Hard Lessons

I'm Glad My Daughter Got Caught Shoplifting

I asked her why she did it, and she shrugged her shoulders.

Illustration of two hands stealing diamond rings

My kids were with their father last summer for a week. We are divorced, and he takes them on really fun vacations every year. I was sitting outside on my deck, enjoying the wonderful weather and reassuring myself my kids were just fine and I could make it through the week without them. This was always harder on me than it was on them. I started to doze off — and that’s when I got the call from my ex.

I don’t think he’s ever called me during their vacations, so my heart immediately started to pound. “I have some bad news,” he said. Before he finished his sentence, I shouted out: “Is everyone okay? What happened?”

“Everyone is fine, but we’ve spent the afternoon at the police station,” he told me. What he said next shocked me: “Elsa took a ring while we were shopping and got caught.”

My first thoughts went to my daughter: Was she scared? Was she okay? Did she cry?

“She’s fine. Quiet but fine. She didn’t cry,” he said.

I wanted to talk to her immediately. I can read my daughter better than her dad, and I needed to know she was okay. When we talked she was short with me, defensive, and seemed very annoyed. I wanted to know how she was doing. This is how my daughter operates — when she knows she’s done something wrong, she gets very snippy and shuts down. Her remorseful emotions come out later when I’m trying to pry them out of her.

I got the whole story from her dad. She was with her cousins in a department store and they were looking at a bin full of rings. My daughter and her cousin found some that had fallen on the floor and the shelves next to the bin that didn’t have a price tag. They were caught on video saying, “These don’t have a price tag so they must be free.” They laughed and put them on their fingers.

The store got a picture of my kids, a video of my kids, and lots of pictures of my ex and children as they drove away from the store. They contacted the police, who called my ex-husband to let him know they were no longer allowed in the store and they had to turn themselves in. Because they were four hours away from home, my ex decided the best thing to do would be to take our daughter right to the local police station and get it over with.

She was told she needed to write a letter of apology to the store, which she did that same day. Because she lived so far away, she would have a hearing closer to home.

When she got home from the trip, I could tell she was very upset with herself. She cried a lot. The ring she took was a dollar; her father would have bought it for her. She had thousands in her bank account from her summer job. I asked her why she did it and she shrugged her shoulders.

I had so many questions and worries: Is this an addiction? How many times has she done this before? Can I ever trust her to go shopping with her friends or cousins again? I was ashamed, embarrassed, and really mad at my daughter for doing something so stupid. Then, I remember I’d done dumb things as a teenager and just never got caught. I stole some hard candy from the grocery store when I was a freshman in high school. When I was a senior, I had a party when my mom went out for a late evening. We drank vodka from the liquor cabinet and refilled the bottles with water.

Since then, we’ve had several conversations about it, and she tells me she knew it wasn’t okay but she never thought they’d get caught. Which is hard to hear but do we ever think we are going to get caught when we do something we shouldn’t? No, we think we are smarter than that, and are teens really think they are smarter than the adults who are paying attention.

Her court date was six months later and I truly believe that really scared her into never doing anything like this again. At least I hope.

It took everything I had to keep it together while my daughter was being fingerprinted, which was gut-wrenching for me to watch. She apologized to the judge, who assigned her ten hours of community service to be completed within two months. I told her she had to take care of that herself — find a place to do the service and schedule her hours. She decided to volunteer at the local food bank. Because of her age, this will be on her record for a while.

Of course, I wish my child never shoplifted in the first place. I never would have believed she had it in her to do such a thing. But she did do it, and since she did, I’m thankful she didn’t get off with just a warning. Having to complete the community service was hard, and she missed out on time with her friends.

As hard as it’s been to watch her go through this, I truly believe her consequences had a greater effect on her than anything I could have said. There are times our teens need to learn painful lessons, and man, this was one of those times.