Written by Doctor G

The Teen Defense: You Don’t Trust Me!

My 12 year old was at the drugstore with me. When I came into her aisle I saw her put an eyeliner in her pocket. I assumed it was innocent and told her to take it out before someone thought she was stealing. She did, but then she looked a little strange and I wondered if she had been shoplifting. I wanted to ask what else she had in her pocket, but didn’t want her to accuse me of not trusting her.

Torn Dad in NYC, NY

A: YOU DON’T TRUST ME! I don’t know a parent of a teen who has not heard this (usually at a very impressive volume) in a tone of genuine outrage. Don’t be held hostage by this statement, or the threat of hearing it.

Twelve year olds often consider shoplifting. They are in the same developmental “I want” phase as a toddler and have a lot more autonomy and grander ideas. This does not mean that all twelve year olds steal. But a lot of them have thought about it.

It is our obligation as parents to pay attention to the temptations and morals of our children. You can soften this with a “when I was your age I…” if you’d like. But don’t stop from asking the hard questions just because your child may hurl an accusation your way.


My suggested answer is this: “I do trust you. I trust you to be twelve. And to be struggling with a lot of hard decisions, one of which is whether you should earn the money to pay for something you want or to see if you can get away with taking it.”

You trust her to be too young to consider all the consequences of her actions, both practical and ethical. Too young to know that the clerk working when she steals that may get fired. Too young to understand that the rush of getting away with it might be alluring in and of itself, and bragging about it to a friend may put her in the situation of doing it again even if she decided not to.

Trust your children to be the age they are. When you ask your preschooler as he leaves the bathroom, “Did you wash your hands?” you are not undermining your relationship. When you ask your twelve year old who slipped something in her pocket at the store, “Can I see what else is in your pockets, please?” you are being a strong parent.

You can trust her to be twelve, and she can trust you to be the Dad.

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