When you were a child, did you take a candy bar from a store without paying? Many of us have done this in our younger years. How our parents responded shaped our ability to make decisions and know the difference between right and wrong. Most of us grew out of this phase, typically out of fear of the consequences that accompany stealing.
What do you do when you discover your teen has been stealing? Knowing the proper steps to take can help to set your teen back on the right track and help to keep them from getting into future legal problems.
Why do teens steal?
There are many reasons that a teen might turn to stealing. They can vary drastically between individuals. It’s also worth pointing out that teens may steal without good reason.
Here are some of the most common reasons that a teen may turn to taking what is not theirs:
- Poor impulse control. This has often been connected with ADHD.
- Peer pressure. Their friends may encourage the behavior, and they may be taking things from stores and other people. This type of peer pressure can be difficult for teens to navigate.
- They just want it. Sometimes teens don’t get their way, whether it’s a parent saying they can’t afford it this week or another reason. This can lead some teens to the idea that it’s okay just to take what they want.
- Boredom. Stealing can bring a particular type of thrill your teen may be looking for.
- Attention. If your teen feels as though they aren’t getting enough attention, they may turn to stealing as a way to get your attention back them. Negative attention is still attention.
- Embarrassment. It could be that your teen needs contraceptives or other items they are too embarrassed to ask you for. If they have stolen items that fall into this category, you should take a gentle approach.
Before effectively handling your teen and their stealing, you must get to the root cause of this behavior. Establishing boundaries and consequences wouldn’t be as effective if you don’t first understand the why of the behavior and poor choices.
A one-time offense
If this is the first and only time that you’ve caught your teen stealing, you have the opportunity to cut this behavior off. Start by focusing on the behavior versus outright calling your teen a thief.
If possible, have your teen return the item or items to the person or store they stole it from. There is the possibility that the police may get involved and that the store may decide to press charges.
As unsettling as this is, it’s an opportunity for your teen to learn that stealing and breaking the law brings consequences that aren’t always pleasant to deal with. For many teens, simply interacting with police officers and upset store managers can be all they need to stop taking what doesn’t belong to them.
Make it clear to your teen that you cannot protect them from the consequences of their actions. You will help them in the ways you can, but consequences can teach valuable life lessons. Trust can be hard to earn back even after a one-time offense but do let your teen know you want to trust them again.
Remember that trust does go both ways. If something has made your teen feel insecure about your relationship, you will need to find a way to help rebuild their trust in you.
A continuing concern
If your teen has developed a track record for taking things, whether from you, other family members and friends, or stores, you may feel a bit out of your depth. What should your next steps be if your teen has been caught stealing or you’ve figured it out on your own?
- Have a conversation with your teen. Your conversation should be a discussion versus something that could blow up into an argument. But try to keep your tone non-confrontational and accusatory. A teen already pushing the boundaries may accelerate their behavior into something else, including drugs, alcohol, and other poor decisions.
- Evaluate the consequences that you’ve put in place. Is your teen paying attention when you tell him that he’s grounded and can’t go out? Or does he go out anyway? Does he stick to restrictions about device use? Or do the extra chores you gave him? If he disregards your consequences, it’s time to take a different approach.
- No parent wants to watch their child get into trouble with the law, no matter how old. But if your teen is not responding to the boundaries and consequences you’ve put in place, it might be time to let law enforcement take over. Long-term problems generally won’t resolve themselves until something drastic changes.
- Get help from mental health professionals. Chances are good that your teen is struggling with something deeper than simply wanting to steal. Working with mental health professionals can help your teen to work through each issue and learn why their poor decisions will only make their life more difficult.
Types of professional help for teens
To see the best results, you must get your teen the correct type of help. There are several options for getting your teen the help that he needs. Some of the options for your teen could include the following:
- Outpatient counseling for the teen and every other family member.
- Meeting with a psychiatrist who can evaluate your teen for therapeutic options.
- Peer counseling and peer support groups.
- Inpatient programs that offer more intensive therapy.
- Boarding schools with a focus on mental wellness.
- Camps with a focus on mental wellness. These could include boot camp-style camps, wilderness camps, and faith-based retreats.
As with many things in life, it may take exploring several options to find the right one to help your teen get through the underlying mental wellness concerns.
If you are looking for the resources to guide you as you get your teen through this challenging phase in life, HelpYourTeenNow can help.