Most people like to get something for nothing – a bargain, a discount, or a freebie. But those people who actually resort to stealing are often “crying for help.” According to Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery (2002), people who resort to stealing are actually trying to resolve one of the following ten emotional motivations.
- Anger – to try to take back, to make life fair
- Grief – to fill the void due to a loss
- Depression – to distract from sadness, to get a lift
- Anxiety – to calm fears, to comfort
- Acceptance & Competition – to fit in
- Power & Control – to counteract feeling lost or powerless
- Boredom & Excitement – to live life on the edge
- Entitlement & Reward – to compensate oneself for over-giving
- Shame & Low Self-Esteem – to create a reason to feel successful at something, even if it is a negative action like stealing
- Rebellion & Initiation – to break into one’s authentic identity
For parents raising teenagers, when stealing behavior occurs, two strategies do not tend to work well: “under kill” and “overkill.” Rather, I would suggest that stealing behavior is an invitation for a conversation with your child. Engage your teen in discussion about these deeper motivations as opposed to letting the behavior slide or overreacting to it with guilt and shame. We all like to learn about ourselves and uncover unrealized motivations – teens are no different. Addressing the behavior at this deeper level limits the wrestling match of deception and investigation. Instead, join your child in answering their cry for help by locating the emotional hurt within them, find them help to deal with the causal issues, and help set them free for a lifetime.