It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. You answer the phone and there is a police officer on the other end telling you that your son has just been busted for stealing shoes from a department store. As you drive to go pick them up, you wonder if your child is headed down a path of crime and disobedience.
Stealing is wrong, but for teens it’s more common than you might think. According to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), about 24% of shoplifters are teens between the ages of 13-17.
My Child Was Caught, Now What?
Many things can happen after you receive the call. If you missed the warning signs, there are many situations that can happen in the legal process. Hopefully, the store doesn’t contact the police, sometimes store owners will resolve the issue with parents.
According to juvenile defense lawyer, David Breston, “In the eyes of a minor, shoplifting may seem like a minor infraction. The illegal act may have started as a dare, a whim, or an underlying compulsion. When caught, however, one seemingly minor act of shoplifting can begin a ripple of consequences. Charges and a subsequent conviction may prevent a child from finding gainful employment, getting accepted into college, and building a line of credit.”
If your child is arrested under the age of 18, then they are still considered minors, so the crime isn’t usually handled in the criminal justice system. However, juvenile courts handle shoplifting penalties a variety of different ways so its important to know what to expect.
Common Juvenile Penalties for Shoplifting
Release to Parents: If your teen is caught for a minor first offense case of shoplifting, generally the juvenile court may choose to do nothing more than release them to a parent or guardian. These situations are generally considered a stern lecture or warning in the eyes of the court.
Restitution: Your teen may be ordered to pay restitution to the property owner for the amount of goods that were stolen. If your child doesn’t have a job and is old enough to work, the courts may order them to find employment until the restitution is paid.
Probation: If the crime is severe enough in the eyes of the law, a court can order probation that often lasts about 6 months. Depending on the circumstances, it could last even longer. Probation may require your teen to join an after school education program, perform community service or even maintain a specific grade-point average in school.
All juvenile courts and states handle shoplifting and petty theft differently. Luckily if they’re under the age of 18 and the first offense is minor, a teen will usually be let off will just a warning. If this is the case, it’s imperative to watch that they won’t have a second offense. Following a shoplifting arrest, keeping your child on track and accountable will be crucial.
Watch For Warning Signs
While shoplifting is still a major crime, it’s important to remember to stay calm and examine your child’s thought process and approach them with caution. There can be a lot of pressure on your child to look a certain way or buy certain name brand clothes. Many times young teens justify stealing by blaming it on their parents or the thrill it brings them and their friends.
If you suspect your child is shoplifting, here are a few warning signs to look out for:
- You see your teen with expensive items that you have not purchased for them and when you confront them about the items they say it’s a friends
- Excessive amounts of tags and package wrapping in the trash from stores you didn’t purchase from or random items you don’t recognize
- Your teen has extra cash lying around and can’t explain how or where they got it. This could be a sign they’re stealing and reselling items
- Your teen leaves the house with large backpacks and empty bags or heavy coats in warm weather
- You notice their friends have similar behavior patterns
Accountability is Key
According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), as a parent you need to be a positive role model and set clear rules. Encourage them to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or other group activities after school.
Explain to them the severity of a repeat offense for shoplifting in the eyes of the law and encourage them to be a good example for their friend group. Most importantly, you will have to trust them and be understanding. Always talk to them and answer any questions they might have. Generally, when a teen feels remorse, they will seldom repeat the offense.