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Teens & Stealing

Hi P.,

I've responded throughout your email below:

Hi Mark,

This is a wonderful service you provide. I have read most of your e-book and have pick up a lot of tips already.

Thank you for the kind words.

I have a question for you which I couldn't find an answer in the book.

My teen daughter (one of twins) is constantly taking things (particularly) my things without asking and yes I am going to use the cliché "I have tried everything" to stop this behaviour. I have explained to her, if she asks there is the likelihood of me saying "yes" if it is returned after she has finished with it, but she doesn't return the things and still keeps taking without asking. The taking also includes taking and eating foods. I have started making her pay for certain items of food she eats, eg choc chips which I use for cookies.

Preteens and teens know they're not supposed to steal, but might steal for the thrill of it or because their friends do. Some might believe they can get away with it. As they're given more control over their lives, some teens steal as a way of rebelling. They might be angry or want attention. Their behavior may reflect stress at home, school, or with friends. In other cases, teens steal because they can't afford to pay for what they need or want — for example, they may steal to get popular name-brand items. In some cases, they may take things to support drug habits. Whatever the reason for stealing, parents need to find out the root of the behavior and address other underlying problems that may surface.

It's recommended that parents follow through with stricter consequences when teens steal. This is covered in Session #3 [When You Want Something From Your Kid].

We lost our eldest daughter in April, 2008 from a rare disease. I am not sure if some of this behaviour is to do with grieving. My thinking it is more attention seeking. She is a very loud person and when she wants to be heard, she yells or screams. I say to her "No one hears a loud person as they are focused on the loudness and not at what the person is saying." We have other issues with her too, but the above are most concerning to me at present.

I would be very pleased to receive some strategies on how to deal with these issues. Also I have difficulty thinking up consequences or punishment for issues. Do you have a list of consequences?

Here are a few ideas:
  • Confession— Confession is more powerful because it requires us to acknowledge to ourselves and then to state to another person what we did wrong. Confession is the opposite of lying to prevent punishment; and therefore, it should be rewarded. But, confession doesn't erase the need to make amends or face other consequences of wrongdoing
  • Extra chores— It's especially good for older teens who know how to do the chore on their own. They may do it in a huff because it's certainly no fun, but it gets the point across that you will not let misbehavior slide.
  • Making amends— There is a healing experience for the offender when he makes amends for his wrongdoing. Things are made right and that is a powerful learning effect for a simple consequence.
  • Parental disapproval— In the context of a loving parent-child relationship, parental disapproval is often the most motivating of consequences. When kids think to themselves why they should choose to not do something wrong, it's usually because their parent would disapprove, not because they will have to go to time-out. Parental disapproval does not mean shaming however, and it's good to keep in mind the adage to criticize the behavior, not the person.
  • Removal of possessions such as TV, cell phone, use of house phone, computer, car, etc.— It hurts and it's meant to give the child the time to think about their misbehavior through a feeling of loss. That's why it's important to not allow the child to simply replace that possession with something else that is pleasurable. If they don't feel the loss, they don't learn the lesson. In cases of serious misbehavior that is not responding to consequences, removal of ALL possessions may be called for. In this case, children earn back their TV, computer, etc. through excellent behavior.
  • Removal of privileges such as having a friend over, going on an outing— These are the short-term consequences that we give children when they misbehave. The common term is 'grounding'. Grounding is most effective when you follow the guidelines above. The child should be warned that they will be grounded if a specific misbehavior is repeated; it should be for a single outing or very short time period; and when it's given, you should follow through.
  • Replacing a broken or lost object by earning money or working it off— Related to making amends, when a child damages or loses their own possession, the natural consequence is that they don't have it anymore. When it is someone else's possession, they should learn that restitution is the right thing to do. This isn't punishment, it's simply the way the world works.
  • Saying 'I'm sorry'— Saying 'I'm sorry' feels like punishment to some of us, but what a valuable lesson we learn when we find forgiveness and reparation of a relationship through the words, 'I'm sorry.'
  • Time-out— Time-out is a good consequence on a number of levels. It gives both of you a cooling-off period and avoids escalation to pointless, angry arguments. It is also a form of social isolation and as such, teaches that in order to participate in the social group, you must follow certain social behaviors.


P.S. Be sure to watch ALL the Instructional Videos [online version of the eBook].

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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