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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Well, my 12 year old daughter stole $7 from her stepfather's dresser this morning, and denied it when he asked if she knew what had happened to it. He asked her to open up her hand, and the money was there.

I am so disappointed. We had a long talk, she was crying, and she told me she knows what she did was wrong. She will not participate in a special activity tonight.

But can I trust her now? I want to, I really do.

She says she took the money to contribute to a gift for a gymnastics teacher. I asked her why she didn't talk to me about it, and then she told me she thought I would say 'no'.

Is this all just normal par for the course or is this child in danger of becoming a compulsive liar? I have no idea what to do now. I feel as if it is all my fault - maybe one day she saw me taking money off the dresser for parking (which I do sometimes but I always tell my partner and it's usually $1-2 that I pay back - and I have not ever done this in front of the girls)
Any advice would be welcome!!
 

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I stole money from my parents as a tween and young teen. I grew into an honest law-abiding adult. At the time I knew it was wrong. I knew lying was wrong. I felt badly about it. I still did it. Why?

Well, in my case it was to right injustices that I felt (and still feel) very keenly. The injustices were personal but also to a larger extent societal. Twelve-year-olds are capable and intelligent; many of them are probably stronger and smarter than some adults. They are hard-wired to want independence and responsibility. Yet they are terribly infantalized by our culture: they have almost no control over their lives, almost no autonomy for personal decision-making, almost no ability to contribute meaningfully to the world. They have to get permission for almost everything they do, whether to eliminate bodily wastes (ask to go to the bathroom at school) or to eat or to walk their body 100 metres to the north or to buy a soda. They can't work -- they can't even volunteer most places, due to liability and supervision issues. Like seriously: for someone who has near-adult capabilities, 12-year-olds have absolutely microscopic levels of freedom, power, autonomy.

And here's the thing: whenever we give kids just a little smidge more responsibility and independence, the instant they make a choice that doesn't align with our preferences, perhaps because they're just learning to wield it or perhaps just to be sure the choice is really theirs to make, we call that "not ready for the responsibility" and we punish them by restricting them even more. We ground them, we remove discretionary choices we call "privileges," we shorten the apron strings.

Being an adolescent, especially a bright capable one, sucks. You are ready for so much more than society says is allowable.

And in our society money -- like it or not -- is a very potent symbol of those things that adolescents hunger for: freedom, power and autonomy. Snatching some money is an alluring way to feed a little bit of that hunger for control over your life. It will probably take her, like it took me, a decade or two to understand the real reasons underlying her theft, but I'd be willing to bet she'll ultimately come to the same conclusions I did.

I can pretty much guarantee that your dd knew what she did (stealing, lying) was wrong. She said as much; she cried, she's sorry about the whole thing. I don't think you need to do anything else to show her that you disapprove, that she was wrong. This isn't rocket science. She knows.

What she needs help with is in addressing the feelings and impulses that caused her to do something that she knew was wrong. And here's where I need to make a case for something that probably seems really counter-intuitive to you. I think that if you possibly can you should consider giving her more freedom, more responsibility, more trust and more money. Not less. If you are clear in how you discuss this with her, she will not interpret it as a reward for dishonesty.

I'd wait a few days and then take her out for an ice cream date, or to a favourite café for a heart-to-heart. Tell her that for her to do something so wrong, you know she must be really struggling inside. And you wonder whether part of what she's struggling with is a desire for more independence and responsibility. You understand that it's really hard being 12. At 12 the world still treats you like a child but in a lot of ways you're practically as smart and as strong as an adult. As her parent you know that she is kind and good and strong and capable, though admittedly it can be hard for parents to let go and give their kids the freedom to look after themselves more and maybe even make a few mistakes. But as best you can you'd like to start treating her more like the adult she is becoming. And you'd like to enlist her help in coming up with some strategies for doing that. Ask her what she thinks would help.

Miranda
former 12-year-old, mom to three former 12-year-olds and one current 12-year-old
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I stole money from my parents as a tween and young teen. I grew into an honest law-abiding adult. At the time I knew it was wrong. I knew lying was wrong. I felt badly about it. I still did it. Why?

Well, in my case it was to right injustices that I felt (and still feel) very keenly. The injustices were personal but also to a larger extent societal. Twelve-year-olds are capable and intelligent; many of them are probably stronger and smarter than some adults. They are hard-wired to want independence and responsibility. Yet they are terribly infantalized by our culture: they have almost no control over their lives, almost no autonomy for personal decision-making, almost no ability to contribute meaningfully to the world. They have to get permission for almost everything they do, whether to eliminate bodily wastes (ask to go to the bathroom at school) or to eat or to walk their body 100 metres to the north or to buy a soda. They can't work -- they can't even volunteer most places, due to liability and supervision issues. Like seriously: for someone who has near-adult capabilities, 12-year-olds have absolutely microscopic levels of freedom, power, autonomy.

And here's the thing: whenever we give kids just a little smidge more responsibility and independence, the instant they make a choice that doesn't align with our preferences, perhaps because they're just learning to wield it or perhaps just to be sure the choice is really theirs to make, we call that "not ready for the responsibility" and we punish them by restricting them even more. We ground them, we remove discretionary choices we call "privileges," we shorten the apron strings.

Being an adolescent, especially a bright capable one, sucks. You are ready for so much more than society says is allowable.

And in our society money -- like it or not -- is a very potent symbol of those things that adolescents hunger for: freedom, power and autonomy. Snatching some money is an alluring way to feed a little bit of that hunger for control over your life. It will probably take her, like it took me, a decade or two to understand the real reasons underlying her theft, but I'd be willing to bet she'll ultimately come to the same conclusions I did.

I can pretty much guarantee that your dd knew what she did (stealing, lying) was wrong. She said as much; she cried, she's sorry about the whole thing. I don't think you need to do anything else to show her that you disapprove, that she was wrong. This isn't rocket science. She knows.

What she needs help with is in addressing the feelings and impulses that caused her to do something that she knew was wrong. And here's where I need to make a case for something that probably seems really counter-intuitive to you. I think that if you possibly can you should consider giving her more freedom, more responsibility, more trust and more money. Not less. If you are clear in how you discuss this with her, she will not interpret it as a reward for dishonesty.

I'd wait a few days and then take her out for an ice cream date, or to a favourite café for a heart-to-heart. Tell her that for her to do something so wrong, you know she must be really struggling inside. And you wonder whether part of what she's struggling with is a desire for more independence and responsibility. You understand that it's really hard being 12. At 12 the world still treats you like a child but in a lot of ways you're practically as smart and as strong as an adult. As her parent you know that she is kind and good and strong and capable, though admittedly it can be hard for parents to let go and give their kids the freedom to look after themselves more and maybe even make a few mistakes. But as best you can you'd like to start treating her more like the adult she is becoming. And you'd like to enlist her help in coming up with some strategies for doing that. Ask her what she thinks would help.

Miranda
former 12-year-old, mom to three former 12-year-olds and one current 12-year-old
What great insight!
I think this is a great strategy.
My boyfriend, however, will think I am just giving her what she wants. I have had to really walk a fine thin line in this situation - MY gentle parenting tuition and trying to be the parent I would have liked my parents to be, and HIS parenting tuition which is hard line, authoritive, and exactly what my father was like and I hated it. We have almost parted ways several times because of this.
However, I have managed to convince him that I am the parent here, that he needs to have confidence in my abilities, and that we need to talk about situations like this before he goes off and acts in his way.

I will try the suggestion from the pp above and post how it went.
 

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He isn't a parent. He is your boyfriend. He doesn't get a vote. If he thinks he gets a vote, then explain that he doesn't and he never will, and if that is a huge issue, dump him. Your child is your child, and will be forever. Even if you married him, he would be a step parent, and still not get a vote. I think that heading into the teen years, it's a good idea to get VERY clear with him. I have zero patience with grown ups (which is ironic because I have a lot of patience with children).


About your DD, does she have some money that she has control over? I agree with what Miranda wrote, and I think it's important for our kids to have money that they control. I used to steal money from my parents at that age, and it was because I had zero money that I had control over.
 

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I stole money from my parents as a tween and young teen. I grew into an honest law-abiding adult. At the time I knew it was wrong. I knew lying was wrong. I felt badly about it. I still did it. Why?

Well, in my case it was to right injustices that I felt (and still feel) very keenly. The injustices were personal but also to a larger extent societal. Twelve-year-olds are capable and intelligent; many of them are probably stronger and smarter than some adults. They are hard-wired to want independence and responsibility. Yet they are terribly infantalized by our culture: they have almost no control over their lives, almost no autonomy for personal decision-making, almost no ability to contribute meaningfully to the world. They have to get permission for almost everything they do, whether to eliminate bodily wastes (ask to go to the bathroom at school) or to eat or to walk their body 100 metres to the north or to buy a soda. They can't work -- they can't even volunteer most places, due to liability and supervision issues. Like seriously: for someone who has near-adult capabilities, 12-year-olds have absolutely microscopic levels of freedom, power, autonomy.

And here's the thing: whenever we give kids just a little smidge more responsibility and independence, the instant they make a choice that doesn't align with our preferences, perhaps because they're just learning to wield it or perhaps just to be sure the choice is really theirs to make, we call that "not ready for the responsibility" and we punish them by restricting them even more. We ground them, we remove discretionary choices we call "privileges," we shorten the apron strings.

Being an adolescent, especially a bright capable one, sucks. You are ready for so much more than society says is allowable.

And in our society money -- like it or not -- is a very potent symbol of those things that adolescents hunger for: freedom, power and autonomy. Snatching some money is an alluring way to feed a little bit of that hunger for control over your life. It will probably take her, like it took me, a decade or two to understand the real reasons underlying her theft, but I'd be willing to bet she'll ultimately come to the same conclusions I did.

I can pretty much guarantee that your dd knew what she did (stealing, lying) was wrong. She said as much; she cried, she's sorry about the whole thing. I don't think you need to do anything else to show her that you disapprove, that she was wrong. This isn't rocket science. She knows.

What she needs help with is in addressing the feelings and impulses that caused her to do something that she knew was wrong. And here's where I need to make a case for something that probably seems really counter-intuitive to you. I think that if you possibly can you should consider giving her more freedom, more responsibility, more trust and more money. Not less. If you are clear in how you discuss this with her, she will not interpret it as a reward for dishonesty.

I'd wait a few days and then take her out for an ice cream date, or to a favourite café for a heart-to-heart. Tell her that for her to do something so wrong, you know she must be really struggling inside. And you wonder whether part of what she's struggling with is a desire for more independence and responsibility. You understand that it's really hard being 12. At 12 the world still treats you like a child but in a lot of ways you're practically as smart and as strong as an adult. As her parent you know that she is kind and good and strong and capable, though admittedly it can be hard for parents to let go and give their kids the freedom to look after themselves more and maybe even make a few mistakes. But as best you can you'd like to start treating her more like the adult she is becoming. And you'd like to enlist her help in coming up with some strategies for doing that. Ask her what she thinks would help.

Miranda
former 12-year-old, mom to three former 12-year-olds and one current 12-year-old
Excellent, so well written!! I can't agree more. I also think that many adults are afraid of the clarity with which 12 year olds see things and speak (if allowed to). They can see through all the day to day bull.
 

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Also, when you say "lying and stealing" it makes it sound like an on-going pattern of behavior. But what you describe is one time stealing, and then lying to cover it up. That isn't a pattern. That's just a mistake.
 
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
He isn't a parent. He is your boyfriend. He doesn't get a vote. If he thinks he gets a vote, then explain that he doesn't and he never will, and if that is a huge issue, dump him. Your child is your child, and will be forever. Even if you married him, he would be a step parent, and still not get a vote. I think that heading into the teen years, it's a good idea to get VERY clear with him. I have zero patience with grown ups (which is ironic because I have a lot of patience with children).


About your DD, does she have some money that she has control over? I agree with what Miranda wrote, and I think it's important for our kids to have money that they control. I used to steal money from my parents at that age, and it was because I had zero money that I had control over.
She DOES have her own money. She recently spent it all buying a Halloween costume.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Linda on the move,

She has stolen and lied before - once earlier this summer. She stole a t-shirt and shorts from her gymnastics organization and was wearing it around the house. I only knew when her gym instructor told me. I am concerned because it doesn't seem as if she is learning her lesson.

This time she asked me NOT to mention anything to her gymnastics instructors. Which I have respected. THIS time. However, I ask myself if I am being too soft.
 

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As usual, I really appreciate Miranda's thoughtful response.

She DOES have her own money. She recently spent it all buying a Halloween costume.
This is *so* my DD. She gets a very generous allowance to learn money management, but tends to blow through it all the first couple weeks of the month. If she comes up with a real *need* (like the teacher's gift you mentioned,) I'll give her the opportunity to earn more $$$ by doing some of my chores.

I've read the lying is completely natural for this age. I completely freaked out this summer the first couple times I caught my DD lying to us. As Miranda said, there was more going on than her turning into a pathological liar. It all had to do with the drive for independence, and is too long a story to go into here.
 

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Amazing post, Miranda. It was what I had in mind but all I came up with was:

It's not a big deal.

And, I make more than one mistake within a 6 month period.
 

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I have 14 year old daughter and I experience similar things with her. It helps me to remind myself in these situations that it is a natural program that teenagers try new things. If my daughter does something which is from my point of view inappropriate I talk to her about it calm but committed. I speak even pretty quiet rather than loud to express gently the importance of the matter to me. I always close such a conversation with pointing out - and I think this is the most important part - that every adult did things they regret and that very honest and reliable characters showed dishonest and unreliable behaviour before. By this way I avoid to force my daughter into a certain negative role. I think it is more than helpful to have vision of your child in your head how your child will be when it will be grown up. Of course this vision should not be too detailed this could lead to disappointment and frustration. The vision should be limited to general character treats and your relationship with your child. E.g. I envision that my daughter will be a person as a grown-up who has a great relationship with me and my husband and her siblings, who is honest, patient and shows perseverance, who holds the deep conviction that life is a wonderful thing, who believes in the concept of forgiveness and gratitude as the source of happiness. When I focus on this vision I treat my daughter immediately more respectfully, warmer and more constructively and in return she reacts constructive and warm. This strategy really works for us.
 

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I was the most sneaky child! My sister had a huge jar that she kept all of her change in. I used a hanger with tape and got money out without moving the jar. I took money from my parents.
I am now very honest and will not lie. Integrity is huge to me. I think some kids can go through things but it doesn't mean that they will be like that forever. I have thought a lot about this because we have an 8yo that is very much like me as a child.
If I was in that situation I would let my child know that I love them and they made a mistake. I would ask that next time they ask me for money instead of taking it. I am sure she already feels bad.
As a side note: It seems strange to me that you "take" a few dollars from your guy's dresser but have to pay it back. Really? You live together. It is a few bucks. I guess everyone's relationships are different. My husband and I share our money. Especially if it is a couple dollars.
 

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She just was afraid that you wouldn't understand why she needed these money and she told you wouldn't give them to her. You should just sit and talk to her, explain that if she needs anything she can ALWAYS come to you and ask about anything, that you'll understand her and won't scream. But if she doesn't do this she'll very dissapoint you.
 

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Initially, I thought that you need not to worry much as she has done it once only but as I read through the entire discussion I learnt about how she stole from the gym so I think that you need to talk to her and make her understand that it is wrong and she should stop it.
 
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