Ask any professional—from a shoplifting defense lawyer in Denver to a beat cop working the streets of New York—and they’ll tell you that theft is serious business. And yet, it’s something that teenagers are known to do frequently, with dire consequences. According to data from biometric data firm RecFaces and Loss Prevention Media:
- One out of every eleven people in the United States are shoplifters (that’s approximately 23 million people)
- Of those shoplifters, 25 percent are teenagers (despite teens being only about 7 percent of the total population)
- Anywhere from 20 to 55 percent of adult shoplifters started in their teens
- 89 percent of kids know other kids who shoplift, and about 65 percent of kids hang out with other kids who shoplift
So, it’s clear that thievery, particularly among teenaged individuals, is a serious problem. Three questions remain, however—what do teenagers shoplift, why do they do it, and how can adults help curtail these delinquent behaviors? On the matter of what, RecFaces again has some data. The most frequent targets of shoplifting are:
- Fashion apparel and accessory stores
- Home improvement stores
- Electronics stores
- Food and drink stores
- Beauty and health stores
From these locations, teens are likely to take items that are both popular and easy to conceal:
- Jewelry, sunglasses, shoes, sportswear
- Batteries, plants, power tools, building supplies
- Video games, laptops, DVDs, iPads/iPhones, other smartphones and accessories
- Alcohol, meat, cheeses, coffee, baby formula
- Makeup, perfume, OTC drugs, razors, (electric) toothbrushes
Why are they doing this? There can be many feelings and factors that go into their decision-making process, but in many cases, it boils down to teenagers having poor impulse control and stumbling across an opportunity to commit theft. Some 75 percent of shoplifters don’t plan out their crimes, so when you combine a still-developing mind with an unexpected chance to do something naughty and (probably) not get caught, the obvious occurs.
In spite of this, though, shoplifting can also be the signal for serious problems in the home. Exacerbating that legendary lack of impulse control among teenagers may be a whole host of domestic problems, including familial stress, abuse, or feelings of unworthiness, unattractiveness, ostracization, or depression.
Teens, if you didn’t already realize, are prone to complex emotional states that they don’t fully understand. They’re often confused, angry, anxious, and because of all this, vulnerable to making mistakes (particularly if they aren’t prone to considering the consequences of their actions). So, what can be done to prevent juveniles from shoplifting, in general?
It’s a complicated question, but what appears to be most effective is a combination of awareness, visible deterrents, and intervention against theft. Those first two pair together quite nicely, and having visible information—such as posters and pamphlets—that detail straightforward facts about shoplifting and the situations that can result from shoplifting is often enough to get teens to reconsider their behavior.
Of course, not all teens heed fair warning at first opportunity, so if you suspect that a teenager in your life is heading down that path, be sure to pull them aside and have a serious conversation. Let them know the truth—that shoplifting could see them face criminal charges, so it’s best to modify their behavior now than to wait for their reality to come crashing down.