Care and Feeding

My 8-Year-Old Nephew Is an Eager Thief. His Parents Don’t Care.

Even after they discovered that he had taken his friend’s electronic device, they let him use it.

Child's hand on a pile of chocolate chip cookies.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an 8-year-old nephew who apparently has been stealing from family and friends. He took an electronic device after visiting a friend’s house recently; upon discovering this, his parents still let him use the device and said they would return it later. He has also stolen food from classmates at school (I have no idea if any teachers intervened) and has bragged about taking money from home to buy a treat for himself.

I have not witnessed any of these incidents, but I am very concerned, as are other members of the family. I know that I cannot intervene in how his parents discipline him, but our family was raised to never lie or steal. I think if his grandfather (my brother) knew about these incidents and how his parents are (not) handling them, he would be appalled. If it means anything, my nephew is on the autism spectrum and has a primary immunodeficiency diagnosis. There seems to be nothing I can do, and I’m not about to “tell” his grandfather about these incidents.

—Concerned Aunt

Dear CA,

While you certainly have a right to be concerned, I wonder how much you know about what your nephew’s parents have, in fact, done to correct his behavior. Is it that they aren’t “handling” him, or are they addressing his deeds in a manner that is unfamiliar to you? The sort of response that you might deem appropriate may not work for a child with his various diagnoses.

I think the best thing to do would be to engage this boy’s parents in sincere conversation about your concerns, letting them know that you wish to be supportive without overstepping any boundaries, and to extend yourself to them accordingly. I would not assume that they are simply confused or indifferent to the importance of not stealing; rather, it sounds like they are dealing with a child who perhaps requires different parenting than they might have needed themselves, and I’m sure you’d do more good by offering to be a listening ear or an ally than by showing up with a barrage of criticism and/or running to complain to your brother that his grandchild is being raised poorly. Best of luck to you all.