Preteen and Teenage Shoplifting

Retail security industry experts generally agree that about one-third of the shoplifting, here in the United States, can be attributed to minors. There is no true industry figure, taking into account that much of the teenage and preteen shoplifting largely goes unreported. When a preteen or young juvenile is involved the retailer may be inclined not to call the parents (in the case of a parent’s absence) or the police. In many jurisdictions, the police resources are stretched to their limits and responding to a juvenile shoplifting incident is a very low priority. In many cases, the retailer’s policy is designed to take the police out of the picture so as not to tie up their own resources. Therefore, the retailer may decide to recover their merchandise and release the juvenile on their own. Without referring the minor to the police, the retailer’s options are to call the parents or scold and release the youthful offender. When the minor is admonished and released on their own, without parental interaction, this actually does a disservice to our youth and the parent.

When the retailer scolds and releases the minor, what lesson have they learned? Consider that most adult offenders did not start shoplifting as an adult, but started stealing at a young age and may have never been caught. Although there are exceptions to this.

As for myself, at about age 8, my mother sent me to the corner store to buy some milk. When in the store I decided to steal a candy bar at the register counter and the storeowner caught me in the act. The owner gave me a very stern warning and told me never do it again. He never called my parents, to my knowledge, and that one incident cured me. Now my personal experience fly’s in the face of what I have written here, but consider that was a long time ago and times were different then. Back then, the neighbors watched out for you and carried much of the same authority as your parents did. As I said, times are different now.

During my retail loss prevention career I remember many times when I called a parent because I caught their son or daughter shoplifting and I was met with indifference and told to just release and “have them come home.” Parents need to set an example and teach their children to respect the property of others. Once, when my wife and I along with our 7-year-old son were shopping at the grocery store and discovered, upon our return home, that our son had removed a shelf price tag and brought it home with him. You can imagine the discussion my wife and I had with him and to boot we drove him back to the grocery store so he could return the tag to the store manager who, in turn, gave him a good talking and thanked him for bringing the tag back to the store. The store manager understood what my goal was. It worked as the small boy in question now works for the FBI. Ask him today and he remembers the incident well - it was a lesson well learned.

Children in their “tween” years need to be taught the difference between right and wrong. As a good friend of mine once wrote, “sticky little fingers only need to be discovered early and washed clean – a wonderful opportunity for Mom and Dad, and such a wonderful lesson learned.”

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