Q: I'm concerned my 15-year old daughter may be shoplifting make-up. Over the past year or so, I have found items I did not buy (eye shadows, lipsticks). My daughter's allowance never changes hands, as it goes to pay for her cell phone and my daughter rarely has any cash of her own. Whenever I confront her about where new items come from, she always says a different friend gave it to her because they didn't like the item. I've never seen her shoplift, but I'm worried. What can I do?
A: Remember when your preschool child would adamantly contend that he did not eat the missing chocolate pudding, but rather that it just somehow "disappeared" and that what looked like chocolate on his face was actually just dirt that smelled like chocolate? Unfortunately, with adolescents it is often harder to know when they are being honest and when they are not. But parents can take steps to improve the chances of raising a child with the right values.
Teach and models the values you want your child to embody. Actively teach about right and wrong and values on an ongoing basis as part of your parenting; don't just assume that kids will figure it out on their own. Make sure to discuss what you believe and why, not just when they do something wrong (because then it is just nagging, and they will tune you out) but rather also in a proactive way in the daily course of life and as part of general discussions that you have. And make sure to live your life according to these values: if they see you lie about things or take things that are not yours (no matter how small), that sends a message that such behavior is acceptable.
Establish good communication with your teen. Start by talking about things that are not difficult or emotional, and just start opening up the lines of communication. Talk to your child with respect, and listen to his thoughts and feelings without always correcting and criticizing. And listen some more. Praise him often. Then, gradually he should feel more comfortable talking about things that are difficult or mistakes that he makes, and hopefully enough trust will build that you can ask the tough questions.
Value and reward honesty. Praise a child's actions when he acts in an honest and integrity-filled manner. Let him know how proud you are of his decisions when he acts this way.
Have significant consequences for lying and stealing. Make sure that when he steals, for example, that he not only has to return what he has stolen and admit and apologize for his behavior, but that there is a penalty, such as a paying a "fine" to the injured party or doing some community service.
Tie together freedom and responsibility. Let him know that the amount of freedom and number of privileges that he gets will be directly related to how responsible and trustworthy he acts. Explain to him that this is the way that life works in general (for example, one who drives safely get to keep his license, while a person who drives recklessly has it revoked). Also, help him to understand that sometimes behavior casts a long shadow (for example, if you steal now, it can take a long time for people to begin trusting you again, even after you do change your behavior).
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