Posted by: Desperately concerned | 2003/02/24

Stealing child

I have a 13 year old step daughter who lives with her mother and comes to us every 2nd weekend and all schoolholidays. This child steals continuously and we just don't know what to do with her anymore. We first noticed it when I moved in with her father 4 years ago - she would take my jewellery and just wear it, then when I would notice she had something of mine on, I would ask her what she was doing with it and she would swear on her life that her mom had given it to her. It caused major trouble between my then boyfriend who is now my husband, and I as he just always thought I was being nasty to her. Until she took a signet ring which had been given to me by my parents on my 4th birthday and it had my name on it. Then he realised that I had been telling the truth all along. Then my camera went and various other items as well.
About a year and a half ago, she went into a chemist and used my husband's secretary's account to buy all sorts of stuff - she told them she was this woman's daughter (Please understand that at this stage she was only 11). After the 2nd time she came in, the pharmacist got suspicious and contacted the secretary about it. We then found out that this child had stolen R300 from her father's wallet that morning while he was getting ready for work.
Since then she has continuously stolen money from her father, her grandmother, myself, anyone. Despite us hiding every bit of cash away when we know she will be there, she still manages to find it and helps herself to whatever she feels like. She is extremely adept at this as my husband and I watch her all the time when she's there, but she still gets it right. She has been given hidings for this, he has sat her down and talked through the situation with her, he has tried to explain to her what will happen if she should get caught stealing in a shop, he even went as far as taking her to a girl's reformatory and the headmaster sat with her and very graphically explained what went on in those places and made it very clear to her that if she was caught stealing she could be sent to one of these places. None of this had any impact on her at all.
She is now seeing a phychiatrist who has told us that this child feels absolutely no guilt at all for her actions and she doesn't feel that what she is doing is wrong.
We are at the end of our tether with her. What do you suggest? Is she likely to outgrow this? She seems to be getting worse all the time, not better. Please help.

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Our expert says:
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Dear dc,
I really doubt whether she will grow out of this --- this sounds like an Antisocial Personality disorder, in which a person really doesn't seem to feel that the usual rules of social conduct, let alone laws, apply to them. They can feel entitled to anything they want, whether or not it actually belongs to someone else. When the psychiatrist says she feel no guilt at all, this is typical. And it sounds as if she exploited the situation of the divorce, and the sensitivity of all the adults involved, for her own benefit.
Because the person themselves, in this case the child, hardly feels that there is a problem, and may seem the person least affected by her behaviour, they often have little or no interest in sincerely cooperating in treatment that might have some hope of improving the problem. Boys Town has had some real success with some boys like this ; some kids do actually reform in a reformatory --- though for too many, it becomes just a sort of University of Crime, in which hey learn to be more skilled in their criminal behaviour.
I'm puzzled that your description of the problem mentions everyone as having been affected by it, but says nothing about the mother --- either whether she also is a victim of the stealing, or what she feels about the situation.
It sounds as if the faher eneds to sit down and have a frank discussion with the psychiatrist, who has had the advantage of assessing the girl in some detail, and explore what options there are or trying to get things right, or, at least, righter.

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Our users say:
Posted by: Desperately concerned | 2003/02/25

Dear Doc
Thank you for your reply. The mother of this child has never actually caught her stealing anything from her, but is aware of what she is up to. However, I feel that both parents are at fault to some extent here as the mother goes extremely overboard in trying to discipline her, in that she will give her terrible hidings every time she finds out about something. She yells and screams and hits her and gets very very aggro with the child. My husband (the father) on the other hand, goes totally in the opposite direction and tends to think that if he ignores the problem, it will go away of its own accord, which obviously it won't. He always feels that her mother is so strict that when she comes to us, he doesn't want to be fighting with her all the time. Everytime something happens, they both get extremely upset by the whole thing and threaten all sorts of action, but then after a week or so, its all forgotten and it just fades away until the next time.
After this last episode, about 2 weeks ago, he went to see the psychiatrist for the first time and her suggestion was that this child should be away from both her parents as she is caught up in the conflict between them and actually uses it to her advantage - she plays them up against each other very very well. The psychiatrist suggested boarding school which everyone agreed was the best form of action. However, when the mother realised that the child's maintenance payments would be going towards paying the school fees and not coming to her, she put a stop to the whole process and will not allow us to put her into the boarding school. As she has custody, there is not a lot we can do about it.
What worries me most is that this child has a very serious problem and no one is doing anything about it. As the step mother I obviously have no say at all, but its like watching a steamroller coming straight at you and not being able to stop it - I can see what lies ahead for all of them, but I cant get any of them to see it! I am sick with worry for this child but also because I know my husband will absolutely fall apart if something should happen to her.

Reply to Desperately concerned
Posted by: Tiny | 2003/02/25

I just want to comment on this and give you my story. I am also divorced 4 years ago and experience the same problem, but my son is 18 years today and over the past 6 years escalating from minor things like money into bigger things like cars and bikes. He was expelled from school after treatening the teachers first carry an knive and after giving him a final warning he treat them with a gun. Then he decided he is big enough to look after himself and moved in with friends and stated opn a stealing spree. Luckily for him he did not do it himself but he was always available to help strip and get rid of the goods, He made an accident with an 1100cc bike and ran away, but the same friend gave him away and the same will testify in a court case coming, he turned state witness and are fearing for his life.

This is just a very small part of all the stealing and cheat, we can never trust him, we as a family are allways fearing what will disapear next. he also went to a shrink and allways stop the treatment, because he is innocent, he will look into your eyes and with tears explaning his innocence. The fault is allways somewhere else.

To go through something like this there is not enough words to describe my pain and agony as a mother, the suffering, the tears, the begging you name it we went through hell and back. and at this moment waiting on the courtcase, there is not enough words. if I look at the2 eldest, 1 happily married and the older son doing his own thing, I did not experience any problems.

My biggest sympathy to you and your husband, I'm thinking of you, try to contact you nearest largest police station and speak to the person that's dealing with the youth, they have a program that make the younsters aware of crime and the concequences, they experience big succes with it.

I know you pain.

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