John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 08.22.11
Cobden, Ontario


If your child steals, what will you do about it?

If your daughter surreptitiously takes $450 from your purse and spends it, will you consider it stealing?

What will you do if your son -- without permission -- charges $450 worth of iPod games to your credit card?

Consider this actual situation:

A lad, going on nine, is away from home on a summer visit. He has his iPod. His mother's credit card is on her account. There are games he wants to play, and she is not there to say "No!"

Some $450 in charges later, Mom finds out that half of the money she had earmarked for monthly necessities is gone -- gamed out.

The money did not come out of her purse, but it came out of her dwindling bank account. Without her knowledge or permission.

Do you consider this stealing?

What would you do, faced with this situation?

I asked my four sons and their wives, some grandchildren, plus other relatives and friends, what they would do.

Some interesting responses...

One respondent said "not nearly enough info here to make an intelligent decision." Another said "Tough one. Many variables to know before handing down the sentence."

One Dad said: "Ouch. For starters the mother changes her iTunes password and doesn't reveal it so it cannot happen again...and she could call iTunes and see if they are willing to do 'sympathetic' credit of some sort."

Another Dad (of four) had this to say: "I've actually called J. out on charging iTunes songs to my credit card, but nothing to this extent. It's very tempting at $1 a song. I've told him to just ask. As for this situation, I would cancel the account, hide my credit card, and confiscate the device(s) for a designated period of time. The kid would then work off the $ owed through uncomplaining manual labour. Oh, and there'd be yelling..."

A married lady, without children of her own but who has several young nieces, said: "She may be able to get the charges refunded because he is under age. Then ground the little sucker till he's 18!"

A mother of three: "What an awful situation. The iPod and games should be sold to cover the monthly loss and teach the boy a valuable lesson."

Another mother of three, all very web savvy: "I would create a time frame for the to be repaid, a mix of allowance and chores (over and beyond the routine expected chores). And perhaps edit access to the credit card!"

Other parents, and grandparents were far tougher. For example:

  • Dispute the charge as it was an unauthorized use of her card.
  • Return the iPod games and make the iPod disappear.
  • Take the boy for an interview with a responsible law enforcement official and have him counseled about what this type of action can result in.
  • Determine some type of penalty as a consequence for what he did. Although a still a child, he would know better. (Of course, if the parent excused him continually and never had taught him that there were responsibilities for what you do, the grandparents should give the mother a dope-slap)
  • Or (in the spirit of a partial jest) you could just beat the kid with an ugly stick.

Two grandparents, who have raised two sons, then two grandsons looked at it this way, after a half-century of child-raising: "If the mother allowed her child to have access to the credit card she should have had a long talk with him regarding what the credit card could be used for. He should have explained to him that the next credit card he has will be his own. Make him aware that a credit card is not a magical money card and the bill has to be paid and the family has to bite the bullet and live on even less until the debt is cleared. Take the iPad away from him for a certain period of time. The next time the mother thinks a child should have a credit card, get him a debit card with an amount she can afford. Then when the money is gone the child will be financially broke."

One thing stood out from the responses I received, both verbally and via e-mail: The younger the person, the less apt they were to judge the act 'stealing', and the younger the parent, the less harsh the remedy.


She has stripped both boys' savings accounts to partly cover her loss. She has menu plans for the remainder of the month that mostly include lots of Ramen noodles for dinner. The boys will both have to take lunches to school (no hot lunches) and she's working out other horrific punishments. Removing the iPods from their possession is high on the list, of course. And maybe grounding for a while."

And you, Grumbles, what would you do?

The iPod and the games would vanish. The boy would have to repay the $450 -- in cash and in ill-compensated labor. No computer games and restricted TV access for a certain time, which would be enforced. A written essay about what happened and what he felt about it, following discussions about misappropriation of things that are not his/yours, and personal responsibility and consequences. And, yes, some grounding.

Tough love is a good thing, eh?

And the cop idea appeals to me, too.