The Five-Finger Discount—Why Kids Shoplift

The news that Caroline Giuliani was caught shoplifting sent shock waves through parenting circles nationwide. How could this model student (Trinity School, Harvard University) and model daughter (parents are Rudy Giuliani and Donna Hanover) be caught stealing? More importantly, why would she risk the embarrassment, her reputation, and a criminal record to take things (makeup from Sephora) that she obviously could afford to buy?

The next morning on The View, Whoppi, Sherri, Joy, and Elisabeth, dished about their own experiences using the five-finger discount at times in their youth. (OK, Elisabeth said her transgression was “accidental”). I had a roommate in college who would often boast about her shoplifting adventures. Her favorite ploy was to go into a drugstore, try on a pair of sunglasses, slide them onto her head, and casually walk out. She never got caught and the sunglasses were lined up like trophies on her dresser.

While the confessions on The View elicited laughter from the audience, being caught shoplifting is no laughing matter. Stores have become more determined to prosecute shoplifters and that arrest can be enough to derail a young person’s dream of college, graduate school, or a job. The taint of being labeled as someone who steals can haunt someone for years. (Remember Winona Ryder?) One strike shouldn’t be enough to doom someone’s future, but with the Internet, transgressions live on forever.

The amateur shoplifter often steals because she is stressed, angry, or depressed. No surprise that young people, often stressed, angry, and depressed, make up more than one-quarter of those nabbed stealing. And those are the ones who are caught. Why do they do it? Usually they can afford what they take. Many times they take things they don’t even want. It’s the thrill of the experience, the rush, almost like doing drugs that succeeds, even for a time, to numb those bad feelings. Sometimes peer pressure is involved, particularly if the shoplifter believes that doing something daring will help her win friends.

Caroline’s life in the public eye has not been easy. Those who know her describe a bright, talented young woman who has survived many difficult times. Is this transgression a cry for help? If it is, hopefully, those near to her will pay attention.

How many parents out of the public eye can identify with this situation? Probably too many. Psychologists believe that women who shoplift often are trying to compensate for feeling unloved and unappreciated by those closest to them—a husband who takes a wife for granted or parents too busy in their own lives to focus on their daughter. The act of shoplifting fills that void. And if the person is caught? Well, having a wife or daughter arrested, taken out of a store in handcuffs, is one way to get attention.

Getting a phone call that your child has just been arrested is bound to send even the most forgiving parent into the anger zone. Punishment may be in order, but should not be the only action taken. The focus should be on seeing that the youthful offender receives psychological counseling. Shoplifting often masks what is truly going on in a young person’s life. A parent’s job is to find those answers and help.

Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of Parenting 911: How to Safeguard and Rescue Your 10 to 15 Year-Old from Substance Abuse, Depression, Sexual Encounters, Violence, Failure in School, Danger on the Internet, and Other Risky Situations.

About Charlene Giannetti (817 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 12 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.