Confession: I Was a Teenage Shoplifter
Written by Bec* 14 years, Melbourne
Shoplifting, stealing, borrowing, taking, pinching, natching, robbing; there are countless names for it, but there is only one meaning: to steal goods from a shop without paying for them. Think stealing is a fun, harmless pastime? Think again.
89% of kids say they know other kids who shoplift. 66% say they hang out with those kids. I am one of those kids. People at my school shoplifted, my friends shoplifted – and I shoplifted.
The First Time I Stole
I stole for the first time on my 13th birthday. I had gone into the city with friends. We’d only been there for an hour when my friend suggested that we pinch something.
Just thinking about it gave me shivers. She said that she’d done it before, and it was easy.
“Just go in there, pick what you want, take off the tag then put it in your bag”, she told me.
Simple as that.
But it didn’t go according to plan. Once I found what I wanted – a tub of moisturiser – I dropped it into my bag and continued nervously walking around the shop. Suddenly I realised I had forgotten to take off the tag. I quickly grabbed a piece of clothing, went into the change rooms and began to frantically scratch off as much of the sticker as I could.
My friend soon poked her head in, and said, “the shopkeepers are suspicious, hurry up!”
I calmly walked out, handed the shop assistant the item of clothing and cautiously left the shop. I held my breath as I passed the security buzzers. They didn’t go off. The girls behind the counter watched every move, and I felt like they knew for sure that I’d taken something.
Once on the street, I experienced a whole range of emotions. The first time is so exhilarating – you can’t believe that you’ve done it. There is no other feeling like it. It’s like a big fast truck of happiness has just hit you straight smack, bang in the face! You feel like yelling and telling the whole world.
But this amazing feeling didn’t last for long. I started to feel guilty, stressed, sad, and angry. I felt like there was a wave of emotional pain running over me again, and again. But despite the guilt, I started to crave the next shoplifting high. It was like a drug.
Later that day, we went to another shopping centre. This one was big and heavy with security, but we were confident and ready to take it to the next level.
We chose a makeup and cosmetics store as our target. When we entered there was no one behind the counter, so we took our chance and acted fast. At first, I wasn’t scared or nervous about getting caught but then suddenly I couldn’t take it anymore so I went outside and waited. When Mum came to pick us up, I felt so awful.
When you’ve done something bad, confessing can feel so shameful, and usually leads to punishment. Luckily for me, my experience wasn’t so bad.
For a long time after my first shoplifting experience, it felt like I had a giant raincloud above my head, following me around everywhere, making me feel terrible. It bothered me so much that I just had to tell Mum. One day in the car, I just blurted out the whole story and told her that I wasn’t planning on doing it again.
I said that I felt really guilty, and I didn’t want it to keep this secret anymore.
I was scared because I didn’t know how she would react. She told me that she was happy that I told her because it was very brave.
She also said that when she was younger she had done it as well and that a lot of people will try it out. This was comforting, in a way.
In the last year, I’ve made some new friends, and about a month ago, we went out on a shopping day to the city. That day was the beginning of a new phase. I felt like on that day we became shoplifting addicts.
This time, we stole from all different types of stores (including a sports-wear and a lingerie shop). Rumour had it these particular stores had hardly any security or cameras. That day I wasn’t even thinking about getting caught, I was so caught up in the moment.
On the day I got caught, a friend and I had shoplifted over 10 things from 3 different stores. We felt so invincible that we decided to go back to a store that we had stolen from before.
Just as I had slipped a notebook into my bag, and moved to walk out of the store, the shop assistant stopped me. She asked if she could look into my bag. I began to panic.
She pulled out all the stolen items from my bag, placed them on the table and asked if I had a receipt. I started to make up ridiculous lies like “my friend has it”, “I put it in the bin” and “I must have dropped it”.
I tried to apologise, but she just ignored me. “I’ve called security so you’ll have to stay here”, she said.
I waited for about 15 minutes for the security people to come. It felt like forever. When they arrived, I was completely freaking out.
The security guards asked me what happened. I was honest. I told them I had tried to steal all the items in my bag. The security team calmly walked me out of the shop, past all the other staring customers. It was the most embarrassing experience of my life. I felt like they were all disgusted by my behaviour.
The security guards told the shopkeeper that she had three options; call the police and press charges, call my parents, or just to let me go with a warning.
She decided to call my mum. While I was waiting for Mum to arrive, I tried to pay for as many of the stolen items as I could afford. I was lucky – there were no charges pressed against me, and nothing put on my criminal record.
On the car ride home, Mum and I were completely silent.
When we got home, Mum asked me to bring everything out of my room that I had ever stolen and put in on the lounge table. I didn’t at first, but after a few days I felt so guilty that I brought it all out.
Mum asked me to write and explain why I chose to shoplift. When I started writing, I realised that I didn’t really have any logical reasons to do it. I have everything a person at my age needs – a good home, food, shelter and support from my parents. I even have enough money to go shopping.
Most of the things I stole I didn’t really want or didn’t fit. I think I shoplifted because I was impulsive, careless, and looking for a thrill. After stealing just one thing, you couldn’t resist stealing another. And another. And another.
Mum asked me to find out the cost of everything I stole, then go back to the shop and pay for them. The most expensive goods I had stolen were from the lingerie shop – $175 worth.
One day after school I went the lingerie shop with my savings. When I got in line for the cash register, I felt like I was going to throw up. I was so scared, but as soon as I said my name, the shop assistant knew exactly who I was – Mum had rung ahead to let the store know I was coming.
I had made a list of everything I stole, and the cost. I handed it to shopkeeper along with the money. She put it through the register and handed me the receipt. As I was about to leave I told her how dreadfully sorry I was.
“Well, I hope you learnt your lesson”, she replied. Trust me I have.
After walking out of the shop, I felt so good. I felt like I had nothing to hide, and that I had done the right thing. Thinking back, I was so stupid to even think of stealing things because nothing good ever comes from doing something so wrong.
Yeah, you might get ‘free’ stuff but most of that stuff you don’t even need. Plus, there is always the guilt at the back of your mind. I still feel ashamed about what I did and nothing could ever make me want to steal again. No way.
Ultimately, nothing you do or say will make shoplifting acceptable – because the reality is, those things will never actually belong to you.
*Name/s have been changed
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