would begin to wonder what else she may have done that's not particularly trustworthy. It is extremely important that you hold her accountable for her behavior. Robin

Oof! $1500 is no joke. She definitely needs to see the total, and she definitely needs to make some form of restitution that's going to hurt a bit.

You can give her an opportunity to explain her behavior and ask her how much she thinks she spent. Then show her the actual amount and go through the charges together. This is how freshmen in college end up charging up their credit cards, so it's a good lesson for her now. Ask her to propose a way to pay ALL of it back. She can use her savings, she can do chores, she can turn over half her paychecks for a certain period of time. Ask if the items she bought still feel worth it. Can any be returned? Explain that this would be considered theft if the card belonged to a boss, a friend, a grandparent, etc. so you take it very seriously and this needs to be an experience she remembers for the rest of her life.

You can do all this kindly but firmly. But make sure it hurts a bit. This is a serious amount of money and a serious breach of trust. And make sure the payment plan will finish before she goes off to college.

It's hard to give your kids painful consequences, but your actions will give her an important life lesson. Which lesson do you want it to be? That there are no consequences? Or that being responsible/honest is the way to go? Try to steer by that. When she's fifty years old, the $1500 she's going to pay back will not seem like so much, but the lesson she learns will still be part of her. wow! $1500!

You didn't say what she bought but she was being dishonest and knew what she was doing was wrong. She needs to pay you back.$1500.00 is a lot of money for a teenager so maybe who could ask for $1000.00 and at the same time, cut the allowance you give her. If any of the items can be returned I would do that, if they haven't been used. If she has a really large savings account, ask for all of it back. I'd have a really good discussion with her as to why she felt she could do this. Is it because she thought she wouldn't get caught or because she thought you wouldn't care? The first is troubling if that is the reason and if the second, she needs to have a lesson on how much it costs to run a household. Sometimes I think my son has no idea what food, utilities, cable, cell phone cost. kr

IMHO you do not need a little Suze Orman. This is NOT a financial issue. You need family counseling. Your daughter stole your money. I do not know what your family dynamics are. Maybe she stole because she feels unloved or neglected. Perhaps she craves attention from you. Whatever the reason, I would get your family to a counselor's office ASAP. Anon

I wonder if your daughter knew she was charging to the wrong account. My kids both have a monthly allowance that is automatically transferred into their bank account, and have debit cards that they use to make purchases, both online and in person. Once the card is registered with a given vendor that is the default payment arrangement unless its changed.

I also allow them from time to time to use my credit card instead of their debit card because the purchase they're making is one I would have paid for anyway (school clothes, shoes, text books). They know to ask first. I also get a notice from Amazon every time a purchase is made. For other vendors I complete the transaction for them.

If your daughter thought you approved of the use of your card, or thought she was using her own account, I would focus on fixing the situation for the future. If she knew you didn't approve I would have her pay you back over time, particularly if she has money from working. You might consider having her repay half of the amount, and get her a debit card for future purchases so she has more control and responsibility. That will also further your goal of teaching her financial responsibility. Parent of semi-financially literate teens

I think you are the one who made a mistake. You gave your daughter access to the debit card without ever telling her what her budget was. You assumed it was zero. She assumed it was more. Now you have to tell her about your mistake. I would not ask for the money back. I would just be very clear about expectations in the future. Perhaps the three of you could work on a total budget for everything together. Sanon

i think you are doing the perfect thing. holding your daughter accountable for the charges teaches her that credit is really money. it seems like you have some doubts. maybe you feel like you should have ''taught'' her something before now. there was no way to do that--this is the time to teach her and you are seizing it. additionally, you might consider a consequence about stealing. i can't believe that she did not know that what she was doing was wrong. if she didn't--it is up to you to teach her now. if she did and did it anyway, it is up to you to teach her that it was a disrespectful act to her parents and you didn't appreciate it. after a year of my son stealing money from me and denying it, we've sought professional help and i now understand that my continuing to give him the benefit of the doubt because ''maybe something else happened'' eroded his respect for me over time. children expect us to be their moral compass until they can hold it on their own. your instincts are accurate on this one, i recommend you follow them. anonymous

14-year-old billed $300 for shoplifting at Walgreens

Aug 2011

My 14 year old son was caught shoplifting Skittles in a Walgreen. They called me, and let him go upon my request. Today I received a $300 bill from a law office in Florida, asking that I settle this Civil matter with them within 20 days. It seems like (and looks like) a scam to me, and I really don't have the $300 right now. But I also don't want to ignore it and have it get worse or cost more later. Any experience or helpful advise about this? Thank you. Scammed?

My child was caught twice shoplifting. The first time we got a letter from the Florida law firm we paid the charges ($250, evidently the price has gone up). The second time, we just ignored the letter, especially because the store in that case seemed very uninterested in pressing charges or even banning him from the store (which the first store did). I think we got a second letter threatening higher charges if we didn't pay, but we just ignored that one too. The second incident was over a year ago and we haven't heard anything again. (A lot of other things were going on with this child at the same time, which helped drive this from our mind.) I think it is a scam, too, but they sure make it sound scary. been there

It's not a scam. My teen was caught shoplifting at Safeway. Before the the security people would release my teen to me, I had to sign a form acknowledging that a civil charge would probably be levied against me, ranging from $50 to $500. I just received the settlement offer ($250), also from a law firm in Florida. I'm going to make my teen pay it back over time. On the form I received, a phone number is listed to call if you can't afford the amount. Next time I'm not coming to the rescue

The amount, $300, is no surprise. My daughter got caught shoplifting a bottle of finger nail polish at a grocery store and had a $250 fine (which we paid and had her work off with interest) plus six months where she could not enter the store. The store gave us a contract-like paper that stated the amount of the penalty payment, the banishment from the store and consequences if not carried through which we and our daughter signed. We paid the store directly on the day she shoplifted before we took her home.

If the store ''let him go on your request'' and you didn't pick him up, perhaps there's something the store required that your child should have told you about. However, call the store. Find out what their policy is. Then you'll be able to decide if the law firm's letter is legitimate.

Personally, I was glad that my daughter got caught (on video tape which we sat and watched with her) and had to face stiff consequences. Stealing is not a behavior that's acceptable in our family. She found out that the broader world isn't cool with it, either. At the same time, we were glad the store handled her shoplifting internally--instead of turning it over to the police.

It is a scam. Throw the letter away. Do not replay or they know they ''got'' you on the hook. If they call hang- up. It's up to them to take the next legal step and no lawywer will do much more to recover $300. Hope your child learned a lesson and won't do it agin. ANON

Ignore. It's very common for my shoplifting clients to get letters (read: plural) demanding civil restitution for a shoplifting incident. Don't respond by agreeing to pay any portion of the $300. It is highly unlikely that they'll come after you.

If it helps you feel better, have a lawyer write a letter on your behalf. Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to Macy's Loss Prevention on behalf of a client and she wasn't hassled again. Good luck! Criminal Defense Attorney

This is not about Shoplifing. My case was about DUI. I did not get DUI but I was tested for it. I received a lot of letters from many atterny farms. Can polices sell my information? I have not known how they got my information. You should talk to your atterny if you need one. Shawn

i missed the original post... but are you REALLY going to manage your legal problems from a bulletin board? Contact an experienced lawyer (i am NOT a lawyer and think that as a society we don't rely on enough honest integrity and wish we didn't need so many laws, but that's another discussion)

i am close to a few families (friends' kids) that have been caught stealing and what i have seen lately is a certain lack of consequences for the kids. and every one of my kids has had some police ''attention''...

Lets not use excuses like: ''adults get away with much worse offenses'' which i heard from one mom, making excuses for her kid's larceny. Citizen at Large

I suspect my 14-y-o is shoplifting - consequences?

Nov 2009

I suspect that my 14 year old daughter has shoplifted. Can't prove it, so I can't confront her. However, if she has, chances are she will again. I'd like to know what happens when a minor is caught shoplifting. I assume the store would hold her and call me (if I'm not in the store already). In Alameda County, does it go to the District Attorney's office or somewhere else? I do hope I'm wrong. Suspicious

when my daughter was 21, in college, she confessed to me that a couple of years before she shoplifted a pair of expensive designer jeans at Nordstroms. I was shocked of course. (She has always liked nice clothes & now, at 25, spends a fortune on them.) As time goes on she has confessed in passing how she shoplifted quite a bit from stores like Target and the stores on Telegraph Avenue. Of course I had NO IDEA EVER that this was going on.Parents simply do not know! Do I wish she had gotten picked up for it? YES. I wish they had caught her and do whatever the legal consequences are. This is wrong & I don't think as parents WE can do that much about it. Fortunately store security is much better than it was back then so your chances of getting caught are higher I think. Mom of former teen shoplifter

My daughter, who is actually a very responsible, nice kid, was caught shopllifting TWICE. The first time, at 14, Target caught her and two friends. We had to pick her up, sign papers that said she couldn't come into the store again without an adult, and pay back the amount plus expenses of the store's time, several hundred dollars. My daughter was upset but defiant re the store not needing the money anyhow. We made her pay us back, explained how we strongly disagreed with her philosophy re capitalism (!), had her stop hanging out with those guys, and told her if it ever happened again, she'd be in BIG trouble. I thought that was it. A year later, I got a call from Nordstrom's in SF and I had to go into the city and pick her up. They did much the same thing as Target. In front of the girls, I asked if the police could keep her overnight...and boy was I ready for them to take her. But they don't do that. I also told them how embarrassed I was that kids who have so much could steal. My daughter looked stricken. We took BART home and I barely said a word to her. At home, I expressed my disbelief and told her how horrible it was for me. She said she was truly sorry, that she'd done a ''really stupid'' thing and never never again. This time, she seemed to understand. So she worked for us to pay it back and was grounded for a while, and no shopping for a month. That was it, and my daughter has grown into a respectable citizen! Relieved Mom

If your child is caught shop lifting the store may or may not press charges. I have recently had some experience with this. My son was caught along with some other teens shoplifting at Safeway. They called me to come and pick him up. I actually asked them to press charges and they would not. I have suspected him of shoplifting for awhile and I warned him that I would have no sympathy if he got caught. I told him I would let them arrest him and put him in jail so he was forewarned. Now if they are caught stealing somehing that is illegal for them to have (alcohol) that is a different story. My son got a warning that he could not go into a safeway for 6 months and I had to sign a piece of paper stating that I was aware I may have a fine to pay ranging from $50.00 to $500.00. Be creative, find some way to talk to your teen about shop lifting without accusing them of it. MAke sure she knows what you plan on doing if she ever thinks of trying it and good luck. keeping one step ahead

Daughter's friend is shoplifting - what to do?

Oct 2009

My 14 year old daughter came home from hanging out with friends along Telegraph and told us that her friend shoplifted at a store. The friend's rationalization was that it won't go on her permanemt record because she is under 18 and she would only spent 2 nights in Juvenile hall if caught. We told our daughter to never go into a store with that friend again in case she gets caught up in a potential arrest. Now we are wondering if we should do more. Should we banish this friend? Disallow outings on Telegraph? Tell the girl's parents? I looked up this subject online and could only find tips for if your own child shoplifts. Anonymous

Dear fellow parent,
When I ask myself whether to tell another parent of his/her kid's misdeeds, I also ask myself: Would I want to know? In this case, the answer would be a resounding YES. I would want to know if my child had shoplifted, and perhaps more urgently, I would want to know that my child thought that ''only two days in Juvie Hall'' was not a big deal. I would see the need for some re-education there. I think it is fairly common for kids to shoplift, but the reasons for not shoplifting need to be expressed more broadly than just in terms of how the shoplifter is punished. Why should people refrain from shoplifting? Who is hurt by shoplifting. Here is an opportunity for a good conversation on ethics, I think.

Another thing I ask myself about talking to other parents: How would I like to be addressed if my child were to do something wrong? Obviously I don't want to be blamed or have someone talk down to me. So I would be careful to adopt a tone of ''I felt that you would like to know this, I know it would concern me if it were my child. What do you think we should say to our kids about this, if you agree that it is a problem.'' I would enlist the other parent as an ally if I could. I had a parent call me once to tell me about some behavior of my son's that she perceived as wrong. This behavior did not seem problematic to me. Her tone in speaking to me implied that I was naive or permissive or... a bad mom. Subsequently she called back to apologize, because she realized that she had crossed a line. So I would be careful not to adopt a superior attitude. But do let the parents know, I think. part of the parents' community

Everything you stated about what your child's friend thinks is incorrect. Juvenile records must be petitioned to be sealed. They are not expunged automatically. I have seen many young adults being dropped from nursing programs, etc. because they failed a background check. Your child coming to you to tell you this is occurring is a good sign. I think if she knows it is wrong and if you emphasize her feelings she will make up her own conclusion about this ''friend''. County Employee Mom

It is wonderful that your daughter shared this information with you. I can understand you feeling worried about your daughter's contact with this friend. Sometimes it's appropriate to ''tighten the leash'', so to speak, to protect your child from consequences of immature decisionmaking or from situations she is not mature enough to handle. Whatever restrictions you decide to place on your daughter's activities and contact with this friend, however, your daughter will still be in plenty of situations where she is making her own choices.

Where your most important influence lies is in your relationship with her, which allows for discussions in which you share your feelings, thoughts and values with her, and open space for her to share hers with you. This will help you evaluate her maturity, her judgment, and her ability to withstand negative peer pressure. You may look at her disclosure in this instance as a test - she may be thinking (consciously or unconsciously) - how will my parent(s) react? Can I talk to my parent and share both sides of my ambivalence? Can I share my confusion? I know stealing is wrong, but what if my friend's reasoning kind of makes sense to me - can I explore this with my parents without feeling like the discussion is going to get shut down with anger or moralizing? She may also want you to provide more structure or limits, such as not allowing her to go to Telegraph.

I encourage you to provide positive reinforcement to your daughter for sharing this, and use it as a way to be in an ongoing conversation with her about her social world, the moral/ethical challenges or dilemmas she and her friends face, whether it be about dating, peer relationships, drinking, drugs, driving, cheating etc.

Some parents find it useful to have their teen's friends over to their home a few times before the teen is are allowed to go and ''hang out'' with the new friends in an unstructured way. Some parents who do not feel it realistic or sustainable to impose stringent restrictions on their teens as they get older, use a sort of buddy system, where if their teen is going to be with two trusted friends who are well-known to the parents, then the teen is allowed to also hang out with new friends. Many parents find it useful to confer with other parents for support and sharing information. Best of luck to you and your family. Ilene D

Integrity is in question here and I would want my daughter's friends to have integrity as part of their character and not live their lives trying what they can get away with - deciding their actions based on the penalty, not on integrity. Nobody is perfect, but if you have compromised integrity, I would expect that you keep your bad actions to yourself and not make witnesses, tempt other people's integrity or burden them with a moral conflict based on your actions. It is just not smart to have bystanders or telling others. So if this girl is otherwise intelligent, she must have a strong psychological need to share her daring behavior (and increase the dicovery of it). I think it is very important that you have a deep conversation with your daughter about how the incident went, how she felt about it then and now, and if she feels like telling her friend ''I am your friend but I do not want to be a witness to your stealing nor be part of it. As my friend, I hope you can accept that and do your stealing on your own.'' Of course, teens have their own way of talking to one another, but have your daughter think up a script of her own along those lines or even stronger if she (not you) feels like it. I don't think you can forbid friendships (backfires) nor should you call the other parents. They obviously did a consistenly lousy job many years ago - morals usually manifest around age 7 after a few years of testing the boundaries. Let the parents find out when the police notifies them in the future. No reason to get involved now. Keep the connection with your daughter and teach her how to set her boundaries, keep herself safe and how to stand up for herself. We have attended a couple of Kidpower seminars ( but your story reminds me that we are about ready for the teen workshop. Anonymous

18-year-old arrested and jailed for shoplifting

May 2009

My kid turned 18 and then one week later was arrested for shoplifting. He was with another 18 yr old who ran away and was not caught. He was not allowed to call anyone, was transported to Martinez to the county jail, strip searched and held for 24 hours until one of his friends called up to tell us what happened and we were able to bail him out. Now, don't get me wrong, we know he broke the law and there will be consequences. But hello? First time arrest, he's the size of a 12 year old and the most non-threatening young man you could imagine. I cannot fathom the wisdom of a justice system that treats people this way. He was called every name in the book by the officers, including 'faggot'. But I digress... We need the name of an good attorney. He has no record and is attending college. Yes, he's an idiot, but he's our idiot and we want him to learn from this without it ruining his life. Any recomendations/advice appreciated. there but for the grace of god...

You asked for lawyers, so here are names: Dan O'Malley (formerly both a DA and a judge in CoCoCo) - (925) 356-2200, Rick Madsen -- (925) 974-0800. Both are good (as are O'Malley's partners, if he is unavailable), and can handle this with their eyes closed. Also, your son may be eligible for public defender services; the PDs are good and this is very routine.

But first, take a deep breath. Was this a big mistake? Yes. Will he learn the important lesson? Let's hope so. But his life is not over, and you may not need a lawyer at all. If your son has no record, and really just shoplifted (i.e., took stuff and left, but didn't possess drugs, fight with store employees to get away, use others' credit cards, or anything like that), he is looking at a misdemeanor petty theft. The CoCo DA has stated very publicly that he will be forced, with looming budget cuts, to stop prosecuting petty theft misdemeanors. So although there was an arrest, the DA may not choose to pursue the case. If they do prosecute, there is a pre-plea diversion program in the DA's office for first time offenders of minor misdos like petty theft. He would pay some fines, attend a theft awareness class, and do some community service. If he kept his nose clean and did everything he was supposed to, and got no new arrests, at the end of the diversion period (usually two years), the case would be dismissed. If he blew it, then criminal proceedings would be reinstated and he might need a lawyer. He of course has to show up on the date set on the bail bond, and any other date set in a notice he gets from the court. If a complaint has been filed, he will almost certainly be offered diversion at arraignment, and can do it on the spot, with or without a lawyer. If he wants to talk to a lawyer first, he will get time to retain one or can ask for the PD. So you might wait and see if there is a complaint filed. The most important thing is to make HIM handle this, as much as possible, on his own. Make him research his options, decide about and hire any lawyer, pay the fees. There is a great pamphlet (on line and hard copy) for kids about turning 18, and the legal consequences. Make him read it. Good luck. Know the ropes

welcome to the ''system''... all the great things we think about police officers evaporate rather quickly when one of our kids gets into trouble...

i suggest you call a GREAT defense attorney: Diana Weiss. She helped my son out of a pickle a couple years ago. My son was also locked up and we didn't focus on the poor treatment he received from the Berkeley Police Department, we focused on his transgression and moving on. The police have to deal with so much crap, maybe they were doing a ''scare him straight'' exercise.

Your son screwed up and he needs a good attorney and she is it! I hope you can afford to help him out financially and emotionally. Good luck.

contact Diana Weiss 510 847 1012 or dianaweiss [at] signed ~ dad in Berkeley

I'm sorry your son was treated so poorly by jail authorities. This must have been a frightening and degrading experience. The good news is that, depending on the circumstances, there is a chance your son can walk away from this without the blemish of a theft conviction. In Contra Costa County, a first-time shoplifter may be eligible for ''diversion.'' This means he would be required to do community service, attend a theft awareness class, pay a fine and stay out of trouble for a year. After that year is up, the case against him would be dismissed. Avoiding a conviction can be critical, especially for an 18-year-old with many years of job hunting ahead of him. Unfortunately, we have seen far too often how a criminal conviction, even for a minor offense, can hamper future employment opportunities. My firm, Gagen-McCoy, is one of the oldest and most respected in Contra Costa County. We have resolved countless of these types of cases for clients who, like your son, are good people who make one bad mistake. Any of our criminal defense attorneys -- Bill Gagen, Mike Markowitz, Amanda Bevins, or Ross Pytlik -- would be happy to speak with you and your son about this process. Look us up on the web at or give us a call at (925) 837-0585. Lauren

Attorney Mary P Carey has lots of experience working with teenagers. Tel 925-943-1843 Good luck! anon

you need to call colin and kellin cooper (they're brothers) of cooper law offices in berkeley. 558.8400.

here is a blurb from their website: Cooper Law Offices is one of the premier criminal defense firms in Northern California. We focus solely on criminal defense. We have a reputation for vigorously, aggressively, and successfully representing clients whether they are charged with murder or a simple traffic ticket.

call today. they're simply the BEST! satisfied client (and no convictions)

Strategy to deal with first time teen shoplifting?

August 2008

Looking for any advice to deal with 16-year-old on first instance of shoplifting; appropriate consequences... is some sort of counseling warranted if no other evidence of potentially dangerous behavior? Have heard it is a fairly common thing and don't want to overreact but meanwhile want to be extremely clear about it being unacceptable and also try to understand if there is something else going on that would lead to the behavior in an otherwise non-problem child (good grades, study habits, friends, etc.). Also are there steps that should be taken to minimize any negative legal/record issues that might follow? How to emphasize to a teen the seriousness of the situation? Anonymous

For piece of mind...ask your kid if there is an adult they can talk to about it, otherwise you have them check in with a professional for a one time visit.

Consequences? Several possibilities.

Shame and embarrassment are almost always enough. Do some research...make sure the friends are a good group. Have your kid write a letter to the store to apologize. And then show your kid you love and trust them.

Regarding legal stuff...let your kid know they are keeping track...and once might have been interesting/exciting...the second time would be stupid and totally not worth it.

I think a lot of us have done the same least once, whether its shoplifting, white lies returning an item, personal calls on work time, etc. Good luck. Yours Truly, Perfectly Human

Sounds like she was caught because you mention legal issues. You would know better if it's a misdomeanor (sp?), but I have heard that someone with a felony on their record can be denied financial aid for college. You might want to tell her that. I would ask her what her motivations were (thrill, saving money, peer pressure), and ask about the feelings she got when she took that thing (excited, scared, cool). If you think it's a one-time thing then just leave it. If it keeps happening (at least you'll know if she gets caught), then maybe some kind of counseling or a bigger allowance? Good luck! anon

I am sorry your teen shoplifted. I don't know if it's common or not but it's wrong and she needs to understand that in no uncertain terms. This happened to me when I was young and aside from the beating I got, I would suggest a serious punishment. Mine was that I was totally restricted, no phone, no friends, no social activities, no t-v, nothing. I couldn't even walk to school, my parents drove me to and from. I was only allowed to go places with my parents. This lasted for 4-6 wks, I don't remember exactly. Harsh? Yes. Did I ever steal again? No. These days, I think education about morals is necessary and appropriate, understanding from a legal and spiritual standpoint, but that doesn't mean punishment is not in order. Your child needs to understand what she did is serious and that you mean business. Without boundaries, kids suffer. You're in charge mom. Be strong. No beatings of course. Good luck. Susan

This process worked for us:

First ask your child to tell you all the details of what happened. Assure your child that you will not involve other parents, the school or anyone else. Then,

1. Get the items which were lifted.

2. Call the retail establishment anonymously and ask a manager if they will arrest your child if you bring your child in to return the items. If they agree not to arrest or prosecute, set a time to bring your child in to return the items. Ask the manager to speak with your child about the seriousness of the issue and to tell your child that many places have cameras which catch such actions on film (these statements are true, by the way. And if you don't take the items back, you are an accessory to the crime!).

3. Take your child in to talk with the manager. Be prepared to leave quickly if the manager steps out of line. Leave the items with the manager or make your child pay the manager for the items.

4. Ground the child for one week to school, work and activities ONLY with friends whom you are certain are not the friends who pressured your child to do this. Otherwise restrict activities with any peers for a week.

5. Tell your child you forgive them, love them and know that they will not make the same mistake again.

Move on. ALL teenagers make mistakes. I imagine you did, too. My bet is that your child will move away quickly on his/her own from any peers involved. That's what our experience was. Anonymous

This is not advice for you,just my own experience. I was caught shoplifting when I was about 17, after I had shoptlifted for quite a while (clothes, candy). I was arrested, my parents had to bail me out, our family friend and lawyer assisted with my court case, and I never ever stole anything from anyone again. That experience really turned my life around and made me super honest. Today I am a successful professional. I think if my parents had caught me earlier I may have stopped, but the public humiliation was the final straw that stopped me. Good luck. former shoplifter, not proud of it

I am a parent of two teen age girls. I didn't have this problem however, My advice to you is from my own personal experience with shoplifting. The answer is restorative justice approach with your teen. Set up a meeting with the store manager, your teen, your self, and a local policeman if you can. It is very important that each person present have the ability to leave their professional hats off just for this meeting. The idea here is to have everyone speak in turn about how they were or are effected by shoplifting. Than to have the teen suggest ideas on what he or she can do to begin to restore their credibility. Than have everyone present offer ideas. develop a system of checks and balances. End on a positive note if you can. Purchase ''The Little Book Of Restorative Justice''. Good Luck. Jonathan

Shoplifting is not so much about the thing stolen as about the excitement of the stealing. My kid went through a phase where he was addicted to it, and doing it often. When he was caught stealing a pack of chewing gum I was so unaware that I thought it must have been his first try, but he admitted it had been going on for months. The Andronicos undercover guy was pretty good at frightening him, although because we came and picked him up the police were not involved. As well as being horrified and disappointed we were at first inclined to blame his friends, so when we got him home we grounded him for two weeks. That night I asked him to write about what he'd been doing and why as well as to list out other ways he could get thrills, and he did that. He was pretty astonished that we were serious about the grounding, somehow expecting the essay to get him off the hook. He also had to do extra chores for me to pay back the $50 fee Andronicos charged. I contacted his friends parents and let them know what happened, but overall I was as focused on the addictive part of it as the illegality. We worked to find things to do that would give him excitement, such as rock-climbing. I'm pretty sure this was effective. Later his sister let me know that he had been shoplifting clothes - before he was caught. If I'd known that at the time, I would have made him sort out those clothes, give them to charity and also save up to make an equivalent donation, but at that point he was doing a lot of other good things and I let it go. The shoplifting is definitely gone, but we've had to have several discussions about alcohol use and parties so he's definitely still vulnerable to peer pressure and the desire for excitement. anonymous

Oy! Just when things seemed to be going so smoothly, we got a call that my 15 yr. old was caught shoplifting with two friends. My first reaction was to be very upset and to try and figure out what else was going on. Then I calmed down and remembered that I stole cosmetics when I was 13 (I haven't told her this) and it put things in perspective so I wasn't so hysterical. As terrible as this is, it seems like so many kids experiment with taking something. We talked to her and are having her work at home to pay back the amount they're charging, which is a lot more than the item itself. We discussed the option of not being able to socialize with those kids because I can't trust them together. Each situation is different, but I feel that getting caught was pretty embarrassing...even though at first she tried to act cavalier...and that is punishment in itself. I have a strong sense that this will not happen again. And if it does, that will let me know that something much bigger is wrong. For the record, my daughter is generally very responsible and not into alcohol or drugs. That's my story. anonymous

17-year-old daughter needs help with stealing

Sept 2006

I am the Dad of a seventeen year old who is on the verge of a criminal life. She is a wonderful girl and widely liked by adults and has a group of close friends. Problem is since kindergarten, my daughter has had sticky fingers, and I even have a note from her kindergarten teacher, back east at a private school, about her taking things that did not belong to her.

My ex and I share 50-50 custody and my ex lives in shared housing, We have discovered that for 6 mos. my daughter had starting ordering jeans and shoes on line using the credit card number of one of the people who lives in the house. Without getting into details, this is not the first incident of calculated stealing and I know its a matter of time before she goes to prison. So we live in Albany and it would be great to find an excellent therapist for my child. in that general part of town. She is agreeably to going into therapy. She is very smart and needs someone who can hopefully do cognitive therapy. I almost think some people have chemical imbalances that predispose them to theft. I dunno since I can't explain why she does this and seems to feel compelled to steal.

Another issue is that her mum has paid the roomate the large amount of money spent on credit card fraud and is not requiring that my daughter pay her back- since where will she get the money- since her school work interfers with ability to work. When I mention consequences are necessary for this behavior, my ex accuses me of going negative and so guess who gets alienated and painted as the bad guy.Please any comments in addition to therapy referrals would be helpful. Her Dad

I understand how painful your situation is, and I recommend Margaret Rossoff 658 0389, a family therapist in S. Berkeley with extensive experience with troubled kids. I realize that you're requesting a therapist for your daughter, not a family therapist, but in our experience a kid's recovery is not possible without family therapy, and Margaret can help you find a separate therapist for your daughter. Your daughter's behavior sounds like compulsive (essentially addictive) behavior, and our son suffers from quite similar compulsions/addictions. Our son has seen several therapists (each briefly - he was not open to treatment), and no one was able to help. Now my husband and I see Margaret, and our son is in intensive residential rehab. Your daughter may not need such an intervention if she's open to treatment, but Margaret is very knowledgeable about programs if it becomes necessary. I've also found -Anon groups essential to my own recovery, and a 12 step program essential to your daughter's recovery. A theme in 12 step programs is (as you suggest) that the addict make amends to those they've hurt as a way of (re)building personal integrity and responsibility. Our son may wind up in jail even after rehab, but we have bailed him out of far too many situations, and doing so has not changed him one bit. It may feel loving in some ways, but, based on our experience, the outcome is no change or even worse behavior, so the best way to love a troubled kid is ensure that they address the situation and struggle with the consequences of their actions. Believe me, I understand the pain of all this, and I wish you and your daughter and your ex the very best. In much the same situation

Dear Dad (and Mum)-- I am a family psychotherapist and so my response to your post is informed by this perspective and my experience with children, teens and adults consulting for this problem. In your brief description of Katie's stealing problem, you have identified a number of concerns affecting your family relationships and your daughter's safety. Children and teens often use action/behavior to communicate anxiety, distress and a wish for attention (not an exhaustive list!) when they are unable to name and talk about feelings. This has little to do with intelligence and being talkative. Sometimes these matters flourish when (either in divorce or intact familes)there is a gap in communication and consistency about parenting expectations. What this means to the child/teen both in the present and in the past, is important to elaborate and repair as needed.

In addition to parenting, your daughter, at 17, is on the threshhold of leaving home, which marks another big change in your family structure and relationships. This inevitable and much anticipated milestone can increase anxiety in both teen and parent!

You also note that your daughter has had a history of stealing and wonder about compulsive behavior perhaps fueled by a chemical imbalance. I agree that these, too, would be very useful questions to explore. I recommend a ''multi-modal'' therapy -- meaning therapy that addresses parenting and parent-teen relationships; psychopharmacology; and also some form of group treatment or 12-step program (for example Stealers Anonymous). Debra

Good kid (15) who steals compulsively

July 2002

I am co-parenting my little sister-in-law (age 15). She had a pretty rough childhood with a lot of losses. Anyway, although she's a great kid, she has always stolen, and then lied about it. When her mother started getting sick, and didn't seem to be able to help or even deal with her, she came to live with us. Since she's been with us, she's made major improvements, academically, socially, etc. I think the trick was getting an accurate diagnosis of a learning disability, which helped us all understand her better. Once she started having some success in her life, and feeling better about herself, most of the negative behavior went away. In fact, she's usually very trustworthy, and a hard worker.

However, it pains me to say that we just found out she is still stealing. She stole some money from us (I don't think she has yet graduated to shoplifting, but I wouldn't put it past her to steal from anyone else (i.e., a guest) in the house, if the opportunity arose). We feel so betrayed, sad, hurt and angry, but my strongest feeling is fear and concern for her future. Although I love my in-laws, I wish she had come to live with us at a younger age; we are dealing now with her first 12 years of punitive, shaming discipline and corporal punishment, coupled with inconsistency, lack of structure and not a lot of demonstrations of affection.

I can't even begin to describe the different ways we've tried to approach this. She was in therapy (talk therapy) for a year, the first year she lived with us, but that is all. So one thing I am asking for advice on is what TYPE of therapy might be good for helping her with this issue, which seems like a compulsion. It's clear that it's not about the money, that there are underlying emotional issues that she needs help dealing with. She's a little distant emotionally, and doesn't like to express sadness or anger. She also doesn't like to be touched, hugged, anything. I don't think it's like full-blown attachment disorder, but I do think she has some real issues in that department, probably stemming from a traumatic birth and early infancy and compounded by the way she was raised. Anyway, I'M not the therapist here: I can't figure out how to help her, and I feel so desperate! So, again, if anyone has ideas about what type of therapy might help her develop some self-control, get at the underlying issues, etc., it would be very helpful. I suspect she needs something other than talk therapy to get past her (well-developed) defenses.

My second request for advice is if anyone knows any particular therapists and/or groups that they think might be good. We have Kaiser, so anyone at any Kaiser in the bay area would be great (we'll go anywhere!). However, our primary concern is to get her skilled help, so we are willing to pay out of pocket for a private therapist. Moreover, I think it's really important to find someone who is culturally competent, especially with urban teens and families, and women of color. She's not a defiant kid, or really hard, and she doesn't have ADD, so those types of groups would be inappropriate.

My third request for advice is simply for ANYTHING folks can think of that might be helpful! Like I said earlier, it's too much to try to describe everything we've done in the past and everything we are doing now, but I will say that we are VERY STRUCTURED. Rather, we have been fairly structured, and then have given her more independence and trust when she seems to be proving trustworthy, and now feel the need to clamp down on her again. So, any commiseration and recommendations would be much appreciated!

Desperate quasi-parent

I am a therapist with years of working with young people and their families. Of course it is really impossible to know the whole situation from your message, but your 15 year old sister-in-law is lucky to have such committed family caring for her. But despite your commitment she seems to be testing whether you will be there if she is really bad. If this is what is going on (and again, it is not possible to really know from this vantage point) it is important that she knows that there is nothing that she can do that will make you abandon her (assuming this is true). This does not mean that her stealing is ok and there needs to be appropriate consequences for this stealing (or other misbehavior), but you love her and will be there for her no matter what. Although this message has to be clearly conveyed, it sounds like she and the rest of your immediate family would benefit from seeing a family therapist together. This will allow the many layers of feelings that you all have to be explored. Make sure that anyone you all see does meet your wise criteria of 'cultural competency with urban youth'. She may need, and hopefully may want, to also see a therapist on her own. At 15 she should feel very sure that anyone she sees alone is HER therapist and that it is a private confidential place for her. Larry

I am going to recommend to the parents of the teen with the troubled past that you give her a lot of time and love first and foremost! Secondly, I think you should be calling something like Big Sisters of America and get her some one she can relate to that is not a relative. She may be embarassed as heck to talk with you all. Next, ask them to suggest options for urban kids with all the listed problems. But I feel a mentor might be great. I myself don't have these issues but did have a problematic past and desperatley needed someone outside the loop to help.

All I can really offer is commiseration, because I know how painful it is. My daughter has a somewhat similar history (in an adoption context) -- pre-adoption physical abuse, loss, etc. Recently she was caught shoplifting. She acknowledged ( after a visit to youth court) that getting caught was the best thing that could have happened to her.( Plus her best friend gave her hell and this helped her) She can now acknowledge a problem and a self destructive tendency that can get the best of her unless she is vigilant. It turns out that marijuana use was involved in this incident - a problem we are now addressing with drug education classes we go to together. She now undergoes random drug testing and has been clean since we began to address this together. So, one suggestion would be to check whether or not there is possible drug use. If there is, address it. My daughter is also a fantastic person, rich in insight and often quite reliable who just goes frighteningly wrong sometimes because of old emotional wounds. I believe this is just part of the territory for kids who have suffered certain intensity of abuse and loss -- and therefore part of the territory for parenting them

Although my daughter has been in therapy for many years, recently she has initiated a change to a less frequent and more intense therapy. It is helping her steady her life in general but I am not sure it is addressing underlying issues per se. Seems sometimes kids can't do that - they need help coping with the present. My experience is that letting the consequences fall hard for the destructive behaviors -- no rescuing ! -- helps (even somewhat dispassionately -- in our case I tried to respond with minimal drama -- she had to pay reparations to the store, go to youth court, will have to do community service, has to go with me to the drug ed class and submit to random testing -- i.e. consequence that are imposed not just by me but that have institutional support from the outside - youth court, etc -- its is a response from the real world, not just a parent thing). This helps, while at the same time continuing to be loving, structured, and trying hard not to take the episodes of this kind of behavior personally or emotionally -- all this does help.

A very hard thing is to fully accept the complexity of the situation -- which you seem to have already done -- that the kid IS wonderful, one does love them and they love back and STILL can act in ways one finds outrageous (and which can indeed be dangerous to them) because of their past wounds. I have been told that stealing is not at all uncommon for older adoption kids and they often take from the people they love. Youth court does have a stealing education class -- I don't know much more about it but it was mentioned at our preliminary youth court hearing. I can try to get more information about it when we go back for the formal hearing later this week and post the info for you here. But if it is anything like the drug ed class we have been doing it might be helpful -- the drug awareness class is very helpful - even if one already knows the information -- the experience of going over it with other people ( other adolescents and their families) can be very moving and productive. Finally, seek support from other parents dealing with kids who have had these tough early experiences - because it is just different, in some ways, from normal parenting. I hope some of this might be helpful -- good luck and courage.

Your little sister-in-law sounds like she has an attachment disorder, based on her history and the behavior you are currently seeing. Definitely get her (and you and your husband) back into therapy with a therapist who has expertise in Reactive Attachment Disorders. In the meantime, your instinct about being very structured with her is right on. It is important to be consistent (to the point of inflexibility) and logical so she can trust you. This is hard work. Good luck. She sounds like she really needs you to help her heal. Louise

We had a somewhat similar situation with our daughter. In all other ways she was a 'good kid' doing well in school, no drugs/sex etc but at 13 she began stealing from stores compulsively. I wanted to have her visit a courtroom procedure for juveniles or juvenile hall so that she could see the serious consequences of what she was doing. These options wereen't possible so what I finally ended up doing is calling Berkeley Police to ask if they could 'scare her straight'. We went in together and an officer talked with her about shoplifting and its consequences. He had her go home and write an essay on what she wanted to achieve in life and then met with her again n one week to discuss the essay. They were very respectful and the method worked. Unlike your step-sister, our daughter never stole from other people but you may want to try this technique if you catch her stealing from stores. We also made her go in and return the things that she stole from the stores.

My foster daughter, who is now an adult, came to live with me when she was 6 after a very difficult early childhood. Her early deprivation left her with a number of troubling behaviors, including stealing. She stole from our home, from guests, from school. I also tried everything, but nothing particularly worked except her growing out of it (after developing more serious problems, like substance abuse, in adolescence). I don't think any special therapy is necessary, but Kaiser might not be the place to find her a therapist, because this could take some years to deal with. My daughter did eventually go to work, get her own money and have a pretty normal life. The one piece of advice I could offer around parental response is: don't concentrate on trying to control or change the stealing behavior; just stay with your normal consequences and structures. I came to take preventative measures of not leaving cash around, etc. I think some of these behaviors are a form of testing: kids who have been mistreated want to know if they are still loved when they act out. Good luck.

Compulsive stealing was one of the worst aspects of my daughter's behavior problems that our therapist told us arose from incomplete attachment. It was worst in her elementary years, but I remember that she took things even as a preschooler. They just don't call it stealing until the kid gets older. With a lot of the behavior that comes with incomplete attachment, behavioral therapy worked very well - especially since we went as a family. But not for the stealing. Our therapist just kept telling us that she would have to grow out of it, and probably as the attachment issues were resolved, it would die away. This seems to be the case. She went to therapy individually during the hideous middle school years, and now that she's in high school she's much more mature and in control of her behavior, and she doesn't steal.

Daughter's friend is stealing her things

Oct 2001

I am the single parent of a young teen. In the last six months or so, my daughter has noticed that a friend of hers happens to have a lot of identical clothing and other personal items, concurrent with my daughter noticing the items absent. None of these items is expensive (makeup, clothing, stickers), and when my daughter mentions to the girl how odd it is that she has the same things, the girl is not defensive at all in explaining how she came to have the same things. But the items are uncommon enough that it is very unlikely that she could have gotten the exact same things. She even went so far as to tell a mutual friend that my daughter gives her the makeup my daughter doesn't want. Outside of the obvious problem, the girl's mother is a friend and we carpool, etc. and I don't want to offend the family by bringing this to their attention. Anybody have any suggestions?

Please talk to the mother of your daughter's friend that is stealing. If the mother is offended - well better to be offended than not to have knowledge of your children's activities that are signs of trouble. If your daughter's friend was MY child and you DIDNT tell me, I'd be upset.

I'd start off my saying: I have something to say to you that its difficult for me to talk to you about but I think you should know - its about your daughter - I'm telling you this because I care.. Then just say what you said in the posting - too many coincidences and in fact admissions.

On another note: why does your daughter still hang out with a friend who's stealing from her? Doesn't sound like much of a friend and I think your daughter should stand up for herself and NOT be friends (or at least seriously evaluate the friendship) with someone who has betrayed her trust and who is being a thief and a liar - at best the friend is using her (sounds harsh but its true). If the friend has issues (self esteem, wants material things that her family can't afford, etc.) then her family needs to deal with it and your daughter needs to think about the friendship. Is the friend doing other things like shoplifting? What if your daughter was with her at the time? Karen

It sounds like your daughter's friend steals compulsively and my guess is she has been doing it for a long time. I have experience with this. My 16-year-old has been close friends since pre-school with a kid I'll call Oliver who has gone through periods of stealing (and worse) over the years. Even in preschool, when his mom came to pick him up, she would pat him down to see if he was taking anything home of ours. My theory is that this gave him the idea she was expecting him to steal, and he was living up to her expectations, because he continued stealing for a long time after preschool. He has also always told big whoppers - for example his hand was once bitten off by a shark and it grew back! Later the whoppers became more serious - a maintenance guy at a local park who Oliver was taunting grabbed his arm in anger and Oliver reported to his parents that he was touched. My son was there, I got a visit from the police (I told them what really happened). Oliver has his good points too, and my son has stood by him loyally through thick and thin, despite my own discouragements and obstacles over the years. Even though he now lives in another city, he calls my son many times a week and they get together every month or so. I suspect my son is his only friend.

Once Oliver's problems became obvious, I sharply restricted what they could do together and never allowed Oliver in the house when I was away - I still don't. In middle school I would not allow my son to go with Oliver to the nearby shops, though he was allowed to go with other friends, because Oliver had been caught shoplifting at the local toy store and I didn't want my son to be there when he did it the next time. My son didn't like this, but I think he understood my position. I have spoken with the parents many times over the years. It is not very effective to talk to the parents in this case. They are well aware of the problems their kid has, have tried various strategies over the years (therapy, meds, changing schools, even moving). They have heard it so often, they are somewhat defensive, maybe in an effort to protect their troubled kid. Also their approach to parenting is to require their kids to always take responsibility no matter what, even in cases where the parent ought to be taking responsibility, and the penalties they impose are quite harsh in my opinion. For example, they once called off a special Iceland birthday party the morning of, disappointing all the invitees, because Oliver broke a minor family rule. (The 10-year-old Oliver was required to phone all the kids - we parents were not informed.) Or cancelling Halloween trick-or-treating at the last minute because Oliver called his sister a name. So I only phone them in extreme cases (i.e., police coming to my house to ask about Oliver's next-door-neighbor's broken window - my son was there when it happened so Oliver told the police to talk to him.)

When it became clear that toys (and even money) had disappeared from our house during the time Oliver was there, I did not call his parents, but I did confront him. This was when he was in his early teens. He denied it very vigorously. I told him that I like him, and I want him to stay friends with my son, but we can't have things taken from the house and I will have to do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening. I also had a talk with my son. He defended his friend and was upset that I might stop them from seeing each other, but he also acknowledged that his friend was stealing and had always had this stealing problem. Initially this seemed to work, Oliver seemed to appreciate that I was dealing directly with him, and things of ours stopped disappearing. But then another friend had some very special collectables taken when my son and Oliver were visiting his house. This other kid wasn't friends with Oliver - my son took Oliver over there, so I felt somewhat responsible. When the collectables turned up later at Oliver's house, my son told me. I phoned Oliver and very earnestly tried to convince him to return them. He denied he had taken them. So I phoned the other friend's mother. She had to go to Oliver's house to collect them, had to insist to be taken to Oliver's bedroom to prove to Oliver's parents that he had taken them.

So I guess my advice is to do what you can to protect your things, and make sure your own child understands what the problem is and takes similar protective steps. Calling the parents might not work if they have been receiving reports from years from lots of other people.

I urge you to put the welfare of this child before your relationship with her mother, or your desire not to feel awkward. She is learning that theft and lying have positive MUST tell her mom, and insist on return of your child's possessions. Even if their embarrassment estranges them from you, they will thank you later for caring enough to do the right thing. Heather

Daughter, 12, won't stop stealing

May 2004

I just found out that my middle daughter (sixth grade) who will be tweleve next month has been stealing money from my purse. I am so upset. She has been stealing since she was in second grade. She stole a CD from her dance teacher, she has stolen pencil boxes from her class mates. She takes things from her sisters (ages 13 and 8). She steals candy in the house etc. So far I have made her write pages and pages of lines saying she knows it is wrong to steal, she won't steal again etc. I have taken away activities she likes to do etc. I thought I was handling the problem properly. Now I am devastated. I don't know what to do. I cleaned out her room and took away all her things, except her clothes. I found her diary and read it. She seems to be completely normal, her diary did not reveal she is having any problems at all. She is a honor role student who had math anxiety a couple of years ago. I spent a huge amount of money getting her tutored, and now she gets A's in math. I am aware of the middle child syndrome and always make sure she does not feel insecure. She is a little overweight, whereas her sister are not. When I ask what makes her steal, she says she does not know. What can I do? Anon

I don't have any great answers for you but I was a big shoplifter starting at age 6 (I stole candy) through middle school. What did it for me was actually being arrested -- It didn't eliminate my shoplifting entirely, but I was able to start weighing the potential consequences versus the gain. I've since read/heard that children steal because there is an unfulfilled sense of entitlement. In other words, I deserve X and am not getting it, so I steal to help fill that hole. Although I never ever could have articulated that as a child, it really resonates with me now. I'm sure your daughter has NO idea why she steals, so questioning her probably won't help. I guess there's no advice here . . . just a note that you're not alone. Kids sometimes steal and just need help in understanding the consequences and growing out of it. anon

I might be able to offer some advice from the perspective of someone who has finally grown out of her middle child syndrome. Of course, I have no idea if my family was anything like yours, but the age differences were similar and we were also a family with three girls. I didn't steal, but I lied all the time. Nothing my family would do (punish, shame, discuss) would really help. So, we got into a pattern where everyone just recognized me as the problem child. After I moved away for college, I started thinking of myself less as the problem child, and more as the symptom of larger problems in the family. Now that I have even more distance and a wonderful relationship with everyone in my family, I realize it was really somewhere in between. But, if there is one thing that I think my parents could have done better, it would have been to differentiate between us more, instead of just thinking of the three of us as a unit -- ''the girls'' -- and treating us all the same way. For example, my parents just assumed that I would take up all the same hobbies as my older sister, and they didn't encourage or support any of my individual interests. Of course, I'm not saying that this is anything like what your daughter's experience is like. But, I bet that if you find a way to give her a little extra positive attention, it couldn't hurt. Anon

A child who steals is often expressing a deeply-held feeling of deprivation that she may only dimly be aware of. This may be why your taking things away from her or disciplining her by making her write lines may not be working (as this may only increase her sense of not getting enough through legitimate means). I'm not implying that she is actually deprived, only that her stealing from you and her sisters may be the only way she can presently express an unconscious feeling of deprivation. This seems serious enough to warrent consultation with an experienced child psychologist who could help you sort out what is going on with her and what you can do to help her. Anonymous Child Psychotherapist

My middle sister was what we called a ''klepto''. My other sisters and I actually admired her daring and skill when we were kids -- we joked about her Christmas shoplifting expeditions at the mall and we'd put in an order for a bottle of fingernail polish or a tube of lipstick. I'm ashamed to say this now. I have no idea why she stole, and the rest of us didn't. There were a lot of us kids, and my parents were so entangled with a multitude of adult problems that they didn't pay much attention to us. And I was the smart overachieving big sister, and she was a year younger and constantly compared to me. Maybe that's why. My klepto sister got into a lot of trouble all through her youth and teen years - ran away from home, dropped out of high school, had two babies while still in her teens. Even as a young adult she stole - I can remember going shopping with her in Santa Monica when we were in our 20's and being horrified when she tucked an expensive bottle of wine under her jacket and walked out with it. She went through a series of husbands and a series of religions, and eventually settled on one, and has been pretty stable for the past 20 years - she doesn't remember the wine bottle incident and denies that she ever stole anything as a kid! She was always the kindest, most compassionate of all of us, and she still is. She would do anything for anyone, and has none of the penchant for fighting and argument the rest of us have! Now she is in her late 40s, and she is the director of a non-profit that provides home services to poor senior citizens. She is one of those people that everyone loves, and no one dislikes. Just a really sweet, loving person. When I think of her teenage self, it makes me so sad that such a sweet person had such a hard time of it for so many years. I really do not have any answers for you about your daughter, but maybe she is a sweet person like my sister, who really just wants to please. Maybe it would help to give her some extra attention and try to develop any special skills and talents she has, so she can be good at something besides stealing? Good luck Klepto's sister