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The Littlest Thieves

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Do kids who steal grow up to be criminals?

young boy stealing from a drawer

Ronda Kaysen: The next time your 8-year-old pilfers cash from your wallet or slips a candy bar into her pocket at the supermarket, consider yourself lucky -- you've got a normal kid on your hands.

Kids who steal are doing just what kids are supposed to do: testing limits, says the New York Times. Most kids give the five-finger discount a try at least once in their youth, and their moms are none the wiser. It's more akin to a toddler stealing a toy from his playmate -- "Mine! Mine!" -- than an expression of a young criminal mind at work.

But shoplifting is not one of those subjects that generally comes up at soccer practice. ("How was your weekend, Jenny?" "Terrific! Little Suzy got caught stealing LEGOS at Wal-Mart. How was yours?") So, parents who catch their kids in the act tend to think they're the only ones who've ever been down this road.

If you do happen upon a mysterious baseball glove shoved behind the bunk bed, don't despair. It's a great opportunity to school your burgeoning thief in the ways of appropriate social behavior. No need to brace yourself for a life of crime, or cart Junior off to the local juvenile hall for a tough love session; just explain to him or her that stealing is not okay, and have her return the lifted item to its rightful owner.

But here's the great disclaimer: if it's a teenager who's caught stealing, you might have a bigger problem on your hands. It could be a sign of a drug or alcohol problem. That's your chance to swoop in and find out what's really going on.

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1 comments so far | Post a comment now
Caroline September 30, 2009, 11:38 AM

I think it’s inflammatory for you to say that teens who steal should automatically be assumed to have drug or alcohol problems. I’m twenty, and an active anarchist. I steal all the time, and know alot of people who do and have for years. none of them are drug addicts.

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