What to do when … Boy is caught or accused of stealing

View a list of all the problems covered in this series.


Why do young people engage in the practice of stealing? Why is shoplifting such a major problem? Several reasons can be cited:

The thrill and adventure of doing something illegal and getting away with it. This may be the most common reason. An authority figure (store owner, police, teacher) is challenged and defied. When a boy succeeds in stealing, he often gains recognition from his peers.

A desire for the object stolen. A boy wants some money to buy something or he may find some personal use for an object that someone else owns.

Anger or bitterness against a person or a group. Stealing something that belongs to someone whom a boy resents is a means of revenge. A boy may be angry at his parents and do something illegal to get back at them.

How does a leader handle these tough cases?

Be careful about accusations

Unless a boy is actually caught stealing, be very careful about making accusations. A misdirected accusation can damage a relationship for a long time. Be cautious even when other boys accuse one boy of stealing. Talk privately with a boy suspected of stealing and hear his side of the story. If he admits that he stole the object, try to determine what lies

behind his actions. Act as a friend who want to help; you do not represent the “strong arm of the law.” If he does not admit to stealing, take his words at face value. Believe him as much as you can. This is a perfect time to remind the boys of the mercy of God in the gospel.

Avoid pressuring the whole group to admit who engaged in stealing

Boys rely heavily on peer acceptance and to force a boy to “squeal” on his friends is a heavy burden to put on him. You’ll often get a “false positive” and end up punishing the innocent. In the end God will judge. Our job is to point them to God who also saves people who need judgement.

Provide a low risk way to return the object

If the stolen object cannot be found, announce to the whole group that the object can be returned privately (perhaps dropped off at some neutral location) and the matter will be closed. This approach will often work with objects of little value except to the owner. Give every opportunity to a boy to correct his transgression and start fresh .

Repetitive stealing

If a boy is caught stealing on several occasions, you may need to seek additional help. Informing the parents may be necessary.


This series was adapted from a resource that has been used by Brigade leaders for decades.

View a list of all the problems covered in this series.


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