Tough Love Parenting – When Kids Steal

How would you react if you found out that your teenager was stealing? Often parents react with denial that they didn’t raise their children to be thieves, and want to know how they could do such a thing. Before you go too far in getting upset you might want to find out what’s going on with your child that makes them think that stealing would be a good idea. You can do the tough love parenting thing later.

Most teenagers steal to get attention. Good or bad, at least someone is noticing that they exist. Maybe your child is going through a tough time and needs extra support from you right now, but doesn’t know how to go about asking for it. Okay, so you understand that your child has something other than just wanting to be a thief going on; you still have to let them face the consequences of their actions. This is a form of permissive parenting and lots of parents make this mistake out of guilt-usually because they can’t spend as much time with their child as they would like to because of their work schedules.

Saving them from the consequences out of guilt because you didn’t see that there was a problem simply teaches them that they can hold you hostage with guilt every time something doesn’t go their way. You are not teaching them responsibility and that there are consequences for their actions. Let them know that you still love them, just not their most recent action. Shaming them won’t help the situation either; they knew they were wrong when they did it. The only example of bad parenting is saving them so they can do it again. You are not a bad parent if you allow them to face the consequences.

Ask them what they think the consequences should be. If the authorities are involved, they won’t have much choice, but if they were caught stealing from you or one of their siblings, they can make the decision on their own. The authorities might want to minimize the situation; now it’s time for tough love parenting. As much as it hurts you to see your child tearful and afraid in the face of a cop, you need to stay out of it. Letting stealing go because it wasn’t a large item or because it was from a family member is a bad idea, it tells the other children that their property and feelings don’t matter, and teaches irresponsibility for the thief which will follow them into adulthood.


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