Not a Victimless Crime: How to Talk with Your Children about Shoplifting

The teenage years can be filled with social pressures to rebel and plenty of temptation.  Combine that with an increasingly brand-focused, materialistic popular culture, and you have a perfect storm of forces drawing teenagers these days onto the slippery slope of shoplifting. Once they begin shoplifting for social acceptance or on an impulse, they will receive a rush of brain chemicals from the danger and their success. They may very likely continue to seek out that enjoyable rush or thrill by getting bolder in what they are taking, possibly expanding their victim pool to include family or friends.

The time to talk to your children about shoplifting is now, before they run into any kind of trouble. Conversations should begin as early as late elementary school or earlier, if a child has been caught taking things that don’t belong to them. Here are some important points to explore with your children when talking about shoplifting.

The Many Victims of Shoplifting

Despite popular opinion among many young people, shoplifting is not a victimless crime. If the store is locally-owned, the cost of the stolen item will come directly from the local owner’s bottom line, resulting in less income for the business, fewer funds available for employee wages and local community re-investment, and a possible loss of goodwill between the owner and local community. Even if the store is a big box chain or owned by a major corporation, the cost of that item comes from somewhere, creating a ripple effect of negative impact. Additionally, in states with sales tax, shoplifted items remove small potential amounts of income from social services supported by sales taxes, including infrastructure and public schools, meaning everyone suffers.

Technology Makes Getting Caught Very Easy

The biggest potential victim of shoplifting, however, is the shoplifter themselves. Following the economic downturn of 2008, there has been an increase in teenage unemployment coupled with an increase in shoplifting and thus, shoplifting related police reports and prosecutions. Bigger businesses have also built up their in-store security, making it easier for them to spot and catch shoplifters and prosecute them successfully.  It’s very hard to claim innocence when there’s video recording of you stuffing a shirt up your pant leg or an audio recording of you discussing shoplifting with your companions.

Conviction Can Haunt Children Well into Adulthood

Long gone are the days when a teenager shoplifter can escape criminal repercussions by simply calling their parents, confessing, and paying the price of the stolen item (a popular trope in sitcoms handling this issue). In many states, in an effort to deter youth crimes, young offenders may be tried as adults if they are repeat offenders. Even those tried as juveniles will find stricter enforcement at sentencing and in many states, may be faced with the fact that juvenile criminal records are no longer sealed or expunged, meaning that that youthful shoplifting or retail fraud charge could very well haunt them from the rest of their lives. That $20 DVD may cost them admission to the college of their choice, their ability to get scholarships to help pay for school, or the best jobs in their chosen field.

Serious Consequences for Shoplifting

It’s important that your child also understands that theft is a breach of social trust, which could result in reduced freedoms even if they are caught by you, their parent, and not a store employee or police officer. They need to understand there will be consequences if they are discovered to be in possession of stolen products or money from reselling stolen items. By approaching the topic before it becomes an issue and clearly explaining all the potential negative outcomes, you can reduce the likelihood of your children making an impulsive, possibly life-altering mistake.

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