Caught in the Act: The Thrill and Risks of High School Shoplifting

Collected, calm feet make their way to the door, eyes unconcerned like there is all the time in the world. A steady step, relaxed hands, not a crease between the brows, everything about their demeanor screaming confident and dispassionate, all the makings of a perfect, petty thief. Nothing is safe once a high school student enters a convenience store:

“I’ve taken everything, food, I’ve taken clothing, I’ve taken legos, I think I’ve taken a basketball, just whatever happens to be around that I want,” said a B-CC senior. When asked why, they simply responded, “I didn’t want to pay for it.” 

They are not alone. Other students admit to stealing things as little as lip balm and packets of skittles, telling the same tale: “I didn’t want to pay for it,” or “I didn’t think my parents would buy it for me,” a B-CC senior and junior said, respectively. 

While it is plausible that a portion of B-CC’s students do not have the cash to pay for lunch or little trinkets, much of the school’s population does not fall into that category. 

If not for financial gain, why shoplift and risk the consequences? “I think people shoplift because they want to be edgy and break the rules and because they think it’s cool,” said a B-CC junior. In contrast, a sophomore stated, “I think people just do it for the thrill. The rush of adrenaline that goes with it.”

While shoplifting is a crime, it is a very low-stakes offense, making it the perfect act of rebellion against societal pressures and parental expectations. Kevin Cahill, a licensed criminal defense attorney, believes this is one of the causes for shoplifting, saying, “Some people steal in pursuit of adrenaline rush. While shoplifting and immediately after, many shoplifters experience what they describe as a ‘high’ or a ‘rush.’ The adrenaline rush that may accompany shoplifting can become addicting, and many shoplifters report feeling unable to stop” in the article Why Do People Shoplift. “Teens may shoplift in response to pressure from their peers. Young people often shoplift to gain status among their friends, or to feel accepted by a group of friends or gang,” Cahill wrote when citing another cause for shoplifting as “peer pressure.” 

But shoplifting is not without its consequences. The police do not investigate thefts of under 1,000 dollars, but that is only if you escape undetected. If you are caught, and the police are called, they may issue citations, or you may be charged with misdemeanor petty theft or other felony charges depending on the value of what you are stealing. However, most stores do not press charges as the cost of doing so outweighs the cost of the items stolen. Still, schools may take disciplinary action against students caught shoplifting. 

“We all do stupid things in our youth, so hopefully we learn important lessons [from the consequences of shoplifting] and never do illegal stuff again,” said B-CC teacher Mr. O’Halloran.