Monday, July 23, 2012

Kids Who Steal for Thrills and How to Stop It.

By John and Diane.
This is the second part of our 3 part series on dealing with kids who steal.   Check out the first part : Impulsive Stealing: An ADD/ADHD Problem?

Unlike Impulsive Stealers, Kids who Thrill-Steal are usually found to have everything they want and the money to get anything else they might need.  Their parents usually fulfill the child’s needs and desires freely and quickly.
I met a lot of these kids when I worked at the courthouse. I would wait with the kids and talk with their parents when they arrived to pick them up after they worked their community service hours. (You can read more about my own history and experience in the updated About Me page.)
Often the parents would say, “I can’t believe my boy did this! He had the money in his pocket. He could have bought it. Why steal it?”  
Good question! I made a point to try to figure it out.
 I started talking to the kids as they worked with me   They would open up to me about their lives and I found out that many times this type of child (the thrill-stealer) had no Idea how to work.  
They had nothing to do at home as far as chores and usually no responsibilities.  Dad mowed the grass and took out the garbage, so they were bored.  If you were looking in from the outside at the family you’d see loving parents who took good care of their kids.  Interestingly enough, most of the kids I dealt with were not in school or recreational program sports.  The kids simply didn’t have much going on at home (chores or responsibilities) and not much outside of the home either (organized sports, or social organizations.)
 I even found overly protective parents, you know the kind, “My child could not have done this they most have been another child who got him or her to do It. “ The bad thing was, they would try to get the child “off” if they could.  My blaming others, the parent neutralized the consequences that the court would use to try to get the child to change and take responsibility for his or her actions.
 I saw a lot of these kids go to jail after a while.  It seems they were always coming back and I could not do anything to stop it.  I would warn Mom or Dad and that their kid was heading to jail if they kept telling them “it’s not my child’s fault, it’s someone else’s.”
 Now the reason why the child is stealing the first time may have been just because he or she wanted the toy or item.  But what happened? Why is he or she still stealing? Because what you may have done, not knowing you even did anything, was empower the child.
 In the child’s eyes they are now in control of you.  Yes, they feel empowered, even sometimes closer to you than ever before.
This will start a cycle. If you stand behind the child and they know they are getting away with stealing, even if the court gives them consequences, in their eyes it does not matter. As long as Mom and Dad think they are innocent, they win.  
The child might even think it was kind of fun because “My Dad and Mom said bad things about the teacher or even the judge.”  Kids eat this up.  It’s like playing a fun new game. This is how a parent neutralizes the consequences the child should be feeling from his or her bad-actions. Never undermine other authority figures in front of your child. If you do, they lose respect for ALL authority figures, including the parent.
Now that’s just one way it can get started but all kids-who-steal have this in common. The child gets something they are not getting out of their life now. When they steal they get to feel special.  Now you are spending more time with them in the car on the way to the community work hours or to counselor or court appointments.  Remember if you don’t spend time with your kids in a good way, you may have to spend it in the bad ways. It’s your time they need. 
Kids Who Steal for Power or to Make Friends (Gang development)
Kids who steal for power or to make friends may use the stealing to create a family unit.
 Usually this child has no parents around.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they have someone living with them but they are never there even when they are home. I am sure you have seen them if you are a foster parent.  This child may seem very nice and they give things away all the time, stolen things that is.
They steal things that other kids want and use them to buy friends.  This type of child is smart.  They won’t tell a kid if he stole the thing he is gifting until the child had it for a while and he will build on the power-role by continuing to give his new “friend” stolen items to increase the “debt.”  
Eventually the targeted child is told, feels guilty and is afraid to tell anyone about the stolen item, therefore binding him to the “thief.”  This is similar to predator grooming behavior.
 Soon your child will be with him when he steals and now they are locked together. This is often how small gangs are formed.
Now, lets see all the things the child got out of stealing.  He now has a friend he can trust because they will “go down” together and he has your family to hang out with because you see him as a well-mannered and smart boy or girl.
 This child may or may not do well in school, it can happen with both types of students.
The Red Flag
The give-away is when you meet his or her parents and you ask them about all the nice things their son has given your son and she or he looks at you with confusion, or they say “but YOUR son was giving things to my son’ Red Flag! So always talk to the parents of your children.
I know foster parents are stuck here because the kids often have made these friends before they ever got to you and you don’t want to break up the friendships. I guess you have to go back and look at the child’s existing friends and clean up any “bad influences.” Talk to parents of your foster child’s friends and if you notice red flags, talk to the police department about the “stealing friend” and get him help too.

How Do You Stop the Stealing Behavior?
1.     Spend more time with you child when he does good things. (Positive Reinforcement of good behaviors.)
2.     Make it “suck” for him or her whenever you have to spend time with them over something they may have done wrong.  I don’t mean that you should be mean to your child, if you are not sure if he or she has done it or not, just don’t take them out to eat after going to see the school because they did some thing wrong.
3.     If you know they did steal, then you make them pay for the gas in your car for court visits and to take them to their work hours and you have to come down hard. No cell phones, no TV for a time, grounding, anything so the child understands that she or he can’t steal and you not going to put up with it. The Consequences have to be worse than the “reward” for the stealing (reward being the extra attention, friends, etc.)
4.     Talk about what it does to you and how it makes you feel when you heard they steal. Talk about your childhood, yes, Mom and Dad, its time for you to tell what your life was like.  This will bring them closer to you and make them feel part of the family and make them proud to have your last name.  
5.     My favorite thing is to say, ”What would (Their Name) think of you at the age of 20 while he is sitting in jail?  What do you think he would say to you? Something tells me he would be a lot harder on you then I am! You don’t want to be in jail at 20 do you?” 
6.     Always make sure there are strong consequences to the stealing behavior. Work with your local police or sheriffs dept. to take tours of the jail if possible (scared straight style,) pile on the household chores and limitations, double the court appointed community service hours with your own demands for volunteer service somewhere, etc.
How to Prevent Stealing Behavior Before it Starts
1.     Pay attention when your child does good stuff. Celebrate the positive things he or she does and not just the negative behavior. Keep it up too! You need to do this Constantly or they will eventually seek the negative attention.
2.     Get kids (and yourself) involved in sports programs after and in school. You need to be at games to support the team “good” behaviors and the build on the good experiences with the other children.
3.     Make a point to talk to your kids about the good things they did each day. Mealtimes are Very important in my opinion, and after school conversations help to give them the attention they need.  Give your kid the time they need and the positive attention so they can thrive on positive reinforcement and not negative attention.
4.     Know your child’s friends and their parents.  If you feel like the parents are “shady,” chances are the child’s friend may be as well.


image:  Flickr
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