Shoplifting: A Downward Spiral

by Elaine Rogers

Barbara Staib's job at the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) is all about increasing awareness that shoplifting is wrong, wrong, wrong! But it's an uphill battle, and possibly a losing one, the director of development and communications says, since recent NASP findings estimate that one in four kids shoplift.

Shoplifting has become "a downward spiral in our societal fabric," Staib says, one that is trivialized in teenagers' minds by a confluence of factors: peer pressure, a legal system that's not addressing the issue, companies that won't prosecute (because it's too costly to pursue), and parents who aren't addressing the problem. Add to that our rampant consumerism and a retail-centric world where youths ages 17 to 25 have enormous spending power, and no wonder 25 percent of America's 23 million shoplifters are kids, she says.

"Our young people are growing up in a world where they've got their iPods and computers and cell phones, and they have a sense of entitlement about those things," Staib says. "They don't consider them luxuries like their parents might have. They've got all this stuff, and they want more. So when they find themselves out at Wal-Mart - this big company with all this money - and they just want this one little CD, they say, 'I'm not hurting anyone,' and they take it."

Worse, Staib adds, is the lack of thought kids put to committing a crime. Credit for that may fall squarely on the shoulders of parents, she says, since a recent survey finds that, compared to surveys in years past, 50 percent fewer kids say their parents have even talked to them about shoplifting.

"I think parents may be battling so many other things, shoplifting probably isn't that high on the list," Staib reasons. "Or, it may be more likely that they simply assume their kids just wouldn't ever do it because they know it's wrong - so it's one of those things that kind of goes without saying."

Apparently, it shouldn't.

More Character Resources On


These books are just a few among many that focus on teaching children good character.


  • Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character (CAEC)  - Develops training and awareness programs on character education, with a focus on schools. See the Web site's "For Parents" section for 10 tips on teaching children character.

  • Character Education Partnership (CEP)  - Advocates effective character education in K-12 schools and promotes the concept that character education must be infused throughout the school environment.

  • Josephson Institute of Ethics  - Develops ethics education materials, including the youth initiative Character Counts (, and school, business and public training programs. It surveys high school students on ethics every two years for its "Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth."