According to Shoplifters Alternative, a national nonprofit research and rehabilitation program, there are about 23 million shoplifters in our nation today – about one in 11 people. Although only one-quarter of shoplifters are teenagers, 55% of adult shoplifters say that they began to steal when they were younger. Despite any justification someone might use, shoplifting is stealing and there are heavy penalties that go with it, including being arrested and possibly charged with a crime. What might seem like an innocent prank can affect a person’s future, including the chances of going to college or getting a job. Lots of teens find out the hard way that stores take shoplifting very seriously, regardless of whether it’s an expensive electronic device or a candy bar.
Teenagers do not always perceive the consequences of their actions. Parents need to carefully explain the penalties of shoplifting (which are described below) with their children. In addition, parents need to be aware of their teen and notice any new items of clothing and/or devices they have. Don’t be afraid to ask your teen where they obtained their new treasures. Being observant allows the teen to know their parents care and are paying attention. This might reduce their need to steal.
Why Some Teens Shoplift
Some teens say they shoplift to seem cool or daring. Some people shoplift because they want things their classmates have but can’t afford them. Some people shoplift to see what they can get away with. They may do it as a way to challenge authority or be nonconformist. Or they may get a rush out of doing something risky that has the potential to get them in serious trouble. Others do it as a way to get attention from parents or friends.
One reason often cited by teens for shoplifting is “I was bored and didn’t have anything better to do.” Involving teens in wholesome, constructive activities seems to be a critical component of avoiding a variety of risky behavior.
Peer pressure among teens plays an important role when it comes to shoplifting. Some teens shoplift because their friends do and they want to be part of the group. Other teens pick up expensive items – such as designer clothes or the latest electronics – that they cannot afford in an effort to keep up with their peers that wear high fashion or have the latest gadget.
Penalties for Shoplifting
Getting caught shoplifting can be a lot more serious than people may think. Some of the things that can happen to shoplifters are:
- They may be arrested and paraded through a store in handcuffs.
- They may face charges for theft. Depending on their age, they can be tried as an adult.
- They may be banned from stores or malls.
- People who have been arrested for shoplifting — especially if it’s more than once — may end up with a criminal record. This can make it harder to get a job, get into college, or do the other things they want to do. Even shoplifters who are caught but not prosecuted may have their names placed in a database that some employers have access to and could prevent future hiring for jobs.
People don’t have to get caught for shoplifting to affect their lives. Some people may feel guilty or ashamed of what they’ve done. It can cost the person self-respect or the respect of others. Sometimes people lose friends who decide they don’t want to be close to someone who doesn’t have the same values.
What Parents Can Do When Their Child Has Shoplifted
When a child has been caught stealing, a parent’s reaction should depend on whether it’s the first time or there’s a pattern of stealing.
The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) recommends that you don’t overreact to the first offense. If you are called by the store or police, NCPC suggests you do the following:
- Decide on the consequences beforehand. One in four shoplifters caught is a teen. Think about how you’d handle things if your child was caught shoplifting. Be sure to share your thoughts with your spouse. It’s important to present a united front if an incident does occur.
- Remain calm at the scene of the crime. Confronting your child will only add to the humiliation and embarrassment he is probably feeling. Get all the facts. Listen to the authorities and agree to take an active role in the solution. Be sure to listen to your teen’s side of the story, but parents should not make excuses for a child that is caught shoplifting. This only teaches the teen disrespect for authority. The teen must recognize their behavior as wrong no matter what the reason was for stealing.
- Allow a cooling off period. Best not to unload on your child the minute you reach your driveway. Take time, at least a day, to let everyone cool off before discussing the incident and laying out the consequences of his actions. Be firm, but caring.
- Follow through. Important life lessons will be lost if you don’t follow through on your disciplinary actions. Keep your word. Now that he has committed this offense, the rules may have to change. You trusted him with a privilege and he did not live up to that trust so now things have to change, even if only temporarily. Give him an opportunity to regain your trust – engage him in establishing the new rules and empower him to make changes for himself.
If a teen wasn’t caught when they shoplifted, but the parent later discovers the stolen item, the parent can take the teen back to the store and meet with the security department to explain and apologize for what happened. The embarrassment of facing up to what he or she did by having to return a stolen item makes for an everlasting lesson on why stealing is wrong. Additional punishment, especially physical punishment, is unnecessary and could make the child angry and more likely to engage in even worse behavior.
If it’s a first-time offense, some stores and businesses may accept an apology and not necessarily press charges. However, some stores press charges the first time around. And there’s often little sympathy for repeat offenders. Kids of all ages need to know that stealing is a crime and can lead to consequences far worse than being grounded, including juvenile detention centers and even prison.
If stealing money from a parent, the child should be offered options for paying back the money, like doing extra chores around the house. It’s important, however, that a parent not bait the child by leaving out money in the hopes of catching the child in the act. That could damage the sense of trust between a parent and child.
If your child has stolen on more than one occasion, consider getting professional help. Repeat offenses may indicate a bigger problem. One third of juveniles who’ve been caught shoplifting say it’s difficult for them to quit. So, it’s important to help kids and teens understand why stealing is wrong and that they may face serious consequences if they continue to steal.
What Parents Can Do to Prevent Shoplifting
The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) says there are ways to keep your child on the straight and narrow, and offers these tips for helping your child to stay on track:
- Be a positive role model. Kids are smart and they pick-up on things we may not even think about. For example, if you are undercharged for something and you are aware of it, go back to the store and let them know. If the cashier forgets to ring up an item and you notice it, point it out. Use these situations to be a role model for your child.
- Stick to the facts. Remind your child of the immediate and definite consequences of shoplifting to others, herself and her future. Reinforce why stealing (in any form) is wrong and how her life will be better for her when she doesn’t compromise her honesty and integrity.
- Be a loving parent. Be open and understanding so your child will come to you with difficult issues or with mistakes she made without feeling you will be unfairly judgmental or punitive. Help give her the self-confidence to resist peer pressure when temptation or opportunity arises.
- Know your child’s friends. By staying involved with your kids and their activities, by knowing where they are going, what they are doing, who they are with and when they will be home goes a long way toward keeping your kids from becoming involved in shoplifting.
- Encourage your child to be involved. Encourage your child to participate in sports or other group activities which introduces her to a better group of kids and keeps her busy vs. bored.