Kid Shoplifting: Know the signs!

by | Mar 29, 2010 | Character and Moral Intelligence, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

REALITY CHECK: Did you know that one in four kids shoplift?

You see your child take a candy bar from the store and put it in her pocket.

You notice your daughter is playing with a Barbie that you told her she couldn’t have at the store.

You find a video game in your son’s closet, and know it doesn’t belong to him.

The one behavior that’s guaranteed to shake up even the calmest parent is discovering that their kid has stolen something. Be assured that stealing is far more common than you might realize-especially amongst the younger set with still a flimsy grasp of ownership. Around five and seven is when kids usually understand the hurtful effects of stealing. Once kids realize that stealing violates someone’s rights and can result in serious legal action against them, the problem becomes more serious. And stealing has become a troubling new youth trend:

  • One in four kids shoplift and a TIME/CNN survey of 9 to 14 years olds found that 36% feel pressure from peers to do so
  • A survey by of 20,000 middle school and high school students found that almost half of all respondents admit stealing something from a store in the previous 12 months
  • More than a quarter of high school students said they had committed store theft at least two times

Storeowners tell me shoplifting is so common that they have had to install pricier surveillance cameras and hire extra security guards—and youths are often the biggest offenders. Malls across the country are now demanding parents accompany their kids to try and curtail the problem. Libraries are installing pricey security systems to detect book theft because it is so rampant. Principals complain one of the biggest discipline issues is dealing with students who are stealing from one another. (Hint: Tell your kid to leave those pricey electronic gadgets at home!)

Police officers also say that spring vacation and summer–when kids have free time on their hands–is when shoplifting increases and even more so now with an economic crunch. And don’t be fooled. Research shows that most kids do not steal out of financial need or greed. The vast majority of offenders have more than they could ever need or want.

I had the pleasure of meeting Judy Whalen at a conference. This passionate lady is on a mission to turn this troubling trend around. Her website, offers great tips for parents and educators. Here are a few of Judy’s warning signs that your child—or his friends–may be shoplifting. Read them carefully so you won’t be caught off guard.

Youth Shoplifting Warning Signs

  • Price tags or package wrapping are hidden in the trash

  • Goods show up in your house that you do not remember purchasing
  • Your child has clothes or electronic items that you know he didn’t have the money to buy

  • Your child gives pricey gifts to friends (or to you) and is secretive about where he got the extra income to afford purchasing items

  • Your child leaves the house with an empty backpack or wears baggy clothes or puts on a jacket when it’s warm outside (which also could be indicative of another problem)

  • Money or property begins disappearing from family members

There is one central solution to this troubling problem: you! Studies show that how parents react to their kids’ stealing can be either destructive or productive in helping them learn right from wrong. The best reaction is to make sure the child understands not only your expectation for honesty, but also why you feel it’s important. (And those talks should start when your child is young).

Though stealing is a common childhood problem it should never be allowed. Have you talked to your child? If not, make an appointment! One in four kids shoplift! And if not your kid, then it may be a peer. One part of your talk should be to help your child develop a comeback line to a “pal” who taunts him to take “just one little thing.” Storeowners as well as the police are taking this issue far more seriously.

Don’t be caught off guard!

This blog from is adapted from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) which is a complete parenting reference (over 700 pages) to the top parenting problems with research-based, practical answers. In particular, check out the chapters on Stealing, Lying, and Knowing Right from Wrong. For more parenting tips, follow me on twitter @micheleborba or on my daily blog at Michele