By LAUREN FORCELLA
DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I am writing about my friend. She has a problem with shoplifting, maybe even an addiction. I would like to help her stop before she gets caught, because she is over 18 and it will result in a criminal record. When we were younger, I shoplifted makeup a couple times with her, but it scares me too much and doesn’t feel right to steal.
She is a good person except for this. Over the past holiday she stole so much stuff it almost made me sick.
Does anyone on the panel have shoplifting experience, and if so, how did they stop? — Sammie
Matt, 17, Mission Viejo: I have friends who shoplifted and were caught. One was stealing earrings for his girlfriend. He had stolen jeans multiple times before. He was devastated when they told his coaches at school. Jail time is one thing, but other consequences might have more sway.
Taylor, 14, Santa Rosa: I can’t shoplift. My mom taught me early after I took a small knickknack. She made me return it and apologize. The clerks thought
little 4-year-old me was cute, but I was embarrassed. At the Safeway near my school, my peers pick things up all the time. Maybe getting caught will scare her enough to stop. That’s what stopped my mom and aunt when they were young. They would play a game of “whoever steals most without getting caught wins.” Finally a clerk called the cops. It scared them enough that they never stole again. Your friend should seek professional help.
Brie, 20, Santa Barbara: I’m a manager in retail and I see how much inventory gets stolen. My store is easy to steal from, yet corporate does nothing about it. Shoplifting makes prices go up because stores lose revenue.
Gregg, 20, Los Angeles: I used to shoplift clothes, but after my friend lifted a hat and spent the night in jail I stopped. Anti-theft technology in stores, especially malls, is outstanding. She WILL be caught. The repercussions are severe and last for years. It ain’t worth it.
Lauren, 20, Ithaca, N.Y.: Lots of my friends have had shoplifting phases. From witnessing them, I think shoplifting would lessen if the associated adrenaline rush was sought elsewhere. Express your concern! Suggest other ideas for thrill-seeking, both recreational and emotional. Think of things that are legal but have uncertain outcomes.
Katelyn, 17, Huntington Beach: Send her to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention website at
shopliftingprevention.org. They offer self-help and support, even for those with a pending court case.
DEAR SAMMIE: Show your friend this column. She is a good person. Most shoplifters are. But she does have a recurring criminal problem, and expressing your concern is crucial to change rather than ignoring it as much of our culture does.
About 75 percent of shoplifters are adults. Most started as teens. Psychological studies cited by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention show that shoplifting is rarely about greed or poverty and mostly about internal conflicts, especially low self-esteem and depression, which often plummet around holidays and birthdays, the top shoplifting times. In short, shoplifting is mainly a form of self-medication, and includes a drug-like rush.
Shoplifting is a billion-dollar “industry” and our nation’s most frequent crime. According to the NASD, 1 in 11 Americans collectively shoplift about $35 million in merchandise each day. In the month before Christmas, the 2011 Global Retail Theft Barometer reported $1.8 billion in stolen U.S. merchandise.
If she doesn’t stop, I urge you to tell her parents (anonymously if needed) so she gets professional help for a habit difficult to kick. — Lauren
(Adapted from the column of Jan. 18, 2012. Straight Talk TNT.org is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice. Go deeper in today’s conversation or ask a question at StraightTalkTNT.org or P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol 95473.)