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Appropriate Punishments for a Teenager Who Has Shoplifted

by Melissa King, studioD

If you get a phone call from the police or a store manager saying your child was stopped for shoplifting, the hard work begins. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, 55 percent of adult shoplifters began stealing in their teen years. Teens shoplift for many reasons, even though they often have the money to buy the items they steal. When your teen steals, it's critical to find out why she did it and issue appropriate consequences to prevent it from happening again.

Why Teens Steal

Your teen is probably too embarrassed to admit why she shoplifted, but according to a 2011 KidsHealth.org article, it's generally done for excitement or because of peer pressure. Other reasons to shoplift include wanting an item but not having the money for it and getting money for the items to support a drug or alcohol habit. If you suspect the latter reason, get professional help -- punishing along won't help your teen. Rarely, your teen might have a compulsive disorder called kleptomania. Teens with that disorder might have anxiety that is only relieved after stealing. They might steal small items, such as candy, and discard them later out of guilt. Teens with kleptomania should see a therapist or doctor to treat the disorder.

Confronting Your Shoplifting Teen

Before you talk to your teen about being caught shoplifting, calm down. Screaming at her will not fix the problem. It might even isolate her from you further. If you can't calm down, an Education.com article suggests waiting a day after the incident to hand out a punishment. This will help you think of the most helpful consequences for your teen. When you do talk to your teen, don't just hand out punishment and end the conversation. Explain why stealing is wrong. Tell her that she's taking money from business owners and driving up the price of items for everyone else.

Legal Consequences

Your teen might already be facing legal consequences for stealing, especially if it isn't her first offense. Sometimes, legal punishment is enough for teens to decide that they never want to steal again. Your teen might be fined or even arrested for stealing items over a certain value. Petty theft, or the theft of items less than $500, typically results in a misdemeanor charge that involves a fine or community service, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. This will allow her to see what lies ahead if she continues to steal. Make it clear that if she keeps stealing, she'll rack up a criminal record that will make it hard to get into college or find a job. If your teen steals items valued over $500, she could be charged with a felony. In the event of a felony, your teen might spend some time in jail or be taken out of school and entered into an alternative education program. If your teen is put on probation, you might also need to pay part of her probation fee.

Other Punishment and Consequences

If your teen stole because of her association with certain friends, don't allow her to see those friends outside of school. Take away objects and privileges that are important to your teen, such as her cellphone, TV, car keys or video games. If your teen wasn't caught stealing, but you know she did it, take her back to the store or individual she stole from. Have her return the item she stole and apologize to the person she stole it from. The embarrassment of confessing might cause her to stop stealing. Keep in mind, however, that business owners might decide to press charges when she admits to stealing from their store. This happened in 2011 when a Sacramento, California, mother took her teens back to a store from which they stole. You might even consider public punishment. Parents in Canton, Ohio, forced their shoplifting teenager to hold a sign bearing his confession as he stood at a busy intersection, according to a 2010 story at CantonRep.com.

About the Author

Melissa King began writing in 2001. She spent three years writing for her local newspaper, "The Colt," writing editorials, news stories, product reviews and entertainment pieces. She is also the owner and operator of Howbert Freelance Writing. King holds an Associate of Arts in communications from Tarrant County College.

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