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 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 security cameras and hire guards—and youths are always 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 having to deal with students who are stealing from one another. (Hint on this one: Tell your kid to leave those pricey electronic gadgets at home!)
Police officers also say that summer when kids have free time on their hands is when shoplifting increases – and especially when there is an economic crunch. Though don’t be fooled. Research shows that most kids don’t steal out of financial need or greed. They have more than they could ever need or want.
A few weeks ago 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, shopliftingisstealing.com 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:
• Price tags or package wrapping are hidden in the trash.
• Goods show up in your house that you do not remember purchasing or your child is has clothes or electronic items that you know he didn’t have the money to buy.
Your child gives pricey gifts to friends or you and is secretive about extra income they get.
• Your child leaves the house with an empty backpack or wears baggy clothes or puts on a jacket when it’s warm outside (which could be indicative of another problem.
• Money or property begins disappearing from family members.
There is one central solution: parents! 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 it’s important.
Though stealing is a common childhood problem it should never be allowed. Have you talked to your child? If not, make an appointment! Don’t be caught off guard! One in four kids shoplifts!