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The teen years can be particularly tricky to navigate for parents – case in point: one parent recently revealed how they were no longer willing to live with their teen daughter because of her outrageous behaviour.
Of course, it’s also a tough time for teens, who – more often than not – want nothing more than to be cut some slack and left well alone.
But sometimes teenage behaviour can be completely inappropriate and even bordering on criminal, much to the dismay of their parents who have no idea how to respond.
Such is the case for one parent, who shared their parenting dilemma on Mumsnet this week:
“My son has stolen cash from me again. When he was around 11 he spent nearly £400 on my debit card. [He] Lied about it consistently before the evidence became irrefutable. The fallout was huge.
“He is now nearly 16 and I’ve just discovered he’s stolen nearly £200 in cash from my safe. He must have hunted hard for the key. I confiscated his controller and headphones – he just got them out of the car when I was at work this morning.
“I’m gutted and confronted him tonight, calling him a thief and a blatant liar. Which he is. He has shown no remorse. He called me a fat c*** and locked himself in his bedroom. I just want him out, to be honest.”
*The above post has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Other parents were quick to chime in with their own experiences of their teens stealing money from them. “My youngest son went through a phase of this,” said one parent in the comments.
Another said their son did the same and added that “in the end I had no option but to throw him out”.
One mother explained how she was at “wits end” because her 11-year-old daughter kept stealing from her and her family.
So, what can parents in this situation do?
Fifteen years ago, counsellor Penny Lippett was in a similar situation with her stepson, who was living with her and her husband permanently.
“To say we were emotionally challenged is an understatement. My heart goes out to all parents doing their best,” says Lippett, who is a member of Counselling Directory.
This is a very tricky situation and one that has no simple answers. But here’s what counsellors recommend trying:
1. Document the evidence
Before you talk to your child, it’s important to have your facts straight and to document any concrete evidence of theft, such as missing money or belongings.
“This evidence will be helpful for future discussions or, if necessary, involving authorities,” says Counselling Directory member Jenny Warwick.
2. Keep a level head and confront them about it
It’s key for parents to approach the situation with a level head, as acting out of anger or despair may exacerbate the problem, suggests Lippett.
She recommends choosing an appropriate time and setting to calmly confront the child about it.
“The aim is to create an environment where both parties can speak openly, honestly, and calmly,” she says, suggesting an environment outside of the house, like a park, might help.
Warwick agrees that timing is everything. “It’s not helpful to confront them when they or you are feeling tense or angry,” she says.
“Find a quiet and comfortable space to speak to your child without distractions. You can start the conversation by saying, ‘I’ve noticed something concerning, and I want to talk to you about it.’
“If you approach it with sensitivity and open communication, you’re much more likely to reach a positive conclusion (for you and your child).”
3. Avoid making accusations
If there’s concrete evidence of the theft, Lippett advises to present it to your child. And if there isn’t evidence, she recommends asking open-ended questions that encourage the child to share information.
Warwick warns it’s best not to accuse the child directly of stealing. “Instead, express your observations and feelings. For instance, ‘I’ve noticed some money missing, and I’m feeling confused and concerned.’ Focus then on understanding their side of the story,” she adds.
Making accusations might just prompt children to become more defensive, making these conversations a lot more difficult to manage.
4. Try to find out why they did it
Once you’ve established that your teen has stolen from you, it’s time to try and understand why they might’ve done this. Is it for personal use? Peer pressure? Or something else entirely?
“It’s easier said than done but staying calm and composed is essential,” says Warwick. “Give yourself time, remember to take a deep breath and be kind to yourself.”
Counsellors advise parents to listen to their children carefully to try and understand their motivations. “Underlying issues or stresses may be contributing to their behaviour, such as peer pressure, financial stress, or emotional difficulties,” Warwick notes.
Of course, there’s every possibility your teenager might lie to you but it’s worth trying to get to the bottom of why they’re doing this.
Lippett advises parents to make it clear to the teen that it’s not just the loss of money that’s hurtful, but also the breach of trust that affects the family dynamic.
5. Don’t be afraid to involve a third party
Sometimes, family issues can benefit from an external perspective. If you feel like you’re going around in circles, it might be useful to involve a family therapist or counsellor – especially if the problem is part of a bigger pattern of behaviour.
“If the child shows no remorse and continues the behaviour, you may need to consider more drastic steps like legal intervention or specialised counselling,” Lippett adds.
6. Lay down the consequences
If they stole from a shop, there would be consequences. So there need to be consequences after stealing from you.
“There must be clear consequences for the actions,” says Lippett. “This could range from revoking privileges to requiring that the amount be paid back.”
Lots of parents on Mumsnet suggested taking away the teen’s gaming console and selling it to make back the £200 he stole. Others suggested confiscating the device for a period of time, until he pays the money back.
Warwick also believes there should be consequences, but adds these “need to be fair and related to the actions”.
“The consequences aim to teach them responsibility rather than purely punishing them. Set clear boundaries and expectations of future behaviour,” she adds.
Your teen should also be made aware that any future boundary-crossing will result in similar consequences.
7. Try to show them you still love them
This is definitely easier said than done when your teen is displaying hurtful behaviour towards you – whether through stealing or name-calling, as in the example above.
But Warwick stresses that maintaining a positive, supportive relationship with your child throughout the process is crucial.
“While it’s essential to address the stealing behaviour, showing the child that they are loved and valued despite their mistakes is equally important. You are building trust and encouraging them to make positive changes in the future,” she adds.
8. Should you ask them to leave?
This is obviously a deeply personal issue and not a decision a parent takes lightly. But Lippett suggests taking such extreme action could “serve as a catalyst for change, forcing the young man to confront the consequences of his actions”.
“It’s a harrowing choice,” she adds, “but could ultimately be the most loving one if it leads to greater self-awareness and responsibility for him in the long run.”