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THE QUESTION

Lately I've been noticing quite a few of my favourite things going missing from my house. Nothing too valuable, but things like gloves, hats, scarves – and coats. A couple of my favourite jackets have simply vanished from the closet in the front hall. I don't want to be suspicious but I have two teenagers and their friends sleep over often. All great kids but I sometimes wonder if they're stealing my things. I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to shut down these sleepovers – I like knowing where my kids are. At the same time, having all these items disappear gets expensive, because you have to replace them. Any thoughts?

THE ANSWER

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Yes, quite a few.

I have been the father of three teenage boys (I say "have been" because two still are, one – *sniff* – no longer) and so have had ample opportunity to observe their unique behaviours and habits.

The sleepover thing is new, as far as I can tell. I don't remember staying over much at my friends' parents' houses as an adolescent. But with my kids it's constant: either they're at their friends' parents' places or else I'll find a gaggle –

Oh, wait, that's geese. I need a collective noun for teens – like "murder of crows" or "parliament of owls." How about "a slouch of teens"?

Okay, so I'll find a slouch of teens, usually in the basement, on couch cushions, futons, foam mattresses. Squinting and groaning against the light I flip on as I enter...

Eventually the slouch of teens files sleepily up to the kitchen and start rifling through the cupboards and fridge like a sleuth of bears that has pried open the screen door.

(I was going to say "that's new too, in ye olden days we would politely ask parents if we could" and blah blah blah but realized that is categorically untrue. We would rifle through friends' parents' stuff like a gaze of raccoons that chewed a hole in the roof. One mom I remember tried to hide her cans of smoked oysters in the back of a Lazy Susan in a low-lying cupboard. How we teens snuffled and snorted with amusement at this simpleminded ruse as we pried the cans open with our prehensile forepaws and scooped out the contents.)

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In any case, it all makes for a very fluid household. People come and go, and, true, stuff sometimes seems to walk out the door with them.

Do the kids mean to "steal"? To be honest I've never really been sure. It's all part of Teen Entropy. Things age quickly around teens: furniture, floors, door handles, parents. Many things simply vanish.

In the end, does it matter? Is there any point in trying to establish intent?

It's like the old philosophical chestnut: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound?"

To which I think the only reasonable answer is: "What's the difference?"

Likewise, if a teen borrows something of mine without asking then loses it, is it stolen? What's the difference? Either way the thing has vanished and I will never see it again.

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Of course, you could attempt to establish intent, take appropriate measures to reprimand, punish, and so on. That would be the conventional wisdom. I just predict you will find yourself wandering down a foggy road leading to a murky moral morass–

No, I think the only practical way to avoid your stuff growing legs and leaving the house and/or being stuffed in the backpacks of sticky-fingered teens is to think like a teen.

My own kids keep all their coats and hats and scarves in their rooms. So when they go to dress for a chilly day they will go up to their rooms, come down in hat and coat and so on. Once I asked my middle child why he does that.

"Otherwise everything disappears," he said matter-of-factly.

So there you have it. Hide stuff you care about (me I hide blueberries, which tend to get pounced upon in our household, in the vegetable drawer, where my teens would never look). I assume you have a bedroom, or a closet – though things aren't necessarily safe in these redoubts. You need a place you can lock. If you don't have one, may I suggest some sort of trunk, or – well, anything the prying, sticky, simian fingers of teenagers can't open.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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