Teen shoplifting is more common than you might think — but when you find out that your own teen shoplifts, it can be a very scary moment for you and your family. It is natural to feel angry, surprised, worried and curious: why is my teen shoplifting?

Before you respond, take some time to reflect on why your teen may have started shoplifting in the first place. Remember that most people like to get something for nothing – a bargain, a discount, a freebie. However, those people who actually resort to stealing are often “crying for help.” The shoplifting behavior may be a symptom of something deeper. Some underlying reasons your teen may have resorted to stealing:

  • Depression or anxiety – Your teen may be seeking a distraction from sadness, and shoplifting is a way to get a lift. Your teen may be seeking comfort to calm his or her fears in life.
  • Acceptance and competition – Of kids who shoplift, 89% know other kids who shoplift. Your teen may be pressured and want to fit in with their friend group.
  • Power and control – To counteract feeling lost or powerless, your teen may be trying to shoplift to feel in control.
  • Boredom and excitement – Your teen may be wanting to live life on the edge.
  • Entitlement and reward – Your teen may feel he or she is indestructible and at the center of the world. Shoplifting is a way to express this authority.
  • Shame and low self-esteem – If your child struggles with self-esteem, he or she may be stealing to create a reason to feel successful at something, even if that success occurs in a negative context like stealing.
  • Rebellion and initiation – Teens are constantly searching for their unique identities. Shoplifting may be his or her way to break into an “authentic” identity they want.

what to do when your teen shoplifts - Shelterwood Therapeutic

How to respond to your teen shoplifting

When you discover your teen has shoplifted, there are often two responses that do not work well: letting it slide or over-reacting. Instead of these responses, take this opportunity to initiate a conversation. Remember to start the discussion when you are calm and are in a safe space with your child, like driving in the car.

  • Initiate conversation: If your child is shoplifting, use this opportunity to engage your child in a conversation. Rather than ignoring the behavior or overreacting to it with guilt and shame, genuinely connect to discover how your child is doing. 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. Ask questions, and seek to listen first.
  • Discuss the law: If your child has been caught shoplifting, you may want to hire a lawyer, but ensure that your child understands they are not off the hook. Explain that they are fully responsible for breaking the law and must accept the consequences.
  • Return the items: If you have caught your teen yourself, call the store’s loss-prevention department before returning the items. Your child should return the items to the store if they have not done so already, and write a letter of apology to the manager.

Moving forward, create opportunities to partner with your teen. Help them locate the emotional hurt from within and find necessary help for the underlying issues. Engaging with your teen today can help set them free for a lifetime.

Concerned about your teen’s behavior? Shelterwood Residential Treatment Agency offers real hope, real heart change and real restoration for struggling teens. Contact us to see if Shelterwood could be a fit for your teen.