Imagine that you have an 18 year old teenage daughter (if you do actually have one, this won’t be especially hard) and she stole a bottle of water from a shop during the riots.  You know that if you take her to the police she will be charged and convicted.  There is no way that the police will find out about her behaviour unless you take her in.

Would you take her to the police?  Vote now!



    1. Is always best to “walk a mile in the other’s shoes”. That way, once they discover you’ve taken their shoes you’ve got a miles headstart, plus they’re barefoot.

  1. what kind of a parent would even consider turing their child in? i guess the kind of parent that has a morally bankrupt daughter that goes around stealing

    1. Hmmm – so, bigwow, you feel that a “parent” should never turn their child in? For any crime? And if a parent should not, where should we draw the line? Is it wrong to turn in your parents? Your siblings? Your best friends? If not, why not?

  2. In light of the comments on this post, it seems that the question has changed since the original posting, rendering the results shown useless at least to us onlookers.

  3. It also occurs to me that some of the comments could have been manufactured in order to confuse. I am not sure which explanation is more probable given that this is Wiseman’s blog. It could also be a third explanation that has not occurred to me.

  4. If it was the Bottle of water I don’t think I would, but it would be used as the subject of a very good talking to… Maybe she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, mistakenly thought it wasn’t really doing any harm etc etc etc…. If it was shoes then I would, as there could be no mistaking/bending where the moral compass was pointing.

    1. Really? Stealing a bottle of water isn’t theft? Then, just out of curiosity, how do you define theft?

      Theft, as I was taught as a child, is defined as ” appropriating property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and “thief” and “steal” shall be construed accordingly” (Theft Act 1968). The value of the property stolen is neither here nor there.

      I’m truly astonished at some of the responses here. The hypothetical “child”, in this case, is not even a child – it’s an 18 year-old young adult that has apparently decided that a breakdown in civil order is sufficient reason to steal.

    2. I wonder how happy you feel when your drink goes missing from the break-room fridge at work?
      Yes, theft is theft, and there should be recompense and punishment – but for starters, we don’t know the circumstances. Was she the one that broke the window, went in first, and went straight to the water? Or did she pass by after the looting was all but done, and pick up the last bottle that was lying just inside the smashed window?

    3. @John: You don’t have an 18 year old kid, I wager. They are ‘adults’ in concept but they certainly haven’t formed a lot of the kinds of moral or ethical ideas that I have in my 50s. For instance, my daughters will happily avoid paying train fares, even though I consider that quite unethical. But they have a teenage justification in their brains that says: ‘All my friends do it, so what’s the big deal?’ My wife and I are CONSTANTLY defining these kinds of issues for them, and while I am very confident they will get there, they aren’t yet.

    4. No, @anaglyph, you’re quite correct, I don’t have 18 year old children myself. I have, however, been an 18 year-old, and I do know 18 year-olds. Being 18 is no justification for not understanding the difference between paying for goods and services, and stealing them. That an 18 year-old doesn’t understand why using a service without paying for it is both wrong and illegal quite simply beggars belief. This is the kind of pseudo-moral ambiguity I would expect to be resolved in children by the time they’re 7. If you’re still having that discussion with them when they’re 18, then I’m frankly astonished and appalled.

    5. I agree with John. I suggested stealing some candy to my dad when I was 6, whereupon he explained to me that stealing hurts the income of the shopkeeper you steal from, which means he might not have the means to keep the shop open any more, which means no candy at all. A simple explanation, in kids’ terms, of why it’s wrong not to pay for goods or services. I’ve never stolen goods since, and while I’ve been on the train without a ticket a few times when I had to get somewhere and the ticket machine was down, I felt intensely guilty over it. And that was when I was maybe 16.

      An 18-year-old may not have a sufficiently developed frontal lobe to be able to weigh actions and consequences, but they’ve had ample time to gain knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong. And if peer pressure is a problem, you’re associating with the wrong peers.

    6. @John & Berber Anna: Ah, truly spoken like people who haven’t raised kids. Look, I agree totally with what you say about theft. I think I have a pretty well-developed moral compass, and I certainly wouldn’t steal the bottle of water (and in fact I don’t ride on trains without a ticket or cheat on my tax). Giving examples of how YOU knew right from wrong when you were 18 is not the point here. My kids know right from wrong. What Richard asked us was this question:

      “Imagine that you have an 18 year old teenage daughter (if you do actually have one, this won’t be especially hard) and she stole a bottle of water from a shop during the riots.”

      OK, I’m imagining. And, as I quite clearly said ‘I can totally imagine‘ my daughter being in that circumstance. Kids get caught up in all kinds of circumstances for all kinds of reasons – it’s not something you can ever anticipate. So, when I play the imagining game, I can invent a scenario where my daughter, unthinkingly, grabs a bottle of water from a shop. Would I turn her in to the police? No I wouldn’t. Because I don’t see that it would be of any benefit to her or anybody else to do so. She would most certainly understand that her action was wrong without any police involvement, and I would hope it would help create the foundation for a stronger moral adulthood, as should all moral transgressions.

      What you are both asking us to believe here, and excuse me if I am being overly-cynical, is that neither of you have made any bad moral choices after you hit the age of 18. So you’ve never driven over the speed limit? Never driven your car when you’d had a little more to drink than you should’ve? Never overcharged someone? Never nicked some paperclips from the office stationery cupboard? All the music you listen to, all the films you watch, all the software you have on your computer – ALL of it – is legally acquired and paid for? Really?

      OK, how about this then: you’ve never purchased an item of clothing that you knew was probably made in an Asian sweat-shop by kids in appalling conditions? You always buy Fair Trade coffee, because you know most other coffee involves people being exploited for low wages and bad working conditions?

      Both of you have, in fact, behaved absolutely morally and legally in every way since you turned 18? That’s not the sound of ‘pseudo-moral ambiguity’ I’m hearing at work there, is it?

      Just because the Law says you’re an adult at 18, does not mean you’ve suddenly learnt everything there is to know about moral behaviour, or that even if you have, you won’t ‘interpret’ those morals to fit your circumstance. The moral high ground might give you a great view to the horizon, but don’t get so hypnotized by it that you forget where to put your feet.

      (As an aside, I gave my daughter Richard’s hypothetical scenario and she says she wouldn’t steal the bottle of water. When I told her to imagine stealing the bottle of water, she maintained that she couldn’t, “because I just wouldn’t do it.” Yet I can still imagine her doing it, just as I can imagine you, John, with that illegal copy of Photoshop on your computer…)

    7. Wait, so now you’re equating not buying fair trade to rioting and looting? I think that’s falsifying the discussion, but okay:

      – I have never driven over the speed limit, as I have never driven a car. I have admonished my friends and family for doing so, though, because it’s dangerous and speed limits exist for a reason.
      -I never had ‘a little more to drink than I should have’ because, even when I still drank alcohol, I never drank more than half a glass of it. I don’t believe in poisoning myself.
      -I have taken pens from my dad’s office stationary cupboard with his permission. I don’t take things without permission, that’s wrong.
      -I have downloaded tv programmes that weren’t slated to be released in Holland and weren’t available on DVD. If they became available afterwards, I bought the DVD. I never downloaded tv as a teen though, because my dad had set a rule against that. I have downloaded music to try it and see if I should buy the album. If I liked it, I bought the album. That was before YouTube, now I just try music on there.
      -I try to be conscious of the origin of what I buy. If stores are known for using sweat shop labour, I don’t buy there. I boycot Sapph lingerie because the owner has made misogynistic remarks. I buy organic meat because I’m concerned about animal welfare, and I have done so since I was a teen. I don’t buy coffee at all, because I can’t have caffeine.

      So if those are your ‘rules’ for being allowed to think teens shouldn’t be excused for rioting and looting because they’re teens, then yep, I think I can hold on to that opinion.

      In fact, when I was 18, most of my classmates were going to The Hague (our capital city) to protest against education reforms, protests that quickly turned into riots themselves. I’d read up on the reforms, decided I wasn’t opposed to them, and just went to school that day (along with one classmate). Not that there were any classes — we were made to take extra ones along with the others — but we sat there and did homework all day.

      Making a stand for what you believe in is one thing. Following the herd just for the sake of following them, though, is no excuse for wrongdoing.

    8. That’s not to say, by the way, that I never did stupid teen stuff. I refused to go to school for an hour once because my dad wouldn’t give me a ride to the station (which I thought he’d promised). I threatened to break my parents’ window when I was angry (still ashamed about that one, and it’s 12 years ago). I said very mean things to my mum and my sister at times.

      But I never went out and damaged other people’s property, I never stole anything, and I certainly never rioted against the police or looted shops.

    9. Oh, and just to get a parent’s opinion, I just asked my dad (who came over to drop off some baking supplies I’m borrowing from my mum) what he would have done if I’d been that 18-year-old. He said that he’d have marched me over to the police station and made me turn myself in.

    10. @Berber Anna: Your justifying of your theft of tv material sounds pretty much like John’s ‘pseudo-moral ambiguity’ to me. It doesn’t matter at all that a program ‘wasn’t slated to be released in Holland’. There is no legal caveat that says ‘You can download material that’s not going to be released in your country’. You stole it. It’s theft. You evaded your moral responsibility to obey the law and downloaded material you didn’t pay for, despite the fact that it is entirely illegal to do so. You are justifying it to yourself by inventing an excuse that makes you feel OK about it, just as an 18 year old might do regarding taking a bottle of water (‘I was thirsty and scared to go outside because of all the violence’; ‘I wasn’t involved in the riots, I was just trapped there’). I am sure that like many people you also make the egregious mistake of thinking that theft of a physical object (like a bottle of water) is of a greater magnitude than just downloading a movie. As a creator of intellectual property I see it very differently.

      Please let us be clear here also about what Richard asked us. You say I am falsifying the discussion, but in the hypothetical scenario that Richard offered, there was no suggestion that the teenager in question was involved in any rioting. Richard merely said: ‘Imagine your teenage daughter took a bottle of water in the riots’. He did not say ‘Imagine your teenage daughter was involved in rioting, breaking and entering and violence’ or any of the other things you imply. If he had, I would have answered differently.

      And while you went to great pains to tell us just how moral you are, you rather tellingly avoided mentioning unpaid-for software. You can tell me you have no illegal software on your computer, but not one single person here will believe you. But I suppose you are ‘just trying it out’, or you ‘can’t buy it in Holland’…

      What I am pointing out to you here is that you have two moral standards. One for yourself, and one for people whose actions you don’t agree with. You are not prepared to understand that an act of stealing a bottle of water might not necessarily warrant the involvement of the police.

      Perhaps I should tell them to check your hard drive.

    11. Hey, they can check my hard drive all they want. I have the pre-installed software and AVG Free on there. That’s all I need. Sorry for missing that bit.

      Downloading tv shows that were aired in another country but didn’t appear on DVD may be immoral, but it’s not illegal, at least not in Holland. Uploading material is, but I never did that. And if the choice is between ‘not seeing it at all’ and ‘watching material, then buying all DVDs of that performer and visting his stage shows’, I’d wager that the latter is more profitable to the creator of said intellectual property than the former. And I think he agrees, as he did on occassion post the links to the uploaded material himself.

      Oh, and you can accuse me of lying all you want, say ‘no one will believe you’, but that changes exactly nothing about the truth. Like most people with autism, I very rarely lie.

    12. Ok, right, whatever you say. Plainly you are happy to redefine your theft (for that’s what it is) to suit your morals. I have nothing more to say.

    13. Yeah, I’m sure that a non-illegal download of a tv show that’s not otherwise available, that’s approved of by the person whose show it is, is on an equal level morally to rioting and looting. In your words: Whatever you say.

  5. I actually do have an 18 year old daughter as it happens, and I can totally imagine her being in that situation. Kids at that age are very easily swayed by their peers and by their circumstances and I imagine she would justify it in her mind somehow. I do know, however, that she is a good and moral person at heart, so in this kind of situation even the realisation of the magnitude of her actions (that police might be involved) would have a huge effect.

    I actually don’t think at age 18 you have much of a grasp of the subtleties of that kind of behaviour.

  6. If it were anyone but close family I’d shop them, it doesn’t matter what or how much they stole, it’s the manner of the theft. The riots were an incredibly violent crime on a massive scale. They put hundreds of lives at risk, terrified and horrified many thousands more. Taking part in that sort of crime merits the sort of sentances that are being dished out.

    1. “… anyone but close family …”. So why NOT close family? The law applies to others but not you? Inconsistent at best. This is the kind of thinking that leads to covering up worse crimes when committed by family.
      I would say no to this (and get her to make amends
      as suggested by others) but yes to worse crimes whoever committed them.

  7. Whilst I would not turn her in, I would sit down with her, and read her the riot act… 🙂 I believe education & understanding is key.

  8. Why outsourcing punishment the police in this case? If your child is incontrolable, i’d say yes. Stealing a bottle of water? A good parent can punish its own child right?

    1. Because parental punishments are for intrusions against behavioural norms, while legal punishments are for intrusions against legal norms. A good parent can punish their own child for not doing their chores, or being impolite or inconsiderate. Punisment for behaviour that breaks laws (such as rioting and looting) is to be left to a judge.

  9. It is theft, but I’d agree – I wouldn’t turn my child in for a bottle of water. If it was a TV or something – or – as someone else pointed out – if they had broken the window/led the charge, that would be a completely different matter.
    (Dad of 2 – both under 5)

  10. Theft is theft. When my daughter was 5, she created big time in Tesco, wanting a magazine that you collect in parts which had precious stones with each copy. At £5 it was too expensive and I said no. So, she went ahead and removed a stone from an edition and took it. When I found out she had taken it, I marched her over to security and made them tell her off. They didn’t want to, but I told them they had to. The fear of being told off was enough- she never took another thing in her life. Now 23, she abhores theives. Moral of the story- teach them right from wrong when they are little (or put the fear of god into them, so they know that a wrong doing receives concequences.)

  11. Hmm. I reckon that the link for each coin toss leads to a subtle difference in the same story to see where “we” draw the line. I draw it at any theft.

    1. The difference is the gender (son/daughter). I know because I answered the other poll as per the coin toss, then wandered over to see the comments and votes on this one.

  12. I would have until I saw the punishments being handed down. 18 months in jail? I don’t think so. If they were handing down restorative sentences that made them repair and repay then definitely but what is happening here is not justice. It’s revenge.

  13. If my child stole anything during the riots and I didn’t hand them in to the police, what message am I giving the child???? They should learn that there always is a consequence to their actions!!!! If you don’t want to do the time, DON’T DO THE CRIME!

  14. I think the wording of the question is extremely biased. The crime is not the stealing of water. It is taking part in the riots which is the crime. And ever person there contributed to the end product.

    What’s worse?

    Case 1
    Your daughter runs down the street with some friends and when she gets to the end of the street she stops.

    Case 2
    Your daughter runs down the street with some friends chasing a terrified young girl. When they catch up to her at the end of the street, one of your daughters friends stabs and murders the girl.

    If you daughter equally innocent in both cases? After all, all she did was run down the street.

    I don’t think so.

  15. Shouldn’t I turn myself in, for being a bad parent? After all, it’s all about bad parenting isn’t it? That’s what I’m told, anyway, and we should always listen to what we’re told, even if it’s an idiot who tells us.

  16. Since I doubt the shopkeeper, right now, has any more faith in the police and justice system than I do, I’d march her there, make her pay and apologise and then discuss with the shopkeeper what further services she can supply by way of compensation.

    But then I’m a fan of restorative justice.

  17. Son or Daughter (*cough*), I would say that the shopkeeper would benefit much more if my kid were to simply go back to the store after the fuss has died down, and offer some kind of compensation (pay for the water, help clean up, etc…).

    Turning your own child in to the authorities over the theft of a bottle of water could do severe, long-term damage to that relationship. In my opinion, it’s not worth it. There are likely more practical, prudent ways to address this situation than having your kid spend the night in the pokey.

  18. I wouldn’t turn her in. I’d give her a HUGE telling off though – and really go out of my way to tell her and show her how wrong it was to do what she did.
    I just think the possbility of getting some form of criminal record for what was probably a spur of the moment thing, egged on by friends and the environment isn’t worth it.
    If it had been something more valuable I might change my mind tho.

    Actually all this really depends on the personality and behaviour of the kid in question. I know if I did something like that when I was 18 and my parents found out – I’d learn the message just as strongly if I was told off, then if I was taken to court.
    In fact – I suspect if I WAS taken to court I might go all out rebellious and refuse to talk to my parents ever again. So yeah – totally depends on what the girl is like.

  19. My philosophy has always been, and continues to be:
    FIRST I protect my children,
    THEN I address their indiscretion.

    Stealing is wrong no matter what the item stolen or who else is doing it. However I would not subject my children to the (American) justice system for this offense. I would deal with it on my own.

  20. Bottle of water – no; Shoes – yes. The circumstances matter. It was a RIOT. Maybe her phone was dead and she had to walk home. Maybe she was stuck somewhere. The water could have been to drink so she didn’t faint.

    1. Aren’t there public water fountains in England? Or payphones? If that’s the case, and she was dehydrated badly, then my answer might have been different. But I don’t think that’s the picture that Richard painted with his question.

  21. Thought experiment about Gender and riots. Intresting but you its not really a fair test. What you should of done is to ask your admin to only users to view one of the two pages by blocking a page after the user visited one. O well, science isn’t perfect. 🙂

  22. I’d like to say that I would turn her in , but I don’t have the confidence in the justice system. The risk of her having a record which would show up on CRB’s for years to come is not fair or just fir such a crime. I’d give her a massive telling off and make her repay it in someway .

  23. It’s really a shame that our evolutionary instinct for tribalism so often causes us to do things that are so clearly wrong by any objective standard. “Loyalty” to family, country, ethnicity, or any other non-chosen group is a dangerous thing. A parent’s responsibility is to teach moral behavior: turn her in, let her work to pay off the fine.

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