THE EFFECT OF STEALING AMONG STUDENTS: CAUSES AND REMEDIES

Stealing

Abstract

Although stealingi among adolescents appears to be fairly common, an assessment of adolescent stealingi and its relationship to other behaviors and health issues is incompletely understood. A large sample of high school students (n=3999) was examined using a self-report survey with 153 questions concerning demographic characteristics, stealing behaviors, other health behaviors including substance use, and functioning variables such as grades and violent behavior. The overall prevalence of stealing was 15.2% (95%CI: 14.8–17.0). Twenty-nine (0.72%) students endorsed symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of DSM-IV kleptomania. Poor grades, alcohol and drug use, regular smoking, sadness and hopelessness, and other antisocial behaviors were all significantly (p<.05) associated with any stealing behavior. Stealingi appears fairly common among high school students and is associated with a range of potentially addictive and antisocial behaviors. Significant distress and loss of control over this behavior suggests that stealingi often has significant associated morbidity.

INTRODUCTION

The lifetime prevalence of stealingi appears fairly high. A recent, large epidemiological study of adults found that 11.3% of the general population admitted to having shoplifted in their lifetimes.1 This finding is consistent with estimates by the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention that 1 in 11 (9.1%) people have shoplifted during their lifetime. Stealingi in adults has been associated with other antisocial behaviors, psychiatric comorbidity (e.g., substance use disorders, pathological gambling, and bipolar disorder), and impaired psychosocial functioning. Stealing appears to start generally in childhood or adolescence, with approximately 66% of individuals who reported lifetime stealing beginning before age 15 years.

Despite the early age of onset of stealing, as well as the significant adult morbidity associated with this behavior, stealing among adolescents has historically received relatively little attention from clinicians and researchers. Limited research suggests that adolescents who steal have impairments in problem-solving skills and a cognitive bias toward inappropriate solutions to problems. Other research suggests that parent-child difficulties, school failure, and negative peer influences underlie adolescent stealingi.

Although stealing may be fairly common, it is unclear how many adolescents who steal suffer from kleptomania. Kleptomania, characterized by a diminished ability to resist recurrent impulses to steal objects that are not needed for their monetary or personal use, has been relatively understudied across the lifespan and particularly in adolescents with propensities for stealingi In the present study, we assessed a large sample of public high school students regarding stealingi behaviors. Although previous research suggests that stealingi and antisocial behaviors are linked, no study has systematically examined the relationship of stealingi to a range of behaviors and health functioning. Given the incomplete data on the co-occurrence of stealingi and other variables among young people, the purpose of this study was to fill these gaps in knowledge. Specifically, we sought to: 1) examine the prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of different severity levels of stealing in adolescents; 2) investigate health correlates in high school students who steal; and 3) examine the different severity levels and clinical characteristics of stealing and determine differences in students whose stealingi merits the diagnosis of kleptomania. Recognizing possible differences in stealingi severity among adolescents may have clinical and health implications. It is also important to recognize associations between stealing and health variables as identifying and treating the stealing behavior may significantly improve the prognosis of other behaviors.