No parent ever wants to get a call from a store telling them that their teenager was caught shoplifting, but if you do find yourself in that difficult situation, it’s important to stay calm and think about how best to handle the situation. Read on for advice about how to handle a shoplifting incident.
Understanding Your Child’s Reasons for Shoplifting
First, you should recognize that there’s no specific “shoplifter profile” and that even kids who have always been well-behaved may steal. The motivations behind shoplifting are complex; it isn’t necessarily something that teenagers do just to “be bad” or rebel. There are many different reasons why a teen might shoplift, but there are a few trends that are common in many teen shoplifting cases.
Teens are strongly motivated by the opinions of their peers, so some may steal because they are out with friends who are shoplifting and want to fit in with the group. Others may shoplift to relieve stress or anxiety, or because they enjoy the “rush” they experience when they do something forbidden. Still others may shoplift because they see businesses as faceless entities and don’t consider shoplifting harmful, or because they want items that they can’t afford.
Teens often do not think of the long-term consequences of shoplifting because their brains are not finished developing. While the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses are highly active, the parts of the brain that help control impulses are still forming. As a result, teens frequently crave novelty and act on impulse because they have not full weighed the risks. For some teens, shoplifting really is just part of a “phase.” However, habits adopted during adolescence can extend into adulthood, and the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention has found that 55% of adult shoplifters say they started shoplifting in their teens. Because of this, it’s valuable to talk to your teen if they are caught shoplifting.
How to Talk to Your Teen about Shoplifting
For some teens, the shame and embarrassment of being caught shoplifting is enough to deter them from stealing again. As a parent, you should not continue to shame your child about the incident—rather, you should speak calmly but firmly and remind your child that shoplifting is a crime even if the item they stole is small or inexpensive. Remind him or her that the consequences for being caught shoplifting can include being banned from a store or mall, being arrested, and getting a criminal record that can make it difficult to get into college or get a job. Let your child know that if they want to talk to you about their reasons for shoplifting they can, but don’t pressure them to say anything.
If you know or believe that your child has shoplifted more than once, consider talking to him or her about going to counseling sessions or enrolling in an educational shoplifting program. Educational programs are shown to be a leading deterrent for future thefts.
What to Do If the Store Owner is Pressing Charges
More than $13 billion worth of merchandise is stolen from retailers every year, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that some store owners choose to press charges against shoplifters even if the items taken were inexpensive. They want to make an example of the small percentage of shoplifters who get caught in an effort to deter future thefts. But as a parent, you’re probably more concerned with your child’s future than with a store owner’s rationale for pressing charges. You’re likely thinking about the fact that even if your child’s crime is classified as a misdemeanor, a conviction can still carry fines and a criminal record.
If your child is facing criminal charges for shoplifting, you should contact a defense attorney who has handled teen shoplifting cases before. A good attorney will work to show the prosecution that the charges should be reduced, deferred, or dropped altogether. In some cases, defense attorneys are able to show that there is not enough evidence to convict the teenager, or they are able to successfully argue that the teenager should not be convicted due to their age.
However, you should not assume that your child will avoid a conviction just because of his or her age, or because you know that he or she is a “good” child and won’t steal again. Start working with a defense attorney early in order to prepare as strong a defense as possible. Don’t let one mistake affect your son or daughter for the rest of his or her life.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases..