Yesterday I set-up a little thought experiment.  We had some rioting here in the UK recently, and the police have asked the parents of rioting teenagers to bring their children into police stations so that they can be charged.

I asked people to imagine that their 18 year old teenage child had stolen a bottle of water from a shop during the riots, and decide whether they would hand over their child to the police.

Half of you were asked to imagine that the teenage rioter was male and the other half imagined that the rioter was female.  In fact, that didn’t matter at all.  Thousands of people took part and the results clearly showed that around only 14% of people said that they would give their child over to the police.

How do you feel about that finding?  Shocked?  How can people justify not handing their criminal child to the authorities?














  1. It is very difficult to imagine exactly what it would be like in that situation. We can try to think what it would be like but – for all we know – we may make a completely different decision if we are actually in that situation.

  2. The parents probably feel they’re protecting their child, but I believe the child should be taught that actions have consequences. I saw many people offer the “It’s just a bottle of water” defense, but didn’t see many ask why the kid was involved in the riot at all. Seeing a riot going on but deciding not to go home and instead deciding to walk/break into a shop to get to the water… these are all conscious acts the kid could have avoided.

    Not to mention the fact that at 18, that “child” is considered an adult in most countries. Time for the parents to stop protecting them.

  3. well, why don’t you ask an important question: if you child was a rebel against the State, would you report them?

    All other questions are silly and irrelevant.

  4. Maybe it was because it was ‘only’ a bottle of water in your experiment? How would they have reacted if it was a TV that their kid had stolen?

    Although I still doubt that many would have handed over their child, given that the punishments issued right now are somewhat exaggerated? If you don’t expect true justice then you probably won’t cooperate …

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking. For a single bottle of water, no police, but appropriate punishment at home. If it was a higher value item like the above suggested TV, hell yes, police all the way.

  5. That’s because they are all a bunch of chavs – and their parents are probably chavs too – well 84% of their parents!

  6. I was one who said no, and here’s why: You said “a bottle of water.” You didn’t describe any other violence or any other crime. The only thing you gave us was a stolen bottle of water.

    Had the theft been more serious, or had there been more violence involved, my answer would have been different. But I am not going to clog up what is surely an overloaded court system over a bottle of water. Believe me, that kid would be disciplined, but without more information than you gave us… no. I would not take my child to the police over a bottle of water.

    1. I agree. Parents can punish their own child for small mistakes. Only bad parents can’t.

      Yes it is wrong to steel a bottle of water. So do something about that. But how wrong is it to hand over your child to the police over a minor offense?

      Return the bottle of water, or pay for it. Maybe even pay all the bottles of water that have been stolen.

      And make sure that that is the only thing he/she did. If it does turn out your child is a very bad criminal, then you can bring him/her to the police.

    2. Yep, I agree with you both (soonerdvm and M). There would be punishment. A heap of punishment. Paying for all the stolen water would be a good start.

    3. soonerdvm, you’ve summed up my thoughts exactly. I originally was going to say that I would hand over my daughter, but then I thought again. Really, for a bottle of water, would I do that? No, I don’t think so.

      For me it’s a question of what was stolen, it doesn’t matter whether the theft took place during the rioting or not. A bottle of water is shoplifting (deserving a smack on the wrists), a pair of trainers, tv etc. is theft (hand the child over to the police).

    4. I totally agree. I’d send them out to help tidy up or some form of punishment for a bottle of water. if that was *all* they did. Like, if they were walking past a shop that had already been raided, they were thirsty, there was a bottle near the door that had been left … etc!

      If it was something like fighting with police, or actually breaking into a shop, or stealing something like a TV, then I’d almost certainly hand them over.

  7. The question didn’t say the child was rioting as such, just they stole a bottle of water. At least that’s how I read it. I probably would have answered differently if the question stated they had been involved in the destruction of property as well.

  8. I’m not shocked. A stolen bottle of water (there was no mention of the child being involved in arson, destruction of property or physical violence) — even though it’s wrong — would not rate very high in regard to a criminal report.

    If my child were to walk into a Walmart, for example, steal a bottle of water and leave the store, the most that would happen to him/her is that the store security officer would call me (the parent), restitution would be made, and the child would be barred from that store. The police wouldn’t be called (or bothered, if you will) for a $1 bottle of water.

    In this case, I feel it would be MY duty to punish my child, and hopefully have them understand how badly they behaved and how much worse it could have been… and also hope that child learned from their mistake and did not repeat it.

    I’m not a resident of the UK, so I’m having to rely on my own memories of working retail during my college years. We would routinely get letters with a couple of dollars in it and a “confession” from a minor (most likely at their parents’ insistence), and security would occasionally catch a minor stealing a low-dollar item, which resulted in the scenario I explained above.

    Also, with emotions seemingly running high in regard to the recent riots, I would fear that my child could get falsely accused of more than stealing a bottle of water. That was also a factor in my decision.

  9. How helpful the ‘bunch of chavs’ comment is. It’s extremely difficult to imagine exactly what one would do in that situation, but given the news that someone has been sentenced to 6 months in prison for stealing £3.50 worth of water then no, I wouldn’t.

    1. The guy who got 6 months actually stole a six-pack of water bottles, so they didn’t charge 3,50 for a single bottle.

  10. For me, the key phrase was ‘You know that if you take him to the police he will be charged and convicted.’ With the pack calling for blood in the UK at the moment, I felt the chance of a fair trial was pretty low. So I voted no – not to say that they would go unpunished.

  11. They might feel that they don’t need to be charged, as people see the theft of a bottle of water as being trivial. However, my mum said I would be disowned if I was out there doing that. (I don’t live in the UK, but she means rioting and looting in general.)

  12. I voted “No”. If I caught my son doing anything like this, I would be sorely tempted to turn him in. He would deserve the punishment for betraying everything I have tried to instill in him. Four weeks in the slammer? No problem. I’d hope it be an aide memoire for life about how not to behave in a civilized society. But I voted “No”, not because I would want to protect him from the consequences of his moment of madness, but because of the stigma of the criminal record which would be forever with him. After it had dawned on him that what he had done was idiotic, he would need a future. But he would definitely not be allowed to get away with it.

  13. I am curious about the difference the gender of the child would make. Richard will you tell us how many people clicked each of the 4 possible answers?

  14. Didn’t vote but had this discussion yesterday. If my daughter had stolen even a bottle of water, say nowt til she sees a lawyer. And NEVER admit to thinking about stealing, as some girls did.

  15. Given the current sentences and public outrage, it would likely destroy their life chances. Not worth it for a simple theft, simple as

  16. Oh and if my son would have been 18 and he would have stolen a bottle of water during the riots, it would not mean he would have been involved in the riots. Since I do not live in the UK.

  17. I imagined (because you left this bit up to us) that the child in question had never been in trouble before, was not a ringleader, did not premeditate the crime, it was one of opportunity, and the child showed remorse and realised they had done a terrible thing. Also that I gave him (gender wouldn’t make a difference) the bollocking of a lifetime, assured him he wouldn’t get any second chances, and grounded him for a month (etc). I felt that this approach, given the above, would be likely to afford a better long term result than shopping them, for a bottle of water.

    If you’d said ‘a stereo’ or ‘a £100 pair of trainers’ then I would much more likely have said Yes I would shop them, although I would try and persuade them to hand themselves in, first.

    Also if the child HAD been in trouble before, WAS a ringleader, HAD gone out deliberately to loot, and did NOT show any remorse, I would also shop the little fucker. Even for a bottle of water.

    It would be very interesting to extend the poll to include some of these variables.

  18. I voted “No” because I wouldn’t hand my son or daughter over for such a minor offence in the current rather irrational and draconian climate. In typical rabbit-in-the-spotlight fashion the government are jerking their knees rather than trying to fathom the reasons for this outbreak of rioting and dealing with it all senisbly.

    For a bottle of water I’d take them back to the shop to pay for it. For a more serious theft or for being involved in the actual rioting I would have a serious talk with the kid and consult a lawyer before going anywhere near the authorities.

  19. Well, a 18-year-old person is not a teenager, but an adult (not in Spain, anyway). If I were their parent, it wouldn’t be my responsibility, but theirs.

    Besides, if my child had done it in any other context (not a riot, but maybe shoplifting) I’d handle it differently: maybe taking them to the shop and make them pay for it. The fact that they’d stolen a bottle of water doesn’t mean they’d crashed into a shop.

    I’d like to know what Rickard would have done, by the way 😉

    1. Oh, and I didn’t see the other options: just voted the first one that said “I wouldn’t hand him/her (don’t remember the gender) to the police.”

    2. “The fact that they’d stolen a bottle of water doesn’t mean they’d crashed into a shop.”

      No, I’m sure they politely knocked on the shutters and were asked to be let in…

    3. I mean, maybe they saw a shop that had already been vandalised and they took a bottle of water from the scene. Of course they stole a bottle, but the level damage isn’t the same.

      Besides, saying someone is a “rioting teenager” because they’ve stolen a bottle of water during a riot is a little too much, don’t you think?

    4. I took the question to mean that they were part of the rioting crowds and looted that bottle of water. Maybe Richard didn’t phrase it clearly enough, that’s true.

    5. Richard only mentioned a bottle of water. He didn’t mention any other violence or theft.

      Since he didn’t say “broke a store window, punched the shop owner, and stole a bottle of water,” I took it to mean that the theft of the bottle of water was the only offense, and answered accordingly.

    6. I assumed that ‘during the riots’ was meant to imply that they themselves were a part of the riots, not that they happened to shoplift the bottle of water in another country at the same time that the riots were happening in Britain (as someone on one of the posts yesterday thought) or that they saw a vandalised shop and took it (surely, that would be ‘in the aftermath of the riots’ rather than ‘during the riots’).
      Looking at Richard’s post today, I aoppear to have assumed correctly.

  20. With your ‘Headline 86% of parents wouldn’t hand over their rioting teenager to the police!’ are you not guilty of tabloid-type attention grabbing? The question you set was designed to skew the result of your poll. I hate to have to say this, Richard, as I have respect for you, but shouldn’t you, perhaps, seek a job as a journalist on the Daily Mail?

    1. Yes, it may look a little judgemental, but only because of the exclamation mark. Maybe it’s telling us something about ourselves we’re not very proud about.

  21. As I commented yesterday, it is taking part in the riots which is the crime. And every person there contributed to the end result.

    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.

    Is you daughter equally innocent in both cases? I don’t think so. So people claiming the “it was only water” defence need to think a little harder next time.

    1. I mean if a teenager is stealing water(especially when everyone around him is convicting crime?) he wouldn’t feel he’s breaking a law because it is probably the most invaluable thing he could steal and let’s say if it wasn’ t during roit and he(or she) get caught, the shopkeeper would not send him to police.(stealing a bottle of water sounds like a joke)

    2. But the question wasn’t “if your adult son/daughter stole water”, if your adult son/daughter “stole a bottle of water from a shop during the riots”. These were riots that destroyed homes, businesses and lives. Every rioter was involved to some extend.

      And the idea of “it’s just water” is flawed. It might be to the thief but shoplifting costs retailers an obscene amount of money because it all adds up.

      I’m amazed at some of the responses here. People want to live in civilised society but if you found yourself or your family on the wrong side of the law, you’ll stay hush.

      Everyone involved in these riots were rioters. Not one of them didn’t know they were breaking the law when they were stealing and destroying property

      To the 86% – at what point would you turn your adult offspring over to the police for illegal activities that effect innocent members of society?

  22. It’s not 86% of parents, it’s 86% of people imagining to be parents of a looter. I don’t have or want kids, but the poll didn’t say that being a parent was required to participate.

    And I would’ve reported him to police. Rioting and looting is a crime, meaning it is up to a judge and not a parent to decide on the proper punishment. If an unfair sentence is handed out, there’s always the possibility of appealing it. But avoiding the legal system altogether will only lead to anarchy in the end.

  23. Like The Pick Man said above, it appears this blog has temporarily turned into a tabloid newspaper. You actually asked us whether we would hand in our daughter to the police as a result of her stealing a bottle of water.

  24. With regard to the general issue of handing in your children to the authorities – I would never do that, except perhaps for very serious crimes. The concept of punishment is flawed for moral and practical reasons. Criminals need reform, and they’re not going to get that by being locked away in a little cell.

    1. Then join a political party and fight for a reform of the judicial system. You can’t ignore the system and just do whatever you please, though. That leads to anarchy.

  25. Any teenager would tell his\her parents, that, albeit he participated in riots as the supporter of the cause, but he did not indulge into an act of crime. And based on such statements, no parent would handover thier child to Police.

    Case closed!
    What is the next illussion on the table….

  26. It was just a bottle.
    You caught him/her and therefore have the chance to educate.
    Go back to the shop and make him/her apologize and pay for the stuff.

    1. Are you also going to make them pay for the broken windows and shutters, the costs of the extra security measures that will have to be taken, and the costs of cleaning up the mess that the looters left? It’s not shoplifting that’s at issue here, it’s looting and rioting.

  27. Theft is theft, simple. It starts with a bottle of water and if it’s not dealt with on an immediate, serious level it’ll escalate to bigger, more expensive items. Stop being nanny state, can we please go back to the days of the short, sharp shock?

  28. I’m not surprised at all that few parents (both real and hypothetical) would report their children to the police.

    So Richard Wiseman, were YOU surprised by these results? On a 1-5 scale (with 1 being “it confirmed my expectations” and 5 being “can’t be! somebody rigged the response!”) … how do you react to this experiment? (My own reaction is approximately 1, for what little it’s worth.)

  29. 86% of parents wouldn’t hand over their rioting teenager to the police!

    Um, no. That’s not what the question asked. You asked about petty theft during a riot, not rioting itself. One offence does not necessarily entail the other. Indeed, the Public Order Act 1986 does not include theft or stealing in it’s definition of riot.

    Yes, a crime was committed by the hypothetical child, but it wasn’t riot.

  30. Because, Richard, an eighteen year-old isn’t a child, they’re an adult. And shopping an adult to the cops means an adult conviction; never expunged.

    I’d happily report my fourteen year-old, if that’s any help.

  31. If my sprog came back from the riots with water, I’d turn them in because they let me down, I’d sent them out for cigarettes and alcohol and an i-pad and some trainers and and and and…

  32. My ideal conception of a prison is not a place of retribution or punishment, but rather a place that says “look, your previous actions have been so egregiously harmful to others, so antithetical to a kind and open society, that we regrettably feel compelled to remove you from the general population for the time being. We aim to provide you with the mental tools you need to once again be able to function in a constructive and benign manner. If we succeed in this task, we will attempt to reintegrate you into society.”

    That’s what prisons *should* be about, but in practise they are not hugely successful at it. The parent should consider the best interests of both their child and society. Would going to prison make him or her a better citizen, or would there be a risk that it would in fact make them more likely to commit crime again? Does the parent feel they have the motivation and capability to help ameliorate their child’s behaviour to a greater degree than the justice system?

    If the answer is yes, then the parent may be entirely ethically justified in at least making an attempt to provide guidance, before taking the more drastic action of handing them over to police. At least from a utilitarian standpoint that is.

  33. when Woolworths went bankrupt, how many people in the media were sad about it and said that they remembered going in as kids and stealing penny sweets and buying their first record single from there. These same media bods are the people calling for the hanging and flogging of the rioters. Apparently it’s OK to break the law if your middle class and you can justify it as “part of your youth”, but for anyone else, lets just shoot em

    1. Are you seriously equating a child stealing a few sweets to people rioting and looting and causing chaos? I don’t condone stealing, and I never stole sweets as a child, but I think there’s a difference in how serious a crime we’re talking about. Not that I am in favour of shooting anyone, but you’re falsifying the discussion here.

  34. A Dutch news website is now linking to the blog in an article headlined ‘86% of looters’ parents won’t turn their children in’. I think the title of this blog post may lead to false reports in the media.

  35. If I’d been a looting teenager, my parents would have come up with a punishment worse than any court could.

    Not reporting a child to the police doesn’t mean not punishing them, it means not screwing up their future for one moment of stupidity.

    Don’t forget that the question was ‘would you’ not ‘should parents’ – and in my scenario, my child is not the Artful Dodger.

  36. My reasons for not turning my child in are a) the value of the property stolen was not great; b) there are mitigating circumstances, in regards to the mob mentality that exists in the middle of a riot; and most importantly c) it doesn’t make sense to ruin a child’s entire life by saddling them with a criminal record that will never go away for one stupid decision made in the heat of the moment at 18.

    Would there be punishment and consequences? Sure thing. They may be 18 and legally an adult, but I still hold a little sway over their lives.

  37. So to everyone who wouldn’t turn their child in, let me turn this around. Imagine you’re a shop owner and there were riots going on in your neighbourhood. The rioters broke into your shop and took whatever they wanted. However, they didn’t destroy your CCTV camera (they may not have noticed it). You watch the tapes and recognise a teen from your neighbourhood as s/he runs into your shop with the other looters and takes a bottle of water. Would you still not turn him/her in?

    1. “Rioters broke in and took whatever they wanted?”

      Sure, the kid who took the bottle of water would be the very first one I’d turn in!

      Seriously, your question sums it up nicely. “took whatever they wanted.” Depending on the shop, that could be hundreds or thousands of pounds of merchandise, and I’ve apparently got it on camera.

      I probably would turn the water thief over, at the bottom of the list, after the people who stole the TVs, laptops, and iPads. But the water thief would not be the one I was worried about.

    2. Well, s/he’s the one you happened to recognise, that’s my point. Just like the parent knows only about their child’s involvement. It’s just a bottle of water, but s/he is one of the people who broke in and destroyed your shop. I wouldn’t imagine an electronics store selling water, but sure, a newsagent’s or grocery store may have more expensive items.
      But imo, the point isn’t what they stole, it’s the fact that they decided to destroy a shop to get to it. I think it’s worse to go through all that effort for a bottle of water, that shows it’s just vandalism pure and simple. Looting for the sake of looting. I could maybe understand desperately poor people stealing some sort of staple food items, but stealing ‘just’ a bottle of water shows that you really didn’t NEED to take anything, you just happened to enjoy plundering the place.

    3. I think perhaps the lack of additional information is creating the disagreement. I assumed no other violence or criminal activity, and you assumed there was by definition more criminal activity.

      So, yes, if I believed my child had been an active rioter, had done harm, I would turn them in. But I’ld turn them in for THAT, not for the bottle of water.

  38. I think the bottle of water was a bit poorly chosen. I’m sure most of the looters took more, and more expensive things, making this almost a hypothetical question that doesn’t say much about people’s opinions with regard to what *actually* happened.

    Perhaps it would have been useful to not just vary the sex of the hypothetical child, but also what they had stolen? I’m sure many more people would turn their child in to the police if it was a plasma television they had stolen…

    For what it’s worth, if they had stolen something a bit more substantial than a bottle of water, I would turn my child in to the police (or rather, make them turn themselves in), since I would think it important that they learn to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences.

    But for a bottle of water I think I would punish them myself and not burden the system unduly at a time when there are much worse crimes that need attention.

  39. this is far better percentage than the number of parents who reported their banker offspring for crashing the world ecomony just a few years ago – so hope for us yet.

  40. I’m surprised that many people say that they’d turn their own child in. I fully agree that anyone taking a major, or even minor, part in the riots has committed a crime and should be punished, or at least expect to be punished if caught by the police. However, receiving a criminal record is something that would be with this kid for the rest of their life and would most likely seriously mess up any chance of a decent career.

    My child would be severely punished by me for taking part, don’t doubt that for a second. But as a parent (which I am not yet, btw) I couldn’t turn in a member of my family for a small offence like that if it were to guarantee to mess up their chances in life. The courts are being incredibly harsh with sentences for looting, which I am not totally against, but I couldn’t let that happen to my own kid if the consequences were so bad. It’s not just “a few days in the slammer” it’s the after effects of what a criminal record means that I’d be worried about.

    1. So you’re not totally against harsh sentences as long as no member of your family is subject to them? No offense, but I honestly don’t understand that. Why do you believe that your family should be treated differently from other families?

  41. Its not the crime, its the punishment. Two weeks ago I would have dragged them up the cop shop by their ear expecting them to get a rollocking form a cop and perhaps shown the inside of a cell to freak them out. But now, knowing that they might get 18 months in prison? For a bottle of water? Why would anyone do that to their child? You wouldn’t recognise them when they came out. Would they thank you and say they have learned from their experience? They would return to you completley brutalised and bitter and you would have lost them forever. Still, the right thing eh?

    1. 18 months? The guy who stole a six pack of water got 6 months, and the article I read about it in the paper this morning said that even that sentence is likely to get overturned on appeal. So no, I don’t think they’d get 18 months.

  42. Love you, Richard, but for christ’s sakes it’s only a bottle of water. Your headline is very Daily Mail worthy. I’m disapointrd to see it voming fron you. I would’ve punished my kid privately by making him or her tell the shop owner and do free labor in return. But risk harming his or her record? No. Not only that but it would be wasting the authorities time. There’s plenty of real criminals for them to spend their time dealing with.

  43. Berber,

    Your amended hypothetical scenario differs from the original in key areas. A shop owner does not have the ability to give moral guidance to the child in the way a parent may. Additionally, the shop owner has no way of knowing what (if any) guidance the parent will apply. In this situation, the risks of going to the police (to the child and society) remain the same, but the benefits of *not* going to the police are greatly reduced – to the extent that going to the police would probably become the more attractive option.

    (To understand what I mean about benefits and risks, please see my above post.)

    In addition, I dispute your claim that making carefully considered decisions about the extent to which you follow the laws of your society necessarily leads to anarchy. It’s simply not so. If someone is making every attempt to lead an ethical and reasoned life, they are highly likely to follow laws that have good consequences for society, and will only ignore them when they believe it to be in the best interests of all concerned. Far more dangerous would be to advocate blindly following the laws, no matter whether they are unjust or inhumane. That style of thinking could lead to a truly awful society.

    1. I believe that you can’t just pick and choose what laws to follow. That’s like people who ignore traffic laws ‘because they are meant for bad drivers, not for people like me’. If we, as a society and a democracy, have decided that certain acts need to be punished a certain way, then those acts have to be punished that way. If we disagree with the laws that say so, we can use our democratic rights to have them replaced by better laws. If we think they are unjustly applied, we can appeal the judge’s decicion. We can’t just decide to ignore them.

      You see, what constitutes ‘ethical’ isn’t set in stone. Sure, ‘don’t murder people’ tends to be fairly universal, but other than that? Someone who wants to follow the Mosaic law from the Old Testament may decide that everyone eating shellfish is being unethical, or that rape is not unethical as long as the rapist marries the victim. Someone who thinks Old Irish law is the greatest thing ever may decide that the proper punishment for injuring someone is to pay for their treatment until they’re well again, while someone who lives by the old Sicilian moral code may decide that injuring the aggressor is a better punishment.

      We have to agree on certain punishments or reparative measures for certain crimes, or it all descends into chaos. That’s why we have our elected government create laws, which are upheld by independent judges in order to ensure fairness. And if we dislike those laws, we can elect another government that will change them.

      But for now, the law does not say ‘theft of a bottle of water will be punished by the perpetrator’s parents if he is under 20, unless we can’t be sure of their parenting skills, in which case we let a judge decide’.

      Oh, and for further reference, there’s a little link next to the commenter’s name that says ‘reply’. That will keep the replies to a comment threaded, making them easier to find.

  44. Socially it might be important to ‘send a message’ with harsh sentences for low value theft but I guess parents don’t see why someone else can’t be made an example of. Some crimes have been pretty shocking, saw a youtube of someone being dragged off a moving motorcycle by rioters.

  45. They don’t trust the police. Would you turn your kid over to the police if you were sure the system were stacked against you? You’d be a fool to. I’ve heard and read more than one story about the problems of racism in the UK police system.

  46. If I had good, solid evidence of such vandalism or thievery by even my 6yr old, I would turn them in. NQA.

    I understand love, but it does have limits.

    Cold, cruel and heartless? Maybe.

    1. In a perfect world, maybe i would share your opinion, but

      Jean Charles de Menezes

      reminds me that we are not in a perfect world… (wich would not need this poice stuff at all… )

      I think you have terribly wrong atttitude (or a verly low opo#inion of vour own abilities), if you expcets justice to better care for your 6yr old than yourself…

      By the way, you schould be the legal guardian of your 6yr old, and you really should take care that he gets his right of silence….

      WTF has the National Quilting Association to sowith this?

  47. It’s a good thing to have a good relationship with the police to start with. I think I would have had my child, my self, and my neighbor the police man all visit the store that was robbed. I would have my child admit to the robbed shop owner what she did, pay for what was she took, and offer reparations beyond that (clean-up help or some other labor). I would hope that would be enough for the shop keeper & the officer. If not, then at least I know we handled it in a way that my child takes responsibility & acts toward full reconciliation & restoration of peace.

  48. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but in the US criminal charges have a domino effect. You can get picked up or pulled off many times and if there’s nothing on your record they let you for, but If there is a prior arrest, you’re much more likely to have another, like a speeding ticket can become a reckless driving charge. I don’t believe the justice is very effective at justice, or rehabilitation, or moral education. As long as we have alternatives to criminal prosecution, especially for young people, we should use those first.

    1. It depends on what you think the criminal justice system is for. If it is for protection of society against criminals, then turning the child in probably doesn’t make sense. There’s no evidence in the story that this is a habitual thing. If it is to rehabilitate criminals, the parents can probably do that better than the courts and a prison sentence, assuming it was one bottle of water and there was no violence or vandalism. If it is to punish criminals, well, the aftermath of a riot is going to be a regular witch-hunt, us vs. them, with public shaming and possibly extravagant punishments, even if they get turned over on appeal. It appears that many other parents agree with me: if the punishment is likely to be out of proportion, then neither society nor the criminal is being served well. The parents clearly want some punishment to take place, but don’t trust the criminal justice system to do a good or fair job. This seems an indictment of the criminal justice system, rather than the parents.

  49. The punishment should fit the crime. That’s not just a bedrock rule of good parenting, but of civility generally. Reporting anyone — whether it’s my child or a stranger — to the police for stealing a bottle of water would be hugely disproportionate. There’s a risk of creating an embarrassing and permanent criminal record, and of having the person suffer from the capricious enforcement of the laws in an overheated situation like the aftermath of rioting. Richard, your question was absurd on its face. The shocking part is that 16% of respondents chose to turn their child in. They must not have understood the question correctly.

    1. How embarrassing. My computer decided to restart itself for Windows Update as I was typing my reply, and though the reply itself was still present after the restart (and I just went on typing it), it appears that the threading of the comment was lost, which I didn’t notice. So my reply is below your post, rather than threaded. Sorry.

  50. I understood the question to mean that the child was a rioter, broke into a store with other rioters, and took a bottle of water. I’d turn them in for that (or, more likely, I’d do what my dad just said he’d do and make the child turn him/herself in).

    I looked up how criminal records work in Britain earlier (because here in Holland, employers are only allowed to see convictions that would interfere with the job they’re offering, and even then all they’ll be told is that there’s a conviction present), and Wikipedia says that a sentence of up to six months — and they wouldn’t get more, six months is what the guy who stole six bottles of water got — can be expunged after 7 years. ( So at most, they’d have it on their record until they were 25. Although I do believe that it’s kind of wrong to allow employers to see someone’s full criminal record, that’s none of their business in my eyes.

    The punishment that a judge hands out according to the law is intended to fit the crime. If you believe it’s disproportionate, you should campaign to change the law. But as long as it’s in place, that’s the law and if you commit a crime, that’s the punishment you should receive.

    1. I get what you’re saying, and somewhat agree, if you don’t like something work to change it. But some punishments are so out of line with the crime that it is morally right to not follow the law. The law used to be that you, as a villager, HAD to stone someone for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. You would work to change that law, but are you saying that you should follow law and throw stones while trying to get things changed? (and yeah it’s a valid question, if you apply logic in one instance you should be able to apply it to extreme cases)
      You should do things because they are right, and if a law/punishment is wrong you shouldn’t follow it. It’s getting past Kohlberg’s 5th stage of social obligation to the higher level 6 of universal ethics.

    2. I understood the question to mean that the child was a rioter, broke into a store with other rioters, and took a bottle of water.

      The question did not say that. That’s an entirely different matter to what Richard proposed. I assume that if he’d meant to ask that, he’d have asked it. What you ‘took it to mean’ is in line with your own preconceptions.

    3. anaglyph: Well, if he didn’t intend for the child to be a rioter, then why would he call them a ‘rioting teenager’ in this post? And the breaking into a store is a logical assumption, that’s what the rioters did. If he meant that the teen wandered into a previously looted store and took a bottle of water, he’d have said ‘in the aftermath of the riots’, not ‘during the riots’.

    4. TomZ: Was that a law set by a democratically chosen government that represents the people? In that case, I’d lose faith in my fellow countrymen and move away. But I think you’re talking about laws set by theocracies or dictatorships, which aren’t as easy to change.

      And if you’re asking me whether I’d kill someone if the law said I had to: No, I wouldn’t. My instinct tells me not to kill, and that’s an instinct that I’d disobey the law for. In fact, I wouldn’t want to live in a country that upheld the death penalty. But that’s on quite another level than someone getting a few months in jail for a serious crime.

    5. Oh for frack’s sake. This was the question in toto:

      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.

      That’s the question I answered, and have been speaking on. This is a blog that assumes its readers will have some kind of sense of rationality. I figure that means we are smart enough not to make assumptions. I made no assumption but simply answered the question that was asked.

    6. And actually, I’m kinda pissed that Richard has changed the meaning of his question by adding in this post:

      Half of you were asked to imagine that the teenage rioter was male and the other half imagined that the rioter was female. Half of you were asked to imagine that the teenage rioter was male and the other half imagined that the rioter was female.

      No, we weren’t asked to imagine that at all. If Richard had asked me to imagine my child was one of the rioters, I’d have answered the question differently. The issue in the original question was about theft, not about rioting. Indeed, the action is still only theft, unless we’re asked to imagine another situation where the teenager is involved in insurrection in addition to theft.

      I am disappointed in Richard’s rather tabloid rephrasing of his original idea and am now revising how I feel about his intentions. Shock? Yes, I guess so. But not for the reasons he might think.

    7. Hm. Well, seeing how many people believe that the original question indicated ‘just’ stealing a bottle of water (either after rioters broke into a store or at an unrelated store during the riots), I am inclined to believe that Richard may not have phrased the original question clearly enough.

      He must have intended for it to mean what I thought it meant, that the child rioted and looted a bottle of water, as he talks about rioters in this post and expresses shock at people not turning them in. But that’s clearly not what others read into it.

      Maybe he should repeat the experiment with clearer phrasing.

  51. I’m not going to do the cop’s job for them. And besides, as previously said, very well by Mike Inside, the ideal prison would be one of rehabbing to reintroduce the individual to society. Seems the goal of turning in your child in this situation is strictly to punish. I feel that I could do a better job of rehabbing and helping her understand the lapse in moral judgement than leaving that to a more morally corrupt justice system (at least where I am in the US).
    Leaving someone else (or a system) to do the job of instilling and reinforcing morality and you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t match what you would teach.

  52. I would bet that, when really in the situation, even less than 14% of parents would hand over their child to the police. It’s just much more important for a parent to protect the child than to protect society.

  53. taking a bottle of water is a misdemeanor at best. if you handed your kid over they would be really screwed. also, how many parents would avoid paying for bail if they could. haha

  54. It certainly wouldn’t be an easy choice, but which course of action is going to provide a better life lesson to the teenager?

    I think turning them in might be the answer, even though it may alienate the parents for some time.

  55. Matters not if it was ‘ just a bottle of water.’The kid knew exactly what they were doing.
    They made a decision to join in… they face the consequences.
    Only a bottle of water today…only a tv the next…only a…

  56. Nobody knows except me and my child. Which means they would have had to have confessed to me – no way would I have a clue that a bottle of water (probably drunk before they even got home) was stolen and not purchased. (Hey – Richard didn’t give all the background, why shouldn’t I make up my own?)
    Which means the child already feels guilty. And I feel quite comfortable that I would punish them, rather than have them acquire a criminal record that is going to screw up the rest of their lives.
    The people saying “report them!” seem to be equating “not reporting to police” with “no consequences”, which is NOT at all the same thing.
    And to return to the brackets at the end of my first paragraph – it is clear that people in the poll were answering different questions to each other. So I would regard the result as skewed at best, sensationalism at worst. Certianly not any kind of legitimate psychology.

  57. What’s interesting to me is that because Richard’s initial question was slightly vague and did not give a lot of specifics, people have added their own interpretation to fit what answer they gave. To me it seems that:-

    Those that say they wouldn’t hand in their son/daughter interpret “stole a bottle of water from a shop during the riots” to mean that the person involved was not in any way involved in criminal damage or creating an air of fear and intimidation in their community and liken it to a ‘simple’ act of shoplifting. It then becomes purely about the theft of a bottle of water and, because that is a low cost item in itself, is not deemed ‘proper theft’ and therefore not subject to the laws of the land.

    Those that answered they would hand their son/daughter in seem to interpret the same phrase to mean that the person involved was a rioter, was involved in the riots, and whilst they may or may not have directly caused criminal damage, they, by their presence condoned the damage, theft and intimidation carried out around them. The theft of the water therefore could not be easily separated from the events that allowed the theft to take place and therefore the consequences as set down in the laws of the land had to be faced.

    I was in the camp that would hand in their son/daughter.

    Although, I understand the points that people are making regarding the possible length of punishment, and I feel myself that some of them have been disproportionate, a society cannot function if everyone decideds to follow their own rules. That way lies greater inequality and anarchy. If you think the system is wrong then use your vote, use your voice and campaign for change.

    If 86% of parents would not hand in their children for something which is, however you look at it, a criminal act, thereby sending the signal to that child that stealing is okay as long as your mum or dad gives you a good telling off then it is not to surprising as to how a situation like the riots arose.

  58. I said “no”, and the fact that you told us that “you know that if you take him to the police he will be charged and convicted” is precisely why – because what that tells me is that the CPS are pressing charges that don’t even come close to being in the public interest. I have no problem with subjecting my offspring to the rule of law, but I do have a problem with causing him to be scapegoated in a shallow and inconsistent display of political machismo. I’d check what the punishment would be under normal, saner circumstances, and as far as possible administer it myself.

    But that said, even if I didn’t know he’d be convicted, I wouldn’t shop him, because I would assume that he wouldn’t be charged and as such it would be a waste of police time. I’d be abdicating responsibility in using the police to scare my son like some kind of outsourced parenting tool, when I could discipline him at least as effectively myself.

    Incidentally, I can’t imagine how I found out about the water. Am I Poirot?

  59. I think this is quite an unrealistic question and can’t be easily answered with short yes/no. I think the more important issue is not about stealing a bottle of water as that’s just a stupid petty thing that any teenager could have done in any situation.

    The real question is what is he/she doing getting involved in a violent riot?! If he/she involved in this kind of serious criminal activity it would be highly unlikely that he/she would only steal a bottle of water after following a bunch of rioters who destroy houses, business, act violently towards innocent people etc. That alone is a sign of serious and deeper problem. And for that I would hand him/her in to the police and definitely get him/her psychological help!

  60. I’m disappointed in the way Richard has handled this. The headline of this post sensationally proclaims: 86% of parents wouldn’t hand over their rioting teenager to the police!

    The question that was asked was not ‘Would you hand over your rioting teenager to the police’, but was instead phrased to be rather more innocuous. Personally, I feel duped. It now appears to me that Richard had some kind of agenda that he wanted to see fulfilled. Either that or he has been uncharacteristically sloppy in his protocol. It seriously makes me wonder about his other data-gathering efforts.

    This is the kind of misrepresentation of the data that I fully expect on sites full of pseudoscience, but is seriously out of place here. I maintain a faint hope that his intention will be revealed in the next post to be something about how the media distorts facts and figures for its own sensationalist ends, and that we have been involved in a kind of meta-experiment. Otherwise, my estimation of Richard as a critical thinker has fallen considerably.

    1. ” I maintain a faint hope that his intention will be revealed in the next post to be something about how the media distorts facts and figures for its own sensationalist ends, and that we have been involved in a kind of meta-experiment. Otherwise, my estimation of Richard as a critical thinker has fallen considerably.”

      Now that you have provided this out, let’s hope Richard grabs onto it.

  61. I looked at it and didn’t vote because I could think of all the alternative “what if”s that have been put forward. As it happens, one of my teeneged children was caught shoplifting (pre riot days) and the shop were happy to ban them, not to press charges, and have the police take them home (note use of Oxford comma btw!). This was acceptable for me and, along with my punishment, taught my child a lesson. They have not re-offended so I reckon it was more successful than many prison sentences. I would worry that, post riots, things may be done differently and the punishment seems to be getting vindictive.

  62. I think it was the way you framed your question. I wouldn’t hand my kid over for stealing a bottle of water. I believe that clean water is a human right, and it shouldn’t be sold.
    Now, if you’d asked whether they’d hand their kid over if they’d helped flip over a car, or set fire to a house or business, or messed someone up, or threw something at a cop — YOU BET YOUR ASS I’d turn ’em in, with a few bruises about the face and torso — and the last thing they’d hear from me was “Don’t expect me to bail you, either!”

  63. why would you give your child the disadvantage of having a criminal record when you can make them feel like an idiot as a parent. the police should be a last resort for parents who have no control whatsoever. I intend to teach my child to be wary of police officers unless he is in trouble. they are the one group of society that has the power to ruin someones life in an instant.

  64. Your headline totally misrepresents what your thought experiment said. Shoplifting and rioting are two completely different things. Fail.

  65. I said that I would not hand my child over because I feel the police would be far too harsh on them. I would punish them myself at home. If it was a violent crime, or something far bigger than a bottle of water, yeah, I would make them turn themselves in.

  66. because the world crisis and the united kingdom situation, WHY ONLY ONE ADULT PAY IN PRISON FOR THE BANK CRASH ? Adults are responsable, not childs

  67. Most justice systems are rather crude affairs. If I were a parent would I hand my kid over for this kind of crime? Absolutely not.if I as a parent could not do a better job using this as a teaching moment to help develop the morality of my kid, than than the police, I have no business parenting.

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  69. Every crime committed should have its own consequence to be paid. Parents should not allow their teens to feel that they can do everything bad without facing any punishment. If a parent spoils their teens then they get into bigger trouble that would really harm them. Let us teach our teens that there is no crime left unpaid. Keep them from being troubled teens.

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