Shoplifting is not a game or sport. It is theft! It has serious consequences for both the child and the parent or guardian. If the value of the merchandise taken is less than or equal to $400, the crime is petty theft. The first time it is punishable as a misdemeanor with a fine of at least $50 but not more than $1000, or imprisonment in the country jail not exceeding six months, or both. The second time it is punishable as a felony with imprisonment in the country jail or the state prison not exceeding one year. If the value of the merchandise taken is more than $400, the crime is grand theft, which is punishable as a felony the first time. Judges can order parents or guardians to pay these fines for their minor children.

For petty thefts by an un-emancipated minor, California Penal Code Sec. 490.5(b) makes parents or legal guardians liable to the merchant for civil damages of not less than $50 nor more than $500, plus costs. In addition, parents or guardians are liable for the full retail value of the things taken if they are not recovered in a merchantable condition. Total damages are limited to $500 for each action brought under this section.

Signs that your child might be shoplifting include: wearing new clothes or jewelry, or possessing items that you know he or she does not have money to buy; finding tags or package wrapping hidden in the trash; wearing baggy clothes or jackets when it is warm; and leaving the house with an empty backpack or large purse. Some of the things a parent or guardian can do to prevent shoplifting include the following: teaching that shoplifting is theft and that it is wrong to steal; telling your child that being in the company of a shoplifter is as bad as stealing, and that all persons involved can be punished; encouraging your child to choose friends carefully; knowing your children's friends; keeping your child busy to minimize unsupervised free time; and perhaps as a last resort, enrolling your child in a shoplifting prevention class. You can get information on this and other classes, workshops, and programs for juveniles and parents by calling the Corrective Behavior Institute at (619) 528-9001.