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Stepson won’t stop stealing

… and my wife lets him get away with it. You need to get her buy-in, says our elder, and seek professional help. His behaviour could be a cry for attention.

Dear EWC

My stepson steals and lies non stop. He is almost 16. I caught him stealing tobacco and alcohol. He also says he took pictures of my ID and credit cards. We have had talks and many discussions. We had to put up cameras all over the house, put locks on most doors and not leave any belongings out. All tobacco and alcohol are in locked boxes. I left my Nintendo Switch in my car for like 30 minutes. He went to the car then with a book bag and left to go to a friend’s house. Now my Switch is missing. He is adamant he did not take it. We gave him a drug test when he got home which he failed. So we grounded him from electronics. The following three days my wife gave him the laptop to do homework which he was watching TV on and getting on social media, then on Day Four I saw both of them watching a movie in the living room.

It is like any time we set a punishment she feels bad and lets him still do what he is grounded from. Meanwhile I have to keep a key with me and unlock and lock every door I want to go in and out of and my expensive stuff comes up missing. I also have to keep a watchful eye on the cameras. I can’t keep anything out: my keys,my wallet, my mail. When I walk in the house I have to go to my room and lock that stuff up. It is exhausting and seemingly never ending. What can I tell my wife to help her stop letting him out of his punishment?

Lincoln-Parker replies

I think that you are asking the right question, i.e. What can I do to change my wife’s behavior? You won’t change your stepson’s without her buy-in. He is seriously acting out for some reason, and you need to get to the bottom of it. It could be a cry for attention. It could be he needs money for alcohol or drugs, or he has deep-seated issues that require professional help. All of these can be addressed, but only if your wife takes them as seriously as you do.

You don’t say how long you have been in this child’s life, but it sounds like as long as his mother comes to the rescue, he is only mildly concerned about your feelings. It would help if you got it across to her that, uncontrolled, the things that he is doing now will only escalate over the next few years. I speak as a father who raised three kids, all with differing levels of rebellion. As teenagers, the self-control and common sense parts of their brains are under-developed. They can do crazy and unsafe things even when they are correctly disciplined (if anyone knows how to do that). Left to do what they want they may progress to riskier behavior that may ruin or take their lives before they ever realize what has happened.

I know you realize this; how do you get it across to her? I would suggest that you and she get some professional guidance from a child psychologist. Not knowing her, I don’t know how she will react to such a suggestion, but I think you have to try to make her understand that it is first for the love of the child, but also out of respect for you, and the good of the family. Explain that you know a lot of teenagers go through similar issues, but his are growing to a concerning level. The combination of lying and stealing and drugs is a huge issue for a 15-year-old to deal with; it could be a cry for attention that needs to be addressed psychologically.

You are dealing with a lot and acting like a loving stepfather. I know that you won’t give up on him, but you shouldn’t have to live continually worrying about what he might steal next. Keep being patient with him and your wife, but be firm with the need for her to recognize what his actions are doing to the family and how, uncontrolled, they will only become more disruptive.
I wish you luck.

Letter #: 461907
Category: Children

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