16 February 2012

Why Kids Have Parents

Kids usually don't think before they steal, but you can bet 13-year-old Natia Wade never thought she'd end up standing on the corner of a busy intersection holding up a hand-written sign that read, "I steal from my family." Wade, who lives in Memphis, ended up there after she racked up a record of taking things—mostly small, inconsequential things—without asking her mom. Apparently the final straw was when she took her mom's debit card and used it to reactivate her cell phone, which he mom had taken away.
Natia's aunt, Lauren Scales, was standing outside with her, and told the local news that she wasn't happy to have to shame the girl in public, but that she needed to learn a lesson.
Don't get me wrong because you never want to put your child in this situation because they're fragile. But with all of the things that are going on with kids stealing things and all the crime being committed in Memphis, she will not be one of them.
For her part, Natia does look chastened, but she said she didn't really know what she was doing was wrong. Who knows if this will have any lasting impact on her sticky fingers, but let's hope that public shaming doesn't become the next big thing in parenting—or we'll have kids with signs everywhere we look and dads shooting up laptops left and right.

When my sister was four, she decided to steal a pencil from a Christian bookstore.  When my mom found out, she took her back to the store and made her return the pencil.  Then my mom took my sister to the police station and threatened to leave her there, with all the other thieves.  Since my sister was all of four at the time, the mere thought of not being with her parents, plus living with the shame of being a thief, was enough to scare her and make her cry.  This lesson took on the first attempt, and never had to be taught again.

The thing that snarky feminists and well-meaning non-parents alike need to understand that fear and shame are the two most powerful tools in the parents’ toolbox.  Fear and shame are extremely powerful motivators, and parents need to make the most of them.

Another thing that people need to learn is that crimes always start small. People start their life of crime with murder, or by burning a house.  They start with considerably smaller, similarly revealing pathologies.  The same is true of thieves.  Does anyone think that the person who just knocked over a convenience store never stole from his family when he was a kid?  Does anyone think that the person caught shoplifting never took things that didn’t belong to her when she was a child?

These pathologies start young and need to be eliminated as soon as they arise.  Instilling aversion to these practices can be easily accomplished by ensuring that your child feels an intense amount of fear or shame.  There’s no need to understand why kids steal, or listen to the rationalizations they make for their behavior.  There’s no reason to excuse a child’s theft.  The only thing that is necessary is making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that such behavior will not be tolerated.

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