There are several ways in which young people may start stealing. It may involve taking a sum of money from a parent's purse, school supplies at school, or even taking goods from a store. Theft is a crime and the penalty depends on the type of theft and the value of the stolen property. Regardless of the value of the stolen property, theft will evoke feelings of shame and guilt in both the parents and the child when the crime is exposed. There are several steps you can take to get your child to stop stealing, so that he or she can be prevented from getting into serious trouble with the police and the law.
Part 1 of 2: Punishing your teenage son or teenage daughter for theft
Step 1. Explain the consequences of stealing
You may have discovered that your teenage son or daughter took money from your wallet, or found stolen goods in his or her backpack. If there is a “simple theft” and your son or daughter has not come into contact with the police before, he or she is almost always referred to Bureau Halt in the Netherlands. It is important that you talk to your child and explain that taking someone else's property is a crime and can lead to a prison sentence. Try not to downplay the seriousness of the situation and avoid telling your teenage son or daughter that stealing isn't a problem as long as they don't get caught. Be clear and strong in your wording when explaining the serious, potentially life-altering consequences of stealing to your child.
- Use legal terms to explain that jail time is possible if someone is caught for theft. Theft is when someone takes away a good that belongs wholly or partly to another, with the intention of appropriating the good. Examples of theft include stealing someone else's property, such as a bag or bicycle. Appropriating someone else's money, for example by stealing a wallet or writing a false check, also falls under theft.
- The type of theft and the value of the stolen property will determine the penalty of the crime. Theft is seen in the Netherlands as a crime (and not a violation) and the penalties are therefore not mild. The judge can impose a prison sentence, a fine or a community service order.
Step 2. Make your son or daughter aware of the consequences of stealing
Another way is to show your teenage son or daughter, rather than tell them, what might happen if they're caught stealing. If your child has stolen money or property from you, some parents recommend calling the police to scare the teen. In extreme cases, the officer will handcuff the teen and place it in the back of the police car and then explain the consequences such a crime could have on his or her future.
This may seem like a somewhat extreme tactic, and should only be used if the person who committed the crime has taken something from you, since you are the one who ultimately has to decide whether to report it or not. However, this tactic may scare your son or daughter to such an extent that he or she will never consider stealing again
Step 3. Punish your son or daughter by demanding that he or she do something positive
Instead of a physical punishment or a punishment that makes the person feel embarrassed (“shaming”) that only makes him or her angrier and starts to feel more pushy, focus on creating a punishment requiring your child to do something positive to make up for the mistake. This will show you how theft affects your relationships with those around you, and will allow your teenage son or daughter to learn the value of honesty.
- For example, if you caught your teenage son or daughter stealing money from your wallet, you can punish him or her by demanding a full refund. This will probably take time, as they must first have a job to earn money. This will allow your child to experience the consequences of his or her actions, gain a greater sense of responsibility and realize that theft doesn't pay off.
- Another way you can get your teenage son or daughter to pay back the money is to have him or her do all kinds of household chores and cook for the whole family for a month. In this way, your son or daughter does something positive for others to make up for the big mistake he or she has made.
Part 2 of 2: Prevent your teenage son or teenage daughter from stealing again
Step 1. Ask your child why he or she feels the need to steal
Your son or daughter may have a tendency to steal because of other problems. Identifying the root cause of your child's actions will help prevent him or her from making another mistake. Young people steal for many reasons, including:
- Peer pressure can be a big motivator for your son or daughter to steal. Your child may want the latest smartphone or new sneakers and think that stealing these goods or the money to buy them is the only way to get their hands on these goods. Fitting in is very important for most youth, and your son or daughter may feel the pressure to have certain items so that he or she is no different from the other students.
- A need for attention is also a possible reason why your child is stealing. Attention from others, especially those in authority, is better in your child's eyes than no attention at all. Your child may steal to get your attention, so that he or she does not go unnoticed.
- Feelings of shame and fear surrounding certain products, such as condoms, tampons, other contraceptives, or a pregnancy test, can lead your child to steal such items. Your child may be too embarrassed to go to the clinic or ask you as a parent for money for such products, so he or she sees stealing as the only option.
- The tension of doing something that is not allowed can also be a motivating factor for your child. Young people like the tension that comes from doing something that is not allowed and taking certain risks. Most young people are interested in doing things that break boundaries and go against the rules. Stealing may be one of the ways they test their limits and see how far they can go without getting caught.
Step 2. Try to help your child find other ways to earn money
If your child steals to afford the same items as peers, you can help them find a side job or earn money doing odd jobs. This will also teach your child to be responsible with money, and allow him or her to buy the items they have an interest in, rather than stealing them.
Encourage your teenage son or daughter to set a budget and learn how to be responsible with money so that your child develops good financial planning habits
Step 3. Get your son or daughter involved in after-school activities
Encourage your child to put his or her energy into improving personal skills and abilities in collaboration with others. This can take place in a productive way, for example by joining a sports club or another club at school. This may also bring your child into contact with other peers who are interested in other things and not just value material possessions.
Step 4. Go do fun things with your son or daughter
Stealing can be seen as a cry for attention. You should not ignore this. Instead, try to do something fun with your child on a regular basis. Clearly show your son or daughter that you care about him or her and that you are interested in his or her interests. Go do something together that he or she likes, for example visit a concert of his or her favorite band.
During the times you spend together, you could discuss the topic of contraception and condoms with your son or daughter if you learned that feelings of shame were the reason for the theft. Let your child ask specific questions and possibly buy these products so that your child no longer has to be ashamed. Talk to your son or daughter about sex if this is one of the motives for stealing
Step 5. If your son or daughter continues to steal, talk to a counselor or therapist
If you catch your child stealing again, it may be time to seek help from a counselor or therapist. For some youths, the stealing results from deeper issues that need therapy. These can be sessions where the whole family is present or just your child. Don't let your child's tendency to steal become a habit, as it can have serious consequences and negatively affect your child's moral compass.