Self Sampling: What are we teaching our children?

“Oooh! Cheese!”

 I heard a 10 year-old girl say this the other day while I was shopping. Her enthusiasm made me smile to myself.  Little did I know that her intentions were not so enthusiastically innocent.

Due to the overcrowded aisle way, I couldn’t help noticing that the young girl was with her other siblings and her mother. Turning my cart around, I accidentally started following this group.

Before coming to the end of the aisle, I noticed the girl trying to inconspicuously throw a string cheese wrapper onto a nearby shelf. She had eaten the item without paying for it. Her mother knew exactly what her daughter was doing, but said nothing.

It is completely possible that the string cheese the girl ate was included in a larger package that her mother was going to pay for anyway.

In spite of that, I knew that string cheese was packaged with each piece individually wrapped but connected to each other through perforated plastic; in other words, it would have been easy for the girl to simply rip off one serving, eat it, and thrown away the wrapper before anyone else could have noticed.

The item was clearly not hers at the time, so technically she committed theft.

It made me think about all the times I had technically committed food theft through the encouragement of my parents.

We never went so far as to unwrap an item and quickly devour it, but we would “test” grapes or strawberries. On occasion we even took candy from the bins, (the oversized bins where people would measure out and pay for candy per pound). I’m pretty sure we only sampled items we were already going to buy, but I know we didn’t pay for what we ate.

Even if you do not verbally encourage this behavior, your silence and/or refusal to stop thievery condones the act. I started wondering if self sample thievery could lead to further and larger acts of theft.

While self sampling produce or stealing string cheese may not lead to a lifetime of crime, it could cause other social issues. If a child sees something that they instantly want, what is to stop them from taking it?

A sense of morality, or perhaps reciprocity, is supposed to be instilled in people to recognize that certain actions, like stealing, are not socially acceptable. Generally parents are supposed to instill and indicate these social norms to their children.

How can a parent condoning small acts of food theft expect to have their children recognize that stealing is wrong? Also, what about learning to respect the property of others? You can’t honestly tell your children that stealing from people is bad, but stealing from stores is all right. It would seem that such hypocritical phrases and actions would only serve to socially confuse your child.

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