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Play Dates Gone Bad: What do you do when your kid’s friend is a thief?

What the hell do you do when one of your kid’s buddies is a teeny tiny thief?  A play date that ends with juvenile delinquency is definitely a play date gone bad.

I am torn, because, normally, (and especially, recently, with the holiday madness), my husband and I try to encourage generosity and minimal materialism with our kids. While we DO buy them gifts and they do have a LOT of stuff, we also try to instill in them an appreciation of what they have, and the understanding that we cannot and will not just buy them whatever they want, whenever they want. We say no to their requests for stuff quite often, and we require them to sift through their old stuff fairly regularly and choose items to donate, before they can get new stuff. While we are not poor we are by no means rich, and even if we were I would like to think we would control ourselves enough to not spoil the children into horrible, greedy little humans. I guess I would say, in terms of material stuff, they are pretty average for American children growing up in a middle class home. But even though we don’t want our boys to be driven by unbridled materialism, it drives me absolutely bonkers that one of my son’s friends comes over to play and always leaves my house with something that isn’t his tucked into a pocket, his backpack, or right there in his hot little hand as he’s walking out the door. Is it just me? Maybe it shouldn’t bother me but…WTF is that?

The ironic thing is that it all began with my son giving this kid a toy to take home. It was one of those hand held electronic LeapFrog Leapster game thingies, and I am telling you when I saw him hand it over to his pal and say, “Here, you can have this,” I was both beaming with pride and absolutely horrified. I mean, on the one hand, my six-year-old son was willingly and without being prompted handing over a material possession to another child. Score one for raising a cool kid! On the other hand, I had paid $75 for that thing, not to mention the many game cartridges I was also compelled to purchase, and my child was just handing it over as if it were a piece of gum. Granted, my son had not played with the thing in months, having moved on to a tablet (NOT an ipad, but a cheap version of a tablet), and chances are he was not going to ever really play with the Leapster again. Still…it wasn’t cheap, and I wondered if a day would come when the tablet was lost or broken and he would ask me, “Mom, where’s my Leapster?” Would he feel regret when I reminded him that he handed it over to his friend on a whim, or would he simply say, “Oh yeah,” and move on? And does it even matter? Maybe it would be good for him to miss it, and I could remind him of how generous it was to give something to a friend. Teachable moment, anyone?

After his friend left, I commended my son for being so generous and sweet, and said I was impressed at how easily he had given away a toy that he liked so much. Then I asked him to think carefully when he wants to give something away, and just be sure he is ok with not having it anymore because once you give something away you cannot ask for it back. Jeez…did I do the right thing? I don’t know.

But here’s the tricky part. Ever since then, every time this particular friend of his comes over for a play date, he leaves our house with his pockets stuffed. I mean, literally, the kid heads out our door with shit in his pockets, on his wrists, around his neck, and stuffed into his backpack. The first time he came over after the Leapster incident, he held up some toy and asked my son, “Can I have this?” I could tell my son was torn – his face was telling me he wanted to say no, but he struggled with saying no to his friend. I stepped in (maybe I shouldn’t have) and simply said, “You are welcome to play with all of the toys while you are here, but the toys stay here.” I could tell my son was grateful. That day, after his friend left, I reinforced with my son that he could say no when his friend asked to take his stuff. I told him that just because he had given him the Leapster did not mean that he always had to give him something. Since then I have tried to stay out of it, in the hopes that my son will find his voice and speak up when his friend tries to take things. But so far, all I have seen is his buddy rushing out the door laden down with stuff that doesn’t belong to him. And here’s the kicker: I volunteered in my son’s classroom recently and there was his buddy, wearing a wristband I had given to my older son as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. Somehow, he found his way to my other son’s stuff too! At the dinner table just last night my older son lamented this kid being invited to my younger son’s birthday party, asking, “Why would you want to invite him to your party? All he does is steal our stuff.”  Oh boy.

Am I crazy, or is this out of hand? I mean, the kid is a sweet kid.  Maybe his parents don’t know what he is doing. I hope they don’t, because if they do and are choosing to ignore it, well…I guess that explains a lot. If it were my kid and I knew about it, I would make him return every single item and tell him that pillaging his friend’s stuff is NOT the purpose of a play date. You know, that whole thou shall not steal business…it’s a pretty good rule after all.

I hope this pint-sized kleptomaniac is not causing my son too much distress. If I find out he is, I will have to decide whether to step in. Will I speak with the kid directly, again? Will I contact his parents? Or will I let it go and hope that my son will step up when it gets to the point that he cannot live with it anymore? I am not sure. Freaking kids, man.

But I am sure that I am proud of my son, either way. He is generous and kind and super kick ass…most of the time.  I hope to God he is not pilfering goods at any of his friends’ houses without my knowledge. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?


4 replies
  1. G'Chuk
    G'Chuk says:

    My blood is boiling a bit. I can feel myself hot under the collar. I commend you for letting this go and maybe writing about it is cathartic for you. I think I would have stepped in by now. It would be killing me to let that kid get away with it. I’d like to think I would let my kid handle it but I’d have a tough time letting it happen more than one time. I can easily see myself stopping the kid at the door and point blank asking him what that is on his wrist, etc. Saying “Did my son give you those toys to take home?” just to see what he says. If he said yes and it was clear the answer was no then I would press further. If I felt he was lying then I would have to the tell the parent. But before I would probably ask my son after the kid left to verify first.

  2. Gatsby1a
    Gatsby1a says:

    I agree with G – If your son doesn’t always realize what is going out the door with his buddy – maybe you need to step and speak to him again – and inform his parents about it. Sometimes direct conflict is a lot to expect from a 6 year old?

  3. fi
    fi says:

    I Would talk to the kids parents in addition to talking to my son and the other child. I think it is typical to go through a learning period with this type of situation. They can learn to lend instead of giving stuff away permanently.

  4. Ethel Lee-Miller
    Ethel Lee-Miller says:

    Next time the sticky finger child is over and is ready to walk out with something not his own, gently stop him, kneel down, put out your hand and say, “Talky toy ( or whatever it’s called) needs to stay at his home. You can play with it again the next time you come.” Thank him for giving it back even if you have to wrest it from his hand. He has not reached the age of reason and operates on impulse, and of course will do something wrong if he really wants something. He’s 6.


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