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Tips from The Parents' Coach » Blog Archive » Teen Stealing

Teen Stealing

Here is another question from a parent and my answer:

Question:My husband and I have been married for 25 years and have 4 beautiful children that we love dearly.  They are ages 17, 16, 14, and 12.  Two girls, and two boys, in that order.

Our parenting dilema is not just the about our teen (or teens) stealing from us.  Our problem is that we have 4 children and when we have noticed something missing, we cannot seem to get to the bottom of WHO did it.

We have had fundraiser money missing out of a packet to go back to the school, change stolen out of a coin jar in our bedroom, and most recently, a pack of gum stolen out of my husbands closet.  It seems to be happening more frequently and we fear that, at least, one of our children is developing a real problem and we don’t know who it is to try to help them.  All of the parenting advice I read is about how to deal with stealing ONCE you have caught them.

Now, how do I get them to confess or to catch them?  I feel like we have tried EVERYTHING!  HELP!!!


Answer:Dear  Mary,

You are right to be concerned about this behavior for a couple of reasons. I would, however rate the money ones at a greater priority than the gum one and, in fact, they could have been done by two different culprits. The gum is more a thoughtless act of I saw it and I wanted it and I took it. The money ones could easily be a symptom of something more serious that is going on with one of your teens, such as cigarette use, drinking, or drugs. Things that require money that can’t be asked for.

If this was my family, I would have two ways that I could handle it. The first, high tech way is to set up a camera in your bedroom where the change jar is or where the donation envelop is kept and you will know the next time it happens. The other way is to convene a family meeting to discuss the importance of honesty and how it is the families money. In my family I used to refer to this concept as “Wittman, Inc.” meaning that even though I made the money, we all had roles in the family and the money supported us all. I would probably not try to get a confession in the group but rather leave the door open for a private discussion, emphasizing that I was more concerned about their welfare than needing to punish the guilty.

The other concern that I have has to do with what is called having an attractive nuisance. In common law, a back yard swimming pool that does not have a fence around it is called an attractive nuisance and the owner is liable for a toddler wandering in and drowning. In this case having money lying around is an attractive nuisance and ought to be monitored carefully. While I am on it, if you have a liquor cabinet, it needs to be locked and any prescription psych meds also need to be someplace other than in the medicine cabinet. I know you would like to know that you can trust your kids, but this is too critical an area for their well being for you to experiment with the degree of their honesty.

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