Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Justin. Justin Wonders, “What causes someone to be a kleptomaniac, and is there a way to help them not be one?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Justin!

Picture it: You’re walking through your favorite store. You browse the video games, then turn the corner. There they are. At the end of the aisle. Gleaming in the fluorescent light. The headphones your parents won’t buy for you. 

You understand that they’re expensive, but you just want these headphones so badly. Looking around, you realize you’re alone in the aisle. No one is watching. No one would see if you took the headphones. But that would be stealing! You know that’s wrong. What will you do?

Most people know it’s not okay to steal. No matter how badly you want something, it’s unfair to take it without paying for it. And, of course, there are legal consequences for stealing. For all these reasons, most people avoid stealing, even when it’s an object they really, really want. But sometimes, people are unable to control their impulse to steal.

If a person can’t stop themselves from stealing, they may have kleptomania. This is a psychological disorder in which people can’t avoid the impulse to steal. Usually, people with this condition feel guilty after they’ve taken something that wasn’t theirs. They don’t intend to steal—they just can’t seem to stop doing it.

Many people imagine that those with kleptomania steal expensive objects. After all, shiny diamonds or brand new TVs might seem like the most tempting items. However, the truth is just the opposite. Most often, people with kleptomania take small things of little value. In many cases, they could have afforded to buy the stolen item. Other times, they take small things from others who might not immediately miss them. 

So why steal at all? Many find this condition hard to understand. But it’s important to remember that, for people with kleptomania, it’s not about wanting to steal. It’s about not being able to stop the impulse to take things.

How common is kleptomania? It’s very rare. Only about 0.3 to 0.6 percent of people have this condition. It is more common among women than among men. There’s no clear cause of kleptomania. But experts note that it often coincides with other impulse control disorders, like substance abuse.

Still, treatment can help people with kleptomania control their impulses. This often includes therapy and medicine. However, many with kleptomania find it hard to seek treatment. They often feel too guilty about their actions to talk about them. Others are afraid they’ll be arrested for stealing if they admit to their problem.

Of course, not everyone who steals has kleptomania. Some people plan out thefts ahead of time and steal things that are very valuable. They probably don’t have this disorder. But if a person can’t resist the urge to steal, kleptomania could be the root of the problem.

Have you ever been tempted to take something that wasn’t yours? Most people have at one point in their lives.  It’s important to remember that kleptomania isn’t a moral failing—it’s a psychiatric condition that can be treated. If you know someone who shows symptoms of this disorder, encourage them to talk with a trusted adult.

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.8, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.SL.1

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