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Ways to Combat Stealing

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. In the words of Aretha Franklin, 'find out what it means to me!' We all want to be respected, and most of us understand that to earn respect you have to give respect to others. Sometimes, this can be a difficult concept for children or adolescents to grasp. So what do you do when your child crosses the lines of respect and trust? What do you do when they steal from you?

World of Warcraft, Minecraft, League of Legends: no doubt you've heard of these games. They are played online by millions of people around the globe. One feature of the game allows players to purchase 'add-ons', items such as armor, gold, weapons. Players come together to play their game of choice, and most times this play has very little effect on others outside the game. But what happens when a teen's competitive edge is taken to extremes and harms those around him?

I'm sure we can all empathize with someone who was hacked by another person. It's unnerving, rude, and a huge invasion of privacy. No doubt we would want to seek revenge, especially if money or possessions were involved. So what do you do when your teen or child steals your credit card in order to get revenge?

First, understand that you are not going to be held responsible for the charges made by an underage child. As a parent, you will have to consider how you want to proceed, since some credit card companies ask for a police report concerning unauthorized purchases. Do your research, and consider consulting a lawyer for their advice.

Second, it is very important that your child understands that what she did was wrong: not only did it violate your privacy and trust, but two wrongs never make a right. While your child might have been trying to get revenge by purchasing items in order to win a game against the hacker, they still did wrong by you. Whereas the online game is a fictional world, credit card purchases are made in the real world, and this can cause you real world problems.

Although you might not be able to get the money back, don't let your child off without some form of discipline. Even if your child understands their actions were wrong, they still need to experience some form of consequence. You could have them:

  • perform some extra chores

  • ban internet and/or game access for a week

  • volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter.

  • You should also take away the stolen item. Allowing the child continued access to the item reinforces the idea that stealing pays off.

You might also want to address the thinking behind your child's actions. What thought process led to the stealing? Why did your child think stealing was the best way to solve their problem? Even if someone wronged them, stealing from you is never acceptable. It might be beneficial if you asked your child to sit down and write out how they were feeling and what they were thinking. This will not only help you, but it might help them understand their own motives. You should also ask for a heartfelt apology; a simple "I'm sorry" isn't going to cut it here. Lastly, you might also want to talk about respect: does your child respect you with their actions and words? In some cases, stealing from their parent might indicate a deeper problem. You know your child best, and only you can determine the answer to that question.

Don't wait to resolve the issue. Once you discover your child stole from you, take care of it immediately. Ignoring the problem only serves to reinforce the notion that stealing pays off, which could lead to even bigger problems down the road. After you have talked to your child, you might ask them to write down what they have learned from the experience. You might also ask your child the following questions:

  • Do they understand how they have wronged you?

  • Do they understand why stealing is disrespectful to others?

  • What have they learned and how can they apply it to other situations or dilemmas?

The goal here is to have your child learn something from the experience. If you've followed the steps outlined above and your child still doesn't understand how they have wronged you, consult another adult whom you trust. This could be a friend, counselor, or religious leader. Talk with them and see if they might be willing to speak with your child to help them understand how they disrespected you. You could also ask for their advice: what would they do in your situation? How would they talk with their child about this problem?

If your child does not understand why stealing is disrespectful to others, a little role reversal might help the problem. You could 'steal' something from them, and then ask your child how it feels to be in your position. Did it feel good to be disrespected, to have your privacy invaded? This exercise can be a powerful tool: it provides your child with the opportunity to learn first-hand how it feels to be in your position.

Finally, asking your child what they have learned allows them to reflect on everything that has happened. After reflecting on what they have learned, your child should then be able to answer how they will apply these lessons to another situation or dilemma. This serves a two-fold purpose: not only will your child have to prove to you that they have gained insightful knowledge, it will also exercise their critical thinking skills.



Emily Taylor is a graduate student in General-Experimental Psychology at Western Carolina University. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and it is her goal to work with individuals who suffer from affective disorders. Emily has worked with children of all ages for over 10 years; she has also tutored college students and served as a mentor.

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