Although parents are horrified to find that their teen has stolen, they should understand that this behavior does not always mark the beginning of a lifelong career in thievery. Rather, teen “thieves” are very often youngsters who are and will be very normal and responsible grown-up citizens.
Some teens steal from stores. “Shoplifting” is sometimes done on a dare. Immaturity and social pressure can result in this sort of stealing. Usually being caught puts a quick end to the short career of this kind of thief.
Shoplifting can also be committed by youths who are acting out stress or emotional problems. These kids subconsciously want to be caught in order to be able to bring their pain to the surface where it can be helped at last. Psychotherapy for shoplifting will often reveal a myriad of teen problems and angst. When all is addressed, the stealing stops.
Some kids steal from their parents. They help themselves to cash or cards, taken on the sly without permission. They spend it, naively hoping not to be discovered. This kind of thief is often a child who wants more than her parents are giving. Peer pressure, feelings of insecurity and deprivation may motivate this kind of stealing. Kids often don’t know how bank statements work and don’t realize that they will be discovered in short order. They may deny their role in unexplained purchases, thinking that their parents can be fooled. They may blame cash theft on household help. They may explain their new possessions as “gifts” from friends or prizes won. Sometimes family counseling can help such “thieves.” Sometimes parents really are too withholding, failing to understand the needs of their youngsters. Sometimes kids just need to get a job and more financial freedom coupled with less parental control. Family counseling can often straighten out what is crooked in such stealing.
Healing Teenage Theft
Counseling is always helpful in the case of youthful stealing. Compassionate parents who truly want to understand are the most help. They can help get to the underlying issues and address them. Stealing is, for most teenagers, a symptom of some other issue that needs attention. For instance, some kids who are going through family divorce become temporary thieves. They really need a chance to do therapy and work out their pain. Sometimes, kids with academic problems get involved with the wrong crowd and end up engaging in bad behavior of all kinds, including stealing. Sometimes troubled kids steal in order to pay for drugs they are using to numb their psychic pain.
However, whether the cause is social, interpersonal, intrapersonal, trauma or stress, the thief always needs help and healing. Harsh treatment tends to make the problem worse, as does drama and scare tactics. Yelling at a teenage thief does nothing positive towards the problem and may even worsen it.
Nonetheless, all stealing must also be met with negative consequences of some kind, whether that involves paying back the loss, community work, some sort of loss of privileges or whatever. The negative consequence teaches the youngster that there is a cost for anti-social behavior. The cost can be jail, of course, if the youngster has stolen outside of his home. However, there needs to be “introductory” consequences on the homefront, even if parents understand their troubled child and engage in family counseling or other healing strategies.
When teens see that their families really love them and want to help, they have the best chance of recovering from their stealing behaviors. If your teen is stealing, seek professional guidance in order to develop a plan of real healing and recovery.