What to Do if You Catch Your Teenager Shoplifting

By Liza Blau
Tell your teen the serious moral and legal consequences of shoplifting.
Tell your teen the serious moral and legal consequences of shoplifting.

Fifty-five percent of adult shoplifters admit they began shoplifting when they were teenagers, according to the National Learning & Resource Center. Teens shoplift for a variety of reasons -- they might enjoy the thrill of trying to get away with it, an inability to buy things they want, peer pressure, to challenge authority, or out of stress at home or school. Or, shoplifting might be a cry for help when a teen is suffering from physical or emotional abuse. Whatever the motivation, shoplifting is a crime and requires an appropriate response from you as a parent.

Explain the Consequences

Your teen might believe that he can shoplift and get off the hook because he's still an adolescent. Let him know the consequences if he's convicted of shoplifting, even as a teenager. If caught, he could be immediately arrested and marched through the store in handcuffs, serve prison time or be entered into a juvenile detention center. The shoplifting charge will remain on his permanent record and possibly hinder his chances of being accepted into college and securing future employment. The emotional consequences can include public humiliation and embarrassment.


If you caught your teen shoplifting, take him back to the store with the stolen item and have a meeting with the security department and store manager. Insist that your teen apologize to them for stealing, recommends KidsHealth. Making him face the music will teach him that stealing has serious consequences, and that it's a wrong that needs to be made right. Some stores won't press charges if it's his first shoplifting offense, but they might not be so lenient if it happens again. Tell your teen that if he shoplifts in the future, he'll have to suffer the legal consequences and won't be allowed to shop without supervision.

Shoplifting Hurts Others

Inform your teen that he's not just stealing from a store, but he's hurting business owners and customers. Shoplifting steals from an entire community. It stresses the court system and police, adds to the victimized store's security expenses, causes lost revenue in sales taxes and hurts families, according to the National Learning & Resource Center. In many cases, businesses are already struggling and shoplifters cause them to lose even more revenue. As a result, employees might be laid off or forced to take a pay cut, and customers are charged higher prices to make up the loss.

Good Communication

Establishing honest and open communication will show your teen that you want to help him. Let him know that although shoplifting is wrong, you'll always love him unconditionally. Ask for the reason behind his impulse to steal. Whatever he says, don't lecture, become upset or insulting, or belittle his feelings. Be an empathetic listener. You might ask how both of you can work together to prevent shoplifting in the future. For example, If he feels he needs more money to buy things, work with him to find part-time jobs. After he opens up, always remember to praise him. You might say, "Thank you for your honesty. I know this isn't easy to talk about."

When to Seek Professional Help

If your teen repeatedly shoplifts, it usually means he has a deep-seated problem that needs addressing, according to AskDrSears.com. Seek professional help from a licensed psychologist, family doctor or school guidance counselor. Call your local law enforcement agency to see if they have programs or counseling available for teen shoplifters. One-third of adolescents who've been caught shoplifting admit it's hard for them to stop, according to KidsHealth. Monitor your teen's shopping behavior -- if he comes home with an item that he didn't have money to purchase, it might be a red flag that he's still shoplifting. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention is another resource that can provide support and help.