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How to handle if your tween tries shoplifting

Kid stealing pen - how to handle if your tween tries shoplifting 

Michael Simmons (name has been changed) loved the thrill of shoplifting when he was a tween.

“I’d take a bag of chips from the local convenience store and hide it under my winter coat,” says Michael, now an upstanding citizen and dad to a five-year-old. “Sometimes I’d hide chocolate bars in my pockets, then go up to the counter and buy something small. My friends thought it was cool.”

Though police don’t keep shoplifting statistics, the numbers are startling. Statistics from the National Shoplifting Prevention Coalition in the United States reveal that 89 percent of kids say they know other kids who shoplift. Sixty-six percent say they hang out with those kids.

There are many reasons why tweens are prone to trying it.

“Youth may consider shoplifting out of economic need, to fit in, because they are being rebellious, facing peer pressure or just not thinking,” says Constable Jenifferjit Sidhu of the Toronto Police Service.

Typically, shoplifting occurs in malls or convenience stores located near schools. “It depends on where kids are en route between home and school,” she says.

If a child is caught shoplifting, the shop owner may call the police. Though police can’t charge youth under 12, they will often show up on the scene, notify the parents, talk to the shoplifter and explain to them the consequences of this behaviour. The incident may be entered into their notebook.

“If there is a history and the child is 12 or older, the police have discretion to lay a charge. It depends on the officer’s experience and the nature of the incident,” says Constable Sidhu.

Parents are advised to discuss the incident with their child and discipline them accordingly to ensure this behaviour doesn’t happen again.

Getting the goods

Constable Sidhu recommends the following techniques:

  • If your child wants an item, have them “work for it” by volunteering or doing chores around the house. This will also teach them discipline, responsibility and the value of a dollar.
  • At 14, a teen can legally get a minimum-wage job. Provincial rules vary, but there are other ways to earn money once a tween is mature enough, such as babysitting or becoming a mother’s helper.
  • In situations where parental involvement is ineffective, getting the school involved may help. “It’s a community effort, and we would recommend getting community partners involved, including teachers, principals and guidance counsellors,” says Constable Sidhu.
  • Many local police divisions are also involved in community work, offering such outreach initiatives as sports programs, summer camps and camping trips. “All police divisions in Toronto, for instance, have some sort of outreach program,” she says. “We have so many success stories where at risk youth have learned to excel.” Communication can often make the biggest difference. “Parents should always be included, concerned and actively involved. Communication is key,” says Constable Sidhu.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2014.

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