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Last week he was arrested for shoplifting...

Hi Mark, we have been trying to work through the programme but are having difficulty with consequences, for example to breaking curfews. In the past 2 months, I__ has made new friends that we don't know, is secretive and has decided he can do what he wants. The change was so sudden, we're in shock! Last week he was arrested for shoplifting and today, I got a call from the Transit police saying that he was riding the skytrain without a ticket. The constable said he was heading into a bad area and hanging out with undesirables. We grounded him for three days after the shoplifting but he only stayed home for one day then snuck out again. It seems that we're unable to make the grounding stick and we are alarmed about the changes in him. He seems quite detached, agrees with everything we say and then does what he wants. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Sincerely, A.


Hi A.,

First of all, when teen’s behavior changes radically and suddenly, it is nearly always the case that he/she is experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol – and possibly has already developed a drug habit. Thus, you may have bigger fish to fry than “grounding problems.”

Secondly, he already received a “natural” consequence for shoplifting (just be sure he pays any fines out of his own money). When a teen is caught shoplifting, it is rarely the case that it is the first time. 

Here are a few ways that parents can use shoplifting incidents to teach lessons:
  1. “Volunteer” his time at a community agency.
  2. Assign him to write a paper on stealing.
  3. Have him apologize – in person, in writing, or both – to the people he stole from. If it’s a store, have him apologize to the manager.
  4. Make him buy some educational materials to donate to a local school, the police department or a community agency.
  5. Make the offender repay the price of the merchandise. If he doesn’t have the money, make him work it off. Be creative.
  6. When choosing to limit your child’s privileges, make sure it is something you have control over and can follow through on.

Thirdly, I’m not sure where you live, so I have no way of knowing what the Juvenile Codes (laws) are in your area. In the U.S., the recommendation to parents in your shoes is for them to (a) call police at the time curfew has been violated in order to file a report, (b) go to the local Juvenile Probation Department and file either “runaway” or “incorrigibility” complaints in order to enlist the help of an Officer of the Court, and (c) while the child is running the streets, confiscate everything (e.g., computers, cell phones, junk food, bedroom doors, video games, etc.). 

In worst-case scenarios - and depending on the child’s age - parents have been known to move their child out of the house to go live with a trusted friend, family member, residential facility, etc.

Bottom line: This is serious. You will have to pull the term “tough love” to a whole new level to address this properly.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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