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Will Your Child Grow Up To Be A Thief?

Will Your Child Grow Up To Be A Thief?

Acceptable stealing -- such as lying about a child's age to gain cheaper admission -- communicates an indelible lesson.

by

I recently heard a story told by Rabbi Label Lam. A father gets a call from his son's principal:

"Mr. Gottlieb, I'm afraid we have a little problem with your son, Davie. You see, he's been stealing pencils at school."

"Pencils? My Davie has been stealing pencils? I don't know why. I bring him all the pencils he needs from the office!"

Stealing has many forms. There is stealing that most law-abiding citizens would never consider, such as robbing a bank or taking a friend's camera. Then there is stealing that "everybody" engages in, so it's not considered really stealing.

If Mr. Gottlieb can bring home a briefcase full of office supplies, why can't Davie fill his backpack with school supplies too?

But if Mr. Gottlieb can bring home a briefcase full of office supplies, why can't Davie fill his backpack with school supplies too?

A group of high school students was asked, "How many of you would shoplift if you were assured you wouldn't get caught?" An alarming number raised their hands. When asked how they could justify such behavior, many said that stores expect a certain amount of shoplifting and figure that into their budget. So shoplifting isn't really hurting anyone's pocketbook (!) because it's expected, they reasoned.

ACCEPTABLE STEALING

If you are bothered by their reasoning, consider how you might answer the following questions:

  • Have you ever told your child as he leaves the house to drive back to college after Thanksgiving vacation to call you collect to let you know he has arrived safely, but you don't plan to accept the charges?

  • Do you report truthfully ALL of your income to the IRS?

  • Do you honestly reveal all of your assets on financial aid forms?

  • Have you ever lied about your child's age to get a reduced admission to a movie, amusement park or concert?

 

If we want to train our children to be honest it will be the "little things" that count. Children who learn to be meticulous with the little things will be meticulous with the big things as well.

I once heard of a person who would not reuse an uncancelled stamp because he did not want to steal from the post office.

Another story tells of small item left on a windowsill of a yeshiva classroom. Years later one of the students noticed that the item was still there.

A group of high school boys wanted to have a car wash fundraiser in one of the boy's backyard. The family rented their apartment and the landlord paid for the water. The father insisted that they ask the landlord's permission since the excessive water use could be considered stealing.

The boys had not even considered this issue but it made a great impact on the son, who said later that he kept that incident in his mind and would recall it whenever he was tempted to make some money dishonestly.

A higher concept of honesty is developed in children by the everyday lessons they are taught by their parents.

A higher concept of honesty is developed in children by the everyday lessons they are taught by their parents.

If you would like to know what everyday messages you've communicated to your children, try the following little test:

Ask them if they could get into the best Ivy League school by passing a test which was easy to cheat on would they do it? What do they think you would want them to do?

If your children are too young to make sense of that question, you have time to take stock and make amendments to behavior if needed. After all, nobody wants their child to grow up to be a thief.

 

Published: February 26, 2000


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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Grace Fuertes, October 3, 2004 12:00 AM

Great help!

I was trying to research on a specific topic I wish to submit in a local newspaper when I stumbled at your article. Indeed, I agree that examples: bad or good examples we (parents) show has a great impact to the children.

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