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Young Teen Boy Is Stealing and Acting Out for No Reason


I am currently experiencing some issues with my 13-year-old son and I don't understand why he is doing the things he is doing. He has begun to steal items like candles, small bowls, spices and other things from around the house, but I can't see any reason for why he is taking them. He also has been sneaking around the house late at night, when he thinks we are asleep. I have caught him three times now. He has gone behind our backs and dyed his hair black, which I never said he could do, and he also has had one of his new "friends" give him a piercing through his nose. Nothing in our home life has changed, so why is he acting out like this?


When kids have a drastic change in their appearance, behavior, school performance or emotions, it is often a sign that something is indeed “going on.” Kids will change their appearance to “fit in” with a particular group of friends, to change something that perhaps others made fun of, to imitate what a popular celebrity might be doing – or even to test parental limits. What is most concerning in your situation, however, is that he is stealing items around the home. Kids will sometimes steal to get a thrill, to take something they could not otherwise afford or to get money to buy things that are illegal or not allowed by their parents.

The items your son has stolen may seem insignificant, but this behavior is a red flag. It’s time to sit down and:

  1. Have a Family Meeting with him to lay out your expectations for his behavior going forward.
  2. Confront him about the stealing, have him return the items or pay you for what he took, give him a negative consequence for stealing.  

As the parent, you need to determine the specifics of your discussion with your son. But your conversation might include these conditions or rules:

  • No piercings
  • No tattoos
  • No dyed hair
  • Getting approval to wear certain clothing

There are a number of other actions you can take to address this issue. Start random room, clothing and backpack checks. A good time to do this is before your son leaves the house or when he returns from an activity or school. This loss of some of the privacy he once had is a consequence of his behaviors. In fact, some parents we have spoken with who are dealing with similar situations start with some pretty intense monitoring, such as having their child be in the same room with them around the house. This means if you go to the kitchen to fix dinner, he comes with you. Also, if he has a cell phone, you can closely monitor it by not allowing him to have a password, picking it up at any time to look through the contacts or content of texts, and limiting your son’s use of the phone, especially at night.

You also may need to set some new ground rules regarding his friends — who he can hang out with and when. This might involve letting him know what behaviors you expect him to use when he is at other people’s homes and getting a list of names and cell phone numbers of his friends and their parents.

You can insist that you need to know whom he is with at all times, where he is going and what he is doing. If he is going to a friend’s house, call the parents to make sure he has permission to be there and that an adult will be home to supervise.

As parents, it is our job to ensure that our children are safe. So remember that though you will most likely get some resistance from your son on this, you are NOT the only parent checking on these things. And if you already know some of his friends’ parents, share your concerns with them. It cannot hurt to have more parental eyes keeping close watch on what he and his friends are doing.

If you need additional help, you can certainly call the Boys Town National Hotline® toll-free at 1-800-448-3000. A crisis counselor would be happy to speak with you.

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