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"Tough Love Mum" Makes Son Wear "I'm A Thief" Sign in Public

By Katherine Stone |

Townsville boy

Townsville boy's "I'm A Thief" Sign

Parents in Australia are up in arms after a mother made her ten-year-old son wear a sign in a public park that read “Do not trust me. I will steal from you as I am a thief.”

The single mother of three, now known Down Under as the “Tough Love Mum”, says her son has been shoplifting since he was seven years old and that she has done everything she can to get him to stop, including having him speak with police, taking him to counseling and taking him to visit a juvenile detention center.   She decided to make him wear the sign after finding he had stolen some chocolates from a store.  She made him stand in a busy area called The Strand for an hour, during which some passersby pointed and laughed at him.

Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper reports, “The mum’s actions made headlines, becoming the No.1 story on websites and dominating talkback radio from Melbourne to Townsville, where the family live.  Her parenting style simultaneously appalled and inspired parents around the nation.  A surprisingly large number of people praised her and called for the cane to be reintroduced. Many also sympathised with her.”

Yet some child psychologists say the public shaming was a mistake.  The Townsville Bulletin, which first broke the story, quoted a local child psychologist, Nicole Pierotti, who said she was “… shocked that this form of punishment could be used. This gives the child the message they should be sneakier.  He’s learning ‘don’t get caught’. It also makes you wonder what else goes on in the family.”

In a Herald Sun opinion piece, Melbourne talk radio host Steve Price also disagreed with the punishment, writing, “This family need help from experts, but the person who requires the most help is the mother who thought it acceptable to ridicule her flesh and blood in public.  She should be embarrassed and maybe she’s the one who needs a sign hung around her neck. Instead of saying ‘I am a thief’ it could read ‘I am a bad mother’.”

So what do you think? Was this mom right to take drastic measures and make her son wear the sign so that he might learn his lesson? Or was this a big mistake, and will it only serve to hurt him even further?

Photo credit: The Daily Herald

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About Katherine Stone


Katherine Stone

Katherine Stone is the founder of the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression, Postpartum Progress. She writes about parenting and maternal child health on Babble Voices and Babble Cares, as well as at Huffington Post Parents. Katherine is a mom of two and lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter at @postpartumprog. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katherine's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “"Tough Love Mum" Makes Son Wear "I'm A Thief" Sign in Public

  1. Carolina {Always Expect Moore} says:

    People shouldn’t be so quick to judge another’s parenting tactics.

    Instead of being shocked, let’s assume for a moment that she knows her son, truly wants him to grow up to become a well-rounded adult and functioning member of society, and has his best interests at heart. Once you make that assumption you see that this was an act of love and desperation. She refuses to give up on this child.

    And to the shrink who says that the child is just going to learn to be sneakier – DUH! ANY smart kid figures out pretty quickly that if you don’t get caught, you don’t get punished (regardless of what the punishment is).

    If one hour of public humiliation saves him 10 years of jail time down the road… then she’s done her job as a mom, regardless of what the overreacting public wants to think.

  2. Rosana says:

    I am always shocked how people assume that when kids act up they only do it because either they like it or to punish their parents. To me, the stealing it is a byproduct of the kid’s feeling about something and his mom, I guess, does not have or does not want to make the time to deal with it, so she just looks for the easiest solutions, pfft.

  3. jennifer says:

    I agree with Carolina’s comment. I grew up knowing that if I did something wrong, I knew that I was gonna get spanked and dang well better not do it again. Pain is a good enforcer…if you touch a fire once, you know it hurts, are you going to do it again? Not likely. I agree with the mom’s choice. she didn’t hang her flesh and blood out to dry…she is trying to help the little brat the only way she knows how with what resources she has without pulling her hair out and knowing this is serious and doesn’t want him to go to jail. Good Move “Tough Love Mum”!!

  4. Bec says:

    It infuriates me when psychologists and experts weigh in on individual families that they don’t know with judgement and condemnation and not a single positive or constructive suggestion. That’s totally helping. When I correct a child for, say, hitting in anger, do I just say NEVER HIT and leave it there? No. I introduce tools and techniques that would be of more use in future situations (ie using words to express ourselves). I’d love to ask Ms. Pierotti (who the Townsville Bulletin notes is also a parent) what would have worked here, since she clearly believes she knows the magic solution.

  5. Alison says:

    Poor kid. If someone made me wear a sign like that I’d be waiting for the right moment for revenge. And start planning my next heist.

  6. Shandeigh says:

    I applaud the Mom for being creative… obviously nothing else was working. Psychologists are idiots.

  7. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    Assholes create assholes.

  8. Brigette says:

    Argh… this is just more ammo for that troll Andrea, who talks about how all Australian mamas are bad parents…

  9. Mary says:

    I am going to be in the minority here. We are not getting the WHOLE story. The public is only getting a birds eye view. Nobody has any right to criticize any one persons parenting styles because let’s face it you wouldn’t want them doing the same to yours. I would steal when I was younger, not because my parents didn’t provide me with everything I ever needed, but I stole for the thrill. Kids don’t always need a reason to steal and it is not always the parents fault that kids start stealing. At one point in time my father fashioned a sign for me that said the very same thing. Yes it was humiliating. Yes it sucked. It taught me a lesson though and I never stole after that point again. I can only hope that this young boy takes away the same lesson that I did when I was younger because the punishments only get worse as time goes on if you think about it.

  10. LadyDay says:

    I dont see where she did anything wrong. Its better than some places where he would have had his had cut off for stealing. U tell me which is better? Usually people that dont have kids are the first ones to have something to say.

  11. Becca C. says:

    This Mom has gone out of her way to get her child help and unfortunately has still failed. I know how she feels and if it were this easy to fix the problems with my son and his anger issues I would also make him stand around and wear a sign. Way to go Mom maybe a little embarrassment will help him remember not to steal.

  12. Jaime says:

    I’m proud of this mom for making her childs problem a priority for her to handle. it shows she cares and doesn’t want him to end up in jail. he will thank her down the road. i know mothers who have been too lazy to do anything about stealing. (hint, hint…the problem just gets worse! duh!) i’ve always been a big believer in that there are proper times when people and children SHOULD feel shame. this is a normal feeling and everyone should feel it at one point or another when that do something bad. if you think about stealing you should get a bad feeling.

  13. Katherine Stone says:

    Thanks for your input everybody! It’s definitely impossible to know everything that has gone on inside this family. News reports say she’s gotten help, but one wonders whether the providers were any good. Maybe an expert in shoplifting might be in order. I just hope this young man gets the help he needs.

  14. Lisa says:

    It’s true as with most news stories we don’t get the full story so obviously there is a story behind this. Do I think she did a good thing by humiliating her son, by putting a label on him. No I don’t. As a parent I do feel her frustrations, but I would never and have never embarrassed my children in public. I am in my forties and still remember embarrassing moments for myself and class members that happened at the age of 6. So in other words this boy will always be known to be an untrustworthy person, his peers when he is an adult will still tell this story, people will talk behind his back and say it to his face.
    I think she just created a very angry young boy who will grow to be an angrier man, one who I doubt can ever look for comfort from his mother again.

  15. Laurie says:

    So tired of psychologists and their extreme views. With their help we are creating a world of lawless individuals whose inappropriate behaviors are excused and justified. The psychologists deem every consequence harmful. What is harmful is that we have gotten away from good old fashioned spankings and punishments. This mother should be applauded for her actions. It seems she did not know what to do next to get through to her child. If her child were to get arrested in the future, the police will not handle him with delicate gloves – instead he will just be arrested and tossed in the jail. They will not coddle him and try to figure out why he did it. This mother is doing everything she can to steer her son’s path so that he will not end up sitting in some jail cell.

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