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How to Solve a Teen's Stealing Problem

By Drea Christopher ; Updated June 13, 2017

Although you'll likely be shocked if you discover your teenager is stealing, a study conducted by the Josephson Institute shows that almost 1 in 3 teens has shoplifted, according to a 2011 article in "Family Circle" magazine. The study also found that an equal number of boys, girls and teenagers from a variety of socio-economic groups are guilty of theft. Develop a plan to tackle your teen’s stealing problem before the behavior becomes compulsive or leads to serious repercussions with the law.

  1. Make it clear that stealing is unacceptable. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests discussing the reasons you believe stealing is wrong and making your teen return or pay for the stolen item, if possible. The "Family Circle" article also recommends discussing how shoplifting can have broader repercussions, such as higher retail prices that might make your teen think twice about stealing again.

  2. Let your teen know he will face serious consequences if he steals again. If the police get involved in your teen’s theft, suggests you support your teen, but refuse to make up an excuse for his theft so he can learn from it. The site notes that discussing theft with a police officer even once is often enough to resolve a stealing problem with a child.

  3. Monitor your teenager’s belongings and inquire about anything that you know you didn’t buy. According to the "Family Circle" article, your teenager might be less likely to steal if she knows you will take notice of a new item and ask where she got it.

  4. Uncover the reason that your teenager is stealing. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children might steal to get attention, succumb to peer pressure, feel excitement or obtain something they covet. Pinpointing the cause can help you determine whether your child needs additional intervention, such as talking to a school counselor if another student is bullying your child into stealing.

  5. Seek professional help, particularly if your teen has stolen multiple times. KidsHealth notes that a pattern of shoplifting or stealing from friends and family could indicate a more serious psychological problem. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention can provide support or recommend a counselor.

  6. Tip

    Ensure that your teen isn’t learning to steal by watching you. notes that if your actions dismiss stealing as unimportant, your teenager might adopt the same attitude. Even keeping the money that a cashier gives you in error or snacking on items in the supermarket without paying for them, for example, might teach your teen that you believe stealing is acceptable under certain circumstances.


    Beware if your child shows signs of being a compulsive shoplifter, but never has any new possessions. According to, some teens might steal goods to sell to pay for other items such as drugs or alcohol. In addition, KidsHealth points out that habitual stealing might be the result kleptomania, a compulsive disorder. In either case, speak to a counselor to address these underlying issues.

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