My Son Has Been Stealing Money from Us for Years. How Can I Get Him to Stop?

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 50s and work as a company employee. I need advice regarding my son, who is in high school. Since elementary school, he has been taking money from my husband’s wallet and mine, too, and withdrawing hundreds of thousands of yen from our bank account.

As he entered junior high and high school, he learned our credit card numbers and began using them for in-game purchases and shopping. The amount he has spent totals more than ¥1 million. I warn him each time, but there’s little sign of remorse, and I’m at my wits’ end.

I have given him an allowance comparable to or more than the amount provided by the average family, but he spends the money as soon as he gets it. Recently, there have been a number of incidents in his school classroom in which money has disappeared, and I suspect that my son may be responsible.

He is cheerful and has many friends. We have many conversations and go on outings as a family.

As he prepares to make his own way in the world, I feel very anxious. How should I support him in the future?

— H

Dear Ms. H:

It must be painful to see that despite your long-standing efforts to guide and care for him, the problem persists. This situation has been ongoing since elementary school, with no signs of remorse and an inability to exercise self-control.

The lack of ethical conflict and shame may suggest developmental or mental issues. Your son’s kleptomania may go beyond the realm of parental discipline and correction. Given your use of the term “support,” this is likely something you’ve anticipated.

He needs not only to reflect on his actions and express himself, but learn financial management skills and become aware of his kleptomania. Tell your son, “I’m genuinely worried about your future if this continues,” to raise awareness so that three of you can take immediate action to find solutions.

I recommend that you talk to local developmental disorder consultation services or psychological counselors to gather information. Then, question your son thoroughly about the thefts occurring in his classroom. Do not let the issues fade away unresolved.

The help of experts will undoubtedly be beneficial for your son to develop self-control.

— Tomomi Fujiwara, writer