How do you know if your teen is stealing?

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, one-quarter of the people apprehended for stealing are between the ages of 13 and 17 years old [Source: Brown]. Taking into account the teens who don't get caught, one study reported that almost half of its middle and high school respondents admitted to stealing at least once in the previous 12 months [Source: Borba]. Peer pressure and the desire just to have new stuff can make stealing attractive to teens, so you can't assume your teen would never steal. Even if you do actively teach your teens what it means to own something and that stealing is wrong, not just illegal, you still want to look for the signs that your teen is stealing.

Common signs that your teen is stealing are:


  • You see your teen with new items, particularly expensive ones that you've not bought for them
  • Your teen is giving expensive gifts to people
  • You find package wrapping and price tags in the garbage for items you've not bought
  • You see your teen with extra cash and he can't explain how he got it
  • Your teen leaves the house with empty bags or backpack, or wears jackets during warm weather
  • Your teen becomes more secretive about where he/she goes and what he/she is doing
  • Money and/or items belonging to other family members start to go missing

As you look for these signs, you should know that the most common items teens steal are electronics, music, clothes and accessories (including cosmetics). If you do believe your teen is stealing, you want to respond immediately. Stay calm, and ask for an explanation before making any harsh accusations. When it is clear that he/she has stolen something, do confront your teen. Explain again why stealing is wrong and apply the consequences for stealing to your teen.