Depending on the youth that you work with, stealing might be a problem for some or all of them. If you know stealing is an area a lot of your youth struggle with, this session plan idea can help address the issue.
This kind of youth work session is one that the young people might find hard to be honest in, because they don’t want to admit that they steal things. It’s therefore important to ensure that the youth see the session as a safe environment, one where they can be completely honest and where there’s no judgment about their past behaviors. You could have the opposite problem though – they might lie about how much they steal in order to impress their friends.
This youth work session on stealing may therefore work better in a one-to-one setting – this removes the temptation to not be completely honest due to their peers.
Have the young people identify situations where they steal. This can be done by having them answer the W questions:
- When do they steal: Is it on certain days of the week? Every day?
- Where do they steal: Do they only ever steal from a certain store or from their parents? Or do they steal from anywhere?
- What do they steal: Is it the same item – money, alcohol, food, clothes, etc? Is it something they feel they need or is it something they want or feel they have a right to?
- Who do they steal with: Do they do it alone or with friends or family?
- Why do they steal: This might be one of the hardest questions to answer – you may well get a load of “dunno” answers.
If they’re all able to, have them write down on a piece of paper their answers to all these questions. Some youth may not be good at writing though; if you know that’s the case for some or all of your youth, write down their answers for them on a flipchart.
Have the youth review their answers – can they see any patterns?
- Do they only steal on days they play truant from school? If so, do they skip school on the same day each week? If so, is it because they’re avoiding a certain lesson, either because they aren’t good at it or because there’s a bully in that class? (This could also answer the Why question)
- Is there someone who they always steal with? Do they steal because that’s what the friend wants to do, or does the friend just tag along?
- Is stealing only a problem when they visit a certain store? If so, is it because they love the products in that store, or do they have a negative memory association with that store, so stealing is their way of dealing with the pain?
Once the youth have answered the W questions and reviewed their answers, have them identify ways that they can avoid the temptation to steal:
- By not hanging out with certain friends
- By avoiding certain stores
- By not skipping school
- By getting a job so they can afford to buy want they want
- By dealing with whatever underlying issue is bothering them that makes them want to steal as an outlet for the pain
Try not to give them the answers yourself – it’ll be far more helpful if they can come up with the avoidance measures themselves. If they need some guidance though, ask them some open questions that guide their thinking.
One problem you may encounter with this youth work session on stealing is that the young people don’t actually see a problem with stealing. It’s therefore important to address the natural and logical consequences of their actions.
Give each of them 3 or 4 sheets of paper, with each piece of paper having 4-5 squares on it and arrows from one square to the next. With these, they have to draw out a series of consequences when they steal.
Square 1 – Draw themselves meeting up with a friend they always steal with
Square 2 – Draw them stealing clothes
Square 3 – Draw them getting caught by a security guard
Square 4 – Draw them in front of a judge
Square 5 – Draw them doing community service
The reason they should have 3 or 4 sheets of paper is to take into account that consequences will get progressively worse the more often they are caught. The first sheet may just have them receiving a warning, with subsequent sheets leading to the above-mentioned community service, on to going to jail, not being able to get a job, etc.
Young people can be very short-term thinkers, so they may struggle to come up with possible consequences. If that’s the case, once again try to avoid giving answers yourself; instead, continue to guide them by asking open questions and directing them to the answers.
The more they can consider for themselves their own actions and consequences of stealing, the more likelihood there is that they will change their behavior. Simply saying “Stealing is wrong and you’ll end up in jail if you’re not careful” is unlikely to have much of an impact.
Consequences can still seem intangible until it’s too late. One way of counteracting this is to find out if your local law enforcement has some kind of “Scared Straight” program. This is where youth go into prisons to talk to adult inmates; the inmates describe what life is like in prison in an attempt to “scare straight” the youth.
There are differing opinions in terms of whether this is an effective program, or if it’s actually counterproductive and encourages delinquency.
Depending on the youth you work with, you may find the Reflex program from the UK useful to research. From their website:
Reflex exist to empower children, young people and young adults to break the cycle of offending and reoffending. In 11 prisons, across 5 regions, we equip young people with the skills, confidence and opportunities to realise their full potential.
Reflex deliver Outreach, accredited Non-Formal Education, and through-the-gate Resettlement Mentoring for young people serving a custodial sentence. Using a tried and tested methodology: ‘creative reflection – positive expression’, Reflex help young people reflect creatively on their lives and positively express their hopes for the future.
If your young people do struggle with this issue, it might be worth addressing stealing in future youth work sessions, as it’s unlikely that the problem will be solved after just one session.
If you’ve found this helpful, you may also like our other youth work session plan ideas.
Question: How would you address the issue of stealing in a youth work session? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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