Stealing Among Students; Causes And Remedies

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Stealing Among Students; Causes And Remedies


Although stealing among adolescents appears to be fairly common, an assessment of adolescent stealing and its relationship to other behaviors and health problems is incompletely understood. A large sample of high school students (n = 3,999) was examined by self-report survey with 153 questions concerning demographic characteristics, stealing behaviors, other health behaviors including substance use, and functioning variables, such as grades and violent behavior. The overall prevalence of stealing was 15.2 percent (95% confidence interval (CI), 14.8–17.0). Twenty-nine (0.72%) students endorsed symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of DSM-IV-TR kleptomania. Poor grades, alcohol and drug use, regular smoking, sadness and hopelessness, and other antisocial behaviors were all significantly (p < .05) associated with any stealing behavior. Stealing appears to be fairly common among high school students and is associated with a range of potentially addictive and antisocial behaviors. Significant distress and loss of control over this behavior suggest that stealing often has significant associated morbidity.

The lifetime prevalence of stealing appears fairly high. A recent, large epidemiological study of adults found that 11.3 percent of the general population admitted to having shoplifted in their lifetimes.1 This finding is consistent with estimates by the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention that 1 (9.1%) in 11 people has shoplifted during his lifetime.2 Stealing in adults has been associated with other antisocial behaviors, psychiatric comorbidity (e.g., substance use disorders, pathological gambling, and bipolar disorder), and impaired psychosocial functioning.1 Stealing appears to start generally in childhood or adolescence, with approximately 66 percent of individuals reporting lifetime stealing beginning before they were 15 years of age.1

Despite the early age at onset of stealing, as well as the significant adult morbidity associated with this behavior, stealing among adolescents has historically received relatively little attention from clinicians and researchers. Limited research suggests that adolescents who steal have impairments in problem-solving skills and a cognitive bias toward inappropriate solutions to problems.3 Other research suggests that parent-child difficulties, school failure, and negative peer influences underlie adolescent stealing.4

Although stealing may be fairly common, it is unclear how many adolescents who steal have kleptomania. Kleptomania, characterized by a diminished ability to resist recurrent impulses to steal objects that are not needed for their monetary or personal use, has been relatively understudied across the lifespan and particularly in adolescents with propensities for stealing.5 In the present study, we assessed a large sample of public high school students regarding stealing behavior. Although previous research suggests that stealing and antisocial behaviors are linked,1,6 no study has systematically examined the relationship of stealing with a range of behaviors and health functioning. Given the incomplete data on the co-occurrence of stealing and other variables among young people, the purpose of this study was to fill these gaps in knowledge. Specifically, we sought to examine the prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of different severity levels of stealing in adolescents, to investigate health correlates in high school students who steal, and to examine the different severity levels and clinical characteristics of stealing and determine differences in students whose stealing merits a diagnosis of kleptomania. Recognizing possible differences in stealing severity among adolescents may have clinical and health implications. It is also important to recognize associations between stealing and health variables, as identifying and treating the stealing behavior may significantly improve the prognosis of other behaviors.

Stealing Among Students; Causes And Remedies

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Stealing Among Students; Causes And Remedies


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