Why does my kid shoplift?

Screen Shot 2015 12 30 at 12.52.29 PM 300x173 Why does my kid shoplift?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.

  1. Anger – to try to take back, to make life fair
  2. Grief – to fill the void due to a loss
  3. Depression – to distract from sadness, to get a lift
  4. Anxiety – to calm fears, to comfort
  5. Acceptance & Competition – to fit in
  6. Power & Control – to counteract feeling lost or powerless
  7. Boredom & Excitement – to live life on the edge
  8. Entitlement & Reward – to compensate oneself for over-giving
  9. Shame & Low Self-Esteem – to create a reason to feel successful at something, even if it is a negative action like stealing
  10. 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.

Don’t Back Off

Mistakes that therapists often make when working with struggling teens by Doré E. Frances, PhD

Mistake 4: Telling Parents to Back Off

Teenagers almost always come into therapy as well a residential treatment, complaining their parents are too strict and controlling. As a result, therapists who specialize in individual work with teens often get a misguided impression of what goes on at home and frequently advise the parents of teens to be more lenient – to relax their control. In fact, parents who yell and cajole are usually trying to avoid imposing a consequence on their teen. In that respect, they are actually protective and lenient. 

Screen Shot 2015 06 02 at 1.12.12 PM 300x259 Dont Back OffAmong the most harmful “back off” positions that therapists sometimes take with families is that young people have an inherent right to privacy outside the therapy room. Many parents I see report that their therapist actually criticized them for nosy and intrusive actions. It is crucial to remember that proclamations of privacy by troubled teens are simply ways of concealing things from their parents and maintaining the power position. It is only a teenager who is responsible and doing well who has earned the right to privacy and trust.

Therapists who make parents feel guilty about reasonable investigation into their child’s activities send the message that the teen is in charge. The privacy issue extends to many areas. When parents discuss drugs or sex with their teen, they are likely to hear, “It’s my body and it’s my choice.” Through this logic, there isn’t much that parents can do to help a troubled child. Therapists must address with parents their right to change their teen’s behavior around sex, drugs, smoking and dangerous friends.

All of these issues have to be faced and an understanding reached.

The more information parents have, the calmer and more in control of themselves and their parenting they will be. Parents who have little information about their child’s life are likely to be angry, reactive and inconsistent. The final and critical area in which advising parents to back off is an error is when teenagers are diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Too many clinicians seem to believe that the best course when a young person is acting aggressively because of a psychiatric problem is for parents to be patient.

The underlying message from such therapists often is, “You as parents don’t really understand about this problem and need to leave it to us experts.”

As parents do less, the problems get worse. Craziness pays off if the child is not expected to respond reasonably. In my work with parents, I always stress they have a right to expect reasonable behavior of their son or daughter and “repressed anger” doesn’t give children the right to be verbally or physically abusive or self-harming.

This affirmation helps parents get beyond the too common idea that if they put pressure on a son or daughter who has a psychiatric disorder, he or she will only get worse, . . . and it will be their fault.

Structure is a healthy form of pressure. As parents feel more like successful family leaders, the negative emotional pressure abates.

 

Almost all therapists who have worked with teenagers have found themselves stuck in a clinical impasse with an explosive teen and his or her family. Yet it’s never too late to make a paradigm shift and help a family.  

First, a therapist must become comfortable with the idea of dealing with power tactics rather than communication skills. Doing so also requires getting used to having teenage clients who don’t like the therapist. The more aggressive a teenager is, the more certain it is that they’ll try punishing the therapist.

When my teen clients call me names I usually say, “You can’t hurt my feelings because I am not your mother. So I’ll keep doing what needs to be done.”

Second, therapists must be ready for greater problems initially. Most therapists prefer their treatment to calm things down and leave people feeling better. This strong therapy may escalate the problems initially, and this is scary for both therapist and family. The therapist must reassure the family that this escalation is expected and will be momentary. Therapists are mostly kindly helpers, so it’s counter intuitive for a therapist who works toward nice outcomes to step toward the fire and heat things up.

However, once a therapist has helped parents take charge and has seen the remarkable positive transformationScreen Shot 2015 06 02 at 1.08.52 PM 300x195 Dont Back Off in a formerly tormented teenager, it becomes easier to work this way. Parents start out saying, “It looks like my daughter’s possessed.” At the end of six or eight sessions, the same parent says, “My son’s back. He isn’t always sweet, but the boy I love is back.”


Professional therapists are there to help individuals and families deal with their problems in a meaningful and productive way.

Using problem-solving therapy techniques, treatments for teens average six to ten sessions, and then if things have not changed an out of home placement may need to be discussed.

When appropriate, professional therapists have no difficulty in working closely with other referring professionals to be certain that everyone involved is working toward the same goal.

This collaborative partnership helps to resolve complex problems for teens and their families more quickly.

Check out this important video on Fear

The Intake Day

%name The Intake DayThe intake day was challenging, as they often are, because Mom was on her own and without any additional support. Her daughter was pretty hard on her mom-in the customary ways.

But a Shelterwood student (Brooke) helped this family in an amazing and unprompted way. The new student had sneaked back into Mom’s rental car and staged a 90 minute sit-in unless Mom agreed to fly her home and deliver her to a Detroit jail (which, as you’re aware is better than Shelterwood). Brooke, shared her own story, speaking very highly of Shelterwood and sharing that the Shelterwood process offers “only the challenges that are needed for someone to heal, grow, and ultimately thrive.” Brooke single-handedly coaxed her out of the vehicle, gave mom a hug (making mom cry tears of gratitude). As Mom left, she shared “I can’t wait until my daughter becomes mature, loving, and wise beyond her years like Brooke; maybe, even someday, she will talk some other new student out of a rental car!” I told Mom I was confident this was possible for her and I chuckled knowing that few would have ever thought this possible for Brooke.

Yesterday reminded me of everything that’s great about Shelterwood. Namely, how we work so hard to love well and how on our hilltop, even a parent’s toughest-day-ever can end well. Lastly, I was reminded how Shelterwood’s culture of loving tenaciously can melt even the toughest of student hearts like it has Brooke’s to the point of creating Shelterwood loyalty so persuasive it can even pry a hostile teenage stranger from her mom’s rental car.

Bravo, team and thanks.

Jeremy Lotz, MA, LPC, NCC
Director of Training & Leadership