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Punishment for Stealing

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My seventh-grade son stole a fellow student's Pokemon cards. He returned the cards but still maintained he didn't take them. He finally told me he took them. He has never done anything like this before and I don't want him to do it again. We have grounded him from TV, computer games, and friends. He is also doing a lot of extra chores. We would like him to have to do some sort of community service, but don't know where to go.

The only thing he really cares about is playing football -- it is the only outside activity that he does. I wanted to make him quit the team but I didn't know if that would just lead to more idle time to do stupid things.

A: I think that you are overreacting to his stealing Pokemon cards. He has returned the cards and come clean about stealing them. The current Pokemon craze has resulted in many kids stealing cards and trying to cheat their peers out of cards through unsavory trading practices. Your son got swept up in his desire to own more and more cards, an unfortunate by-product of the multi-media campaign targeting kids of all ages to " Catch them all", meaning to get all of the over 100 cards/Pokemon characters in the first set (there are already more sets on the way).

You state that your boy has never exhibited this kind of misbehavior before. I believe that his very public shame and guilt over stealing these cards from fellow students is the most potent and meaningful consequence to his stealing. He is no doubt feeling shame and embarrassment regarding his theft. Continuing to punish him more and more is overkill, in my opinion. Taking more and more privileges away from him will not make him a more honest lad or make him any more sorry for his misdeed. It will only serve to make him more unduly sad and resentful.

We all do "stupid things" in our lives. I hope that you can talk to him and show him that you understand what caused him to act in this dishonest manner. Forgive him. Ask him to tell you how he's going to stop himself from acting in this way again and offer to help him be the honest boy you know him to be. It's time to start offering him encouraging words for who he is and to stop finding more ways to hurt his feelings.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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