Mark, we just found out that my 16 y.o. son used his step mom's credit card to purchase an online gaming membership. His bio mom caught him stealing checks from her husband a year ago. The credit card theft is a felony here in Texas. How should I handle this with him?
When a teen has been caught stealing, a parent's reaction should depend on whether it's the first time or there's a pattern of stealing. When there’s pattern of stealing, it's recommended that parents follow through with stricter consequences. For example, when a teen is caught stealing, the parent can take the teen back to the store and meet with the security department to explain and apologize for what happened.
The embarrassment of facing up to what he or she did by having to return a stolen item makes for an everlasting lesson on why stealing is wrong.
Further punishment, particularly physical punishment, is unnecessary and could make the teen angry and more likely to engage in even worse behavior.
If it's a first-time offense, some stores and businesses may accept an apology and not necessarily press charges. However, some stores press charges the first time around. And there's often little sympathy for repeat offenders.
Kids of all ages should know that stealing is a crime and can lead to consequences far worse than being grounded, including juvenile detention centers and even prison.
If a teen steals money from a parent, the teen should be offered options for paying back the money, like doing extra chores around the house. It's important, however, that a parent does not “bait” the teen by leaving out money in the hopes of catching the teen in the act. That could damage the sense of trust between a parent and teen.
Mark Hutten, M.A.