Teenage Thief

December 15th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

Question:

 For 10 months I have employed a 13 year old boy to do yard work.  He is very bright, borrows my books which we discuss off work time.  Unfortunately it has just been confirmed that over time when he uses the bathroom he has been stealing from me.  When I started to suspect I set a trap. 

 When confronted he denied but later confessed claiming his parents take all the money he earns.  This may or may not be true and honestly I’m not sure about the parental situation. I do know if he was my 13 year old son I would have met his employer.  Of course restitution is a given but what other advice would you have to handle this properly and effectively.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Dave

Answer: 

Dear B.L.,

Dear Dave,

You are a good man. That’s our conclusion from the fact that you are concerned for this boy. Clearly, you aren’t happy with simply muttering, “What’s the world coming to.” If you are expecting restitution, than either you are meeting his parents or planning to have the boy work for you until he pays off his debt.

You know as well as we do that, “My parents take what I earn,” is not an excuse for stealing or for lying about stealing. It seems you see potential in this boy and perhaps realize that you can be a pivotal influence in his future life.

You have the opportunity to let this boy know that he did something wrong, but that he has the free choice to make better decisions in the future. Perhaps ask him if he prefers A-being fired or B-working to pay off everything he stole.  Let him choose.  If he chooses B, pay him at the end of each work session as usual and then have him pay you back there and then, 75% of his earnings till he has made you whole. You can also expose him to a worldview that features better decisions by showing him the difference between short term gain and long term gain.

Some questions you might want to think about: Would you meeting his parents be a help or hindrance in his progress? What sorts of books do you share with him and discuss? Can that be an avenue for providing him with a moral worldview? Are you concerned that staying in touch with this boy might in some way have negative repercussions for you or your family?

These are all ideas for you to consider, but we would defer to your gut instinct in making a decision. This can well be a turning point in this boy’s life.

Keep us in the picture,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

 

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8 comments

Lynn says:

I hope Dave does let you know how this turns out. Being able to have a part in this young boys future could be pivotal and Dave will grow also through the relationship.

rdlapin says:

Yes, I also hope so, Lynn,
but you can’t force a boy to learn so if he wants to, Dave is obviously willing to help. If not……well, sad. That is why we suggested giving the boy the opportunity to consciously make a choice..repair or quit.
Cordially
RDL

Mary Johnson says:

I would never have thought of the 25% payment. Is that biblical? If not, very wise.

rdlapin says:

Dear Mary–
The amount of 25% is not Biblically specified but the concept of guiding him in the direction you’d want him to go, is. Were Dave to confiscate 100% of the boy’s earnings, he’d have little incentive (beyond wanting to do the right thing which he has already demonstrated he has trouble with)
Thanks for writing
Cordially
RDL

Stan says:

The child could very well say the man was stealing 75% of his wages at the end of each day. To prevent this from happening I’d want to inform the parents and put a few things in writing, making sure the parents sign it. This way the parents and the child couldn’t turn on the kind hearted man later on and accuse him of wrong doing.

rdlapin says:

You’re right Stan-
terrible to think that a good deed might have problematic consequences as you describe.
Cordially
RDL

There are few things more powerful in this world than a man willing to forgive and allow restitution for the sake of uplifting the offender. I had a great platoon sergeant in the army that often had to give punishments to his men. Once your debt was paid it was as if it never happened in his mind, words and actions. Even those with more serious offenses were always afforded the same treatment. Many of these men remained in contact with him until his untimely death. What an opportunity to be a real hero, who knows what great dividends this will pay for others to come.

Susan Lapin says:

What a great story! What a great man.

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