Why Teens Shoplift


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It is normal to be mischievous as a child – stealing crayons, bubblegum or a few toys from play dates – but when it carries into teenage years, it becomes a real problem. Suddenly, the innocence of simply not understanding the morals of stealing develops into intentional juvenile delinquency. So, after supposedly maturing, why do teenagers steal? 


Many troubled teens may steal to reflect their own personal lives. In order to understand teenagers’ shoplifting, sociology and criminology professor Rick Linden at the University of Manitoba looked into researching auto theft offenders. His findings show that many teenage offenders of auto theft tend to perform poorly in school, have large gang associations or live in a single parent home with a parent who has a criminal record. Teens may learn these criminal behaviors from role models in their difficult home lives or do it to gain attention. Linden also stated that teens steal to cope with stress and lack of control in their lives by living off the thrill, considering that his statistics indicated that over ninety percent of stolen vehicles (…) were found within 24 hours, suggesting theft was “largely for joyriding.” Additionally, kids who are accused of auto theft are more likely to be struggling with alcohol and drug use. Considering stealing causes a rush of adrenaline, they could be swapping one addiction for the other.


Another, yet more obvious reason, as to why teens shoplift is because they may be too young for a job or just cannot afford what they want with their own funding. On the flip side, their families may not be making enough money to support themselves and therefore some teens may have to steal to feed themselves or to lift some weight off of their parents’ backs. This example is mentioned in Anthropologist Harry F. Wolcott’s book “Adequate Schools & Inadequate Education: The Life History of a Sneaky Kid,” a biography about a 19 year old high-school dropout. The former student states “Before I got food stamps, I’d go to the store with my backpack, fill it with steaks and expensive canned food, and just walk out. If anyone saw me, I’d wave at them and keep walking. I didn’t have much to lose.” 


According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, trivial stealing is also largely caused by peer pressure, a need for acceptance, or as a show of bravery to friends. In worse cases, others may want to “get even” with their parents or are expressing hostility towards them; they may be stealing out of spite. After all, stealing is often a symptom of something underlying. Besides unprocessed emotions, stealing can be a symptom of multiple impulse control disorders or even kleptomania, a mental illness revolving around the irresistible urge to steal. 


In conclusion, shoplifting can be caused by a rough home life or environment, an addiction to adrenaline, a need for food or an inability to afford certain items, or societal expectations. However, there is no excuse for shoplifting- and it’s not flashy to have charges and misdemeanors on your record.