Your child helps you clear the table after dinner, does homework on time and even helps with housework on the weekends. So can it be true that this same child is stealing? When a child has been caught stealing, your reaction should depend on whether it’s the first time or there’s a pattern of stealing.
Before you react, it helps to know a little about why kids and teens steal and how to help them. Kids of all ages, from preschoolers to teens, can be tempted to steal for different reasons:
- Very young children sometimes take things they want without understanding that it’s wrong to take something without paying for it and that things cost money.
Parents need to help very young children, understand that stealing is wrong — that when you take something without paying or asking for it, it hurts someone else. If a preschooler takes a piece of candy, for instance, parents can help the child return the item, but if the child has already eaten the candy, parents can take the child back to the store to pay for it and apologize.
- School-age kids usually know they’re not supposed to take something without paying, but because they lack enough self-control, they might do so anyway.
It’s important to return the stolen item, with school-age kids, too. Kids should know stealing is wrong, by the first and second grades, but they may need a better understanding of the consequences.
- Preteens and teens know they’re not supposed to steal, but might believe they can get away with it, and steal for the thrill of it or because their friends do. Some teens steal as a way of rebelling, as they’re given more control over their lives.
It’s recommended that parents follow through with stricter consequences, when teens steal. When a teen is caught stealing, the parent can take the teen back to the store and meet with the security department to apologise and explain for what happened. An everlasting lesson on why stealing is wrong, makes the embarrassment of facing up to what he or she did by having to return a stolen item.
And factors can be other complex reasons, kids might be angry or want attention. Their behaviour may reflect stress at school, home or with friends. Some may steal as a cry for help because of physical or emotional abuse they’re enduring.
Kids and teens, in other cases, steal because they can’t afford to pay for what they want or need — for example, they may steal to get popular brand-name items. In some cases, they may steal things to support drug habits.
Parents need to get to the root of the behavior, whatever the reason for stealing, and address other underlying problems, like drug abuse, that may surface.
If your child has stolen more than once, repeat offenses may indicate a bigger problem, so consider getting professional help at Family Kickstart Georgia (FKSG).