Shoplifting: How to respond When Your Teen Steals

Date: 07/03/2023

Title: How do I stop my teenager from shoplifting?

00:00:00 Speaker 1
You're teenage son is shoplifting. What are you going to do? Well, let's talk about that today
on tips on teens. My name is Kent Toussaint. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and
I specialize in helping kids, teens and families live happier lives. I lead two organizations
teen Therapy Center and the non profit 501 C three organization, child and Teen Counseling,
both here in Woodland Hills, California. And every Wednesday at noon, I jump on the Facebook
Live to answer your parenting questions. Let's answer today's. I recently learned that my
son has been shoplifting. He hasn't been caught yet, but I'm worried he will be. I figured out
he was stealing stuff when I saw new articles of clothing showing up in his room that I didn't
buy for him. He admitted it to me and also that he's been stealing candy and food from the drugstore
by his school. I talked to him about it, but I know he's still doing it. How do I stop this before
he gets arrested? Thank you for your question, and my

00:01:06 Speaker 1
heart goes out to you. This is such a horrible place as a parent to be that you kind of feel like,
in a sense, powerless because again, as we talked many times, you cannot control a teenager.
You can influence a teenager. And we'll get back more into that in a little bit. But I want to talk
first about why teenagers will shop with and steal. Same reasons adults do. There's a lot of
different reasons, but a big reason is it creates a sense of power, sense of empowerment and
control in one's life. Much like if you want a shopping spree and you get a bunch of stuff and you
feel really good and exciting and you spent your money. It's even more for a teenager when they
go and steal, because not only are they getting things, but they're getting by authority, which
is a big part of an adolescent deal. They're pushing the boundaries, and then they start justifying
it to why it's okay for them to do it, even though logically they know it's wrong, but they can
justify it's like, well, it's from a

00:01:59 Speaker 1
company. It's from a big business. I'm not hurting anybody. I'm doing it from a store. And I think
it's great that you talk to him. I encourage you to keep on talking to him and talk to him about
how it does hurt people. It hurts the employees, hurts the owners of the company. Those are real
people. Hurts us as consumers because now we have to pay more to cover up for that. So it does hurt
other people. Stealing a bag of chips, cookies from the convenience store that's probably
a mom and pop place, or those employees are accountable to the management. If they have a lot
of loss, they get in trouble. So he may not be understanding that, and he may not be able to understand
that at 15 or 16. He may be so locked into his adolescent brain, which is not an adult brain. His
adolescent brain is more impulsive, cannot understand the cause and effect like an adult can.
So those things are happening. I think it's great you guys are talking about it. I think you should
talk to him about where else

00:02:59 Speaker 1
in his role can he find empowerment? How else can he earn money so we can buy his things instead
of steal them? And it's tough because from his point of view, it works. It's great. My friends
steal, too, and it probably starts at Small. A bag of chips here, two bags of chips, six pack of
soda, then goes to alcohol and goes on and on and on. Eventually, the kids are going online to
research how to get past the department store security sensors, for example. And there's ways
to do that, and it's not hard to do. So I think it's important to keep talking to him about this.
You can't chain him to the piano in the living room. He's going to be going out. Sometimes you
want him to go out. You don't want him always inside. But I think it's important to talk to about
these things. Also, when you find stolen merchandise in your house that you know he didn't buy,
respectfully, confiscate it, and then talk to him in a calm, respectful way. Say, hey, I see
you have this new hoodie. I didn't buy it for

00:03:58 Speaker 1
you. I know your dad did not buy it for you due to your history. I'm assuming you took it. He'll
say, no. Okay, tell me where you got it. Danny gave it to me. Your friend Danny gave you a brand
new hoodie, $100 hoodie? Yeah, he said he didn't want it, and so he gave it to me. Okay. Because
he's going to lie. Just don't be shocked when he lies. Okay, well, you have one week to have Danny's
parents give me a call and confirm that they're okay with Danny giving you his new hoodie. And
if that's the case, I get the call within one week, then you can have it. If not, I'm donating it
to Goodwill. Whatever. By the way, don't donate it to the Goodwill near your house. He'll go
there and buy it for $20, and then he says, Well, I bought him no money, so take it somewhere he's
not going to find it, and he's not going to like that. Or you say, or if it was from a store and you
want to keep this, you can buy that with your allowance. We'll go to the store, you'll acknowledge
that you stole it, you'll

00:04:53 Speaker 1
pay them $100, and that's yours. I don't have $100. Okay, well, you can earn it from me. There's
a lot of extra chores on the house that you can earn money for. You have X amount of time to earn
this money. I'll keep the hoodie until then, and by Time X. If you've earned the money, we'll
go to the store and then you can give the cash or the money and it's yours. But in that time, you
haven't finished it. You don't get to keep the money that you earned. You don't get to prosper.
You don't get a profit off this. You only get to do it if you keep the hoodie. If you is $100 and you
only earn 50 at the Time X, I'm going to donate it and you don't keep that 50. That's my 50. That's
the price for shoplifting and stealing. Also, if and when he does get arrested, stay calm, don't
panic. Take your time. In going to pick him up. Let him twist a little bit. Let him feel the sting
of what he's done. If not, if this is a slight little slap on the wrist, he doesn't say, well, that's
no problem. I should

00:05:52 Speaker 1
keep doing this. Why not keep stealing? This is great. I get a slap on the wrist. Who cares? This
is not a big deal. He has to feel the sting of it. Now, if you feel there are some underlying issues
that he's trying to cover up or overcome through stealing, it may be helpful for him to talk to
a therapist who specializes in teens and kids so they can connect and find other ways that are
more productive and more healthy for him to exercise his sense of power. But that's going to
be up to you guys. But this is a complicated process. Again, you cannot control a teenager you
can influence. And how do you influence a teenager is by your positive and healthy connection
with your teenager. If you develop a positive and healthy connection, a trust, a relationship,
it's not about how much you love your teenager. We know you love him. It's not about how much he
loves you. He loves you too. But it's about building that relationship that will help you have
more influence and then he will respect your

00:06:49 Speaker 1
values more. Anyways, that's our question for today. Thank you so much. If you have a question
you'd like me to answer, please feel free to email us at tipson
or direct messages right here on Facebook. We love your questions. Thank you so much. I will
see you guys next Wednesday. My name is Kent Toussaint with Teen Therapy Center and Child and Teen
Counseling. See you next Wednesday. Bye.

Why Do Kids Steal?

Sometimes shoplifting can be indicative of deeper emotional problems in teenagers. More commonly however, what teens get out of shoplifting is empowerment. For some kids making that transition from childhood to adulthood, pushing boundaries gives them a sense of control and self agency that they’ve never had before. And, they get free stuff too.’

Cause and Effect?

If you’ve tried talking to your kid about shoplifting, remember this: the human brain doesn’t develop fully until age 25. Thus, a 14 or 15 year old may not have a good understanding of cause and effect. Therefore rational explanations about how shoplifting hurts others probably won’t resonate. Examples of this might be how stealing hurts shop owners, employees who have to be accountable and consumers who might have to pay more.

We have a suggestion about how you can best handle this kind of situation with your kid, and we get away with it in this Tips on Teens:

“I recently learned that my son has been shoplifting. He hasn’t been caught yet, but I’m worried he will be. I figured out he was stealing stuff when I saw new articles of clothing showing up in his room that I didn’t buy for him. He admitted it to me and also that he’s been stealing candy and food from the drug store by his school. I talked to him about it, but I know he’s still doing it. How do I stop this before he gets arrested?”

Clinical Director Kent Toussaint answers your parenting questions every Wednesday at 12:00pm in our weekly segment Tips On Teens on Facebook Live. Have questions about parenting kids and teens? Send them to: We love to hear from you!

Head on over to our Facebook page every Wednesday at 12:00pm to watch LIVE!  Check out our page here –

If you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.697.8555.