Questions About Punishment

Dear Sara,

I am so upset. My sixteen year old son and his two friends stole a car. He said it was a really cool sports car and the owner had left the keys inside. They decided that they would “borrow” the car, take it for a ride and no one would even notice because it was dark outside. Well the owner did notice and called the police. They were on the way back to return the car and the police pulled them over. We had to get a lawyer and go down to juvenile hall and get him released. He has to do community service and realizes that he made a big mistake. We won’t let him drive for the next six months which is really a punishment because he has to take the school bus to school and he hates that. Should I add more punishment or is this enough?

Dear Oma,

I can see how this would be very upsetting. Your son sounds like he is in general a responsible teen and the temptation of getting to ride in a “cool” car was more than he could resist. He wasn’t planning on keeping it or selling it. If he does his community service and loses his driving privilege for six months, that might be enough punishment as long as he doesn’t get into any more trouble. One mistake does not make a career criminal. Take a wait and see attitude. It sounds like things will work out all right.


  1. Agree! Seems like this is adequate punishment. Hope he learns a great lesson from this “mistake.” Every choice has a consequence. Thankfully, no one was injured or this could have turned out much worse!

  2. Big Jake says:

    When I was 17, I had a not so similar experience which produced a similar outcome. I was doing 55 in a 25 zone and I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the cop as I went past him. He followed me home, right into the driveway and asked for my father to come out to talk to him. He knew me and knew my father. There were no tickets issued and no punishment by the police, the policeman left that up to my parents. I lost driving privileges, I don’t remember how long, but it seemed like for ever. That was 50 years ago. Loosing driving privileges was enough punishment as I had to make my own way around. I learned my lesson. I am sure my parents had some more tricks up their sleeves if I should be “bad” again, but that did not happen. Give the kid a break, the parents can always adjust the punishment as they see fit if he gets out of line. They just need to make the boundary conditions known to him before hand.

  3. Granny in Ga says:

    And see that he does NOT keep hanging out with those friends. He needs to dump them.

  4. Total justice takes three steps. Shame, Restitution and Discipline.
    Shame for his actions can really hit homes with questions, but it should also include a public apology to the car owner.
    Restitution to the car owner for what he did. This could be cutting his grass and other yard work supervised by his parents. The same should be done with the other teens as well.
    Does he have a drivers license? I would take that from him, along with any ability to use the car, except to clean it.
    The bus may be the punishment he needs, but ask him, “If you were me, what would you punish yourself with?” Kids can many times punish themselves worse than what parents can think of, because we are not of the same generation, and taking his game privileges, like what my nephew felt was the right punishment for him, got him to the point of pleading just after a couple of months.

    • Agree with apologizing to the car owner. This could be in a written note and include offering the free lawn mowing and/or car detailing and/or dog walking. Peer pressure is a powerful influence and the boys he hung out with should be prohibited from him contacting, at least during the 6 month period. A limited time spent on video games each day is also a good consequence. Like it that he must ride the bus to and from school daily.
      You must be a great father, Ralph!

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