My husband and I helped our son pay for an iPod Touch three years ago, paying $100. He paid the other half. About a year ago, our young daughter found images of nude girls in the screenshot gallery on the iPod. He lied when we asked him about it.

We confiscated the device. He moved out about two months ago, and we just found out that he took the iPod from my desk drawer before leaving.

Should we address this issue in some way with him, and if so, how can we appropriately do so as parents?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 8:10
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    While I generally agree with @Nij's edit, I concern he altered the question a bit too much. The original question clearly had a moral aspect ("Did our adult son steal from us?") that is now lost. Many of the earlier answers made a comment on this (I even focused on this part), and the edit degraded them somewhat. Feel free to disagree though.
    – Neinstein
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 19:01
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    Rather than a potential edit war, I would prefer that be discussed on meta -- we aren't Morality, Philosophy, or Legal StackExchange, so a focus on the moral aspect is not particularly topical.
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 19:38
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    A big question for me is did you intend to keep if from him, or did you just forget you had it?
    – coteyr
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 4:48
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    You should clarify if the pictures were porn, vs pictures of girls he knows, and if those pictures were legal or not. Because the answer to what appropriate action is might vary greatly depending on those answers Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 13:51

14 Answers 14


You say you "helped your son pay" for the device. That implies that it is your son who was buying the device, making him its owner, and that is the understanding of the transaction that you yourself entertained. Confiscating it because of it being used opposite to house rules does not put it in your possession, like a teacher confiscating a device considered not to be brought to school would not become its owner. He moved out. I cannot see that he can be seen as "stealing" a device that is his to start with.

He took it from your desk drawer. That's a breach of the privacy of your desk. It does not appear like you were intending to give back his property on your own and he was probably tired of arguing with you over it.

Personally, I don't think you have anything to gain by painting this as a "theft". Your son is an adult, and messing around with his property, including property you helped him acquire, is not your business. Any confrontation here would erase any trace of "lingering guilt" he might entertain and replace it with anger at you.

Your resentment seems to be based off "he lied to you" but you make it sound like you set him up for it. Would he have gotten off any better if he had told you the truth? It does not sound like it. Parents not being able to deal reasonably with the truth make lying sort-of mandatory. The cost of occasionally being caught is the lesser price to pay than that of being forthright. If you are going to be punished anyway, why not lie and get off occasionally?

Your opportunity for education is mostly over. Most of what you try now will impact the quality of your ongoing relationship more than it will impact his behavior. I'd suggest not wasting your remaining influence on this.

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    If the daughter is younger and/or still at home, one must also now consider both the impact on her and the way in which the OP may learn a lesson going forward and apply that to the daughter's education, as that opportunity is not over. Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 15:43
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    He most likely was also an adult a year ago (or close to be). It might even have been situations like this that made him decide to move. Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 7:22
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    "Your opportunity for education is mostly over". I think you can safely remove "mostly". Apart from that, full agreement.
    – sleske
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 11:07
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    Parents not being able to deal reasonably with the truth make lying sort-of mandatory +1
    – Mou某
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 14:24
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    If you want to take back the device, at least give him back his share of the price. Otherwise it practically looks like theft. If you have a problem with him watching photos nude girls, then taking away the device will serve nothing in that regards, you can't control him. It might only damage your relationship. If you think it's wrong, talk it over with him, then there might be a chance of him changing his behavior.
    – Rolf
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 17:25

The question we need to answer is "Is the device his device or not?"

If the device was his and you just agreed to pay a portion of it as a gift (as in - no strings attached) then the device was not yours to keep. Perhaps you could ride the line that he can't use it in your house while he lived there but as far as that is concerned, it was his to take. It's not stealing if the device was his.

Also, in that same thought, if the device was truly his for his personal use, why was your young daughter using it? Did she ask permission first? Did you let her use it despite it being his device or did he lend it to her?

If she took it and used it without permission, she should have been just as in trouble. If you let her use it despite it being his device, that's not fair and wasn't your choice to make. If he lent it to her to play with, that's careless and I could understand. (But in this situation, still not stealing)

Now, if it was a family device, yes he has stolen it and you should discuss this with him.

How to approach this situation:

If the answer to the question is it was his device, then you ask the following: "Did you remove the iPod Touch from my desk drawer?" If he answers "yes" then say "OK. I would have preferred for you to let me know so I didn't feel like I had lost it."

If it was a family device then you ask the same first question and then you can proceed with the following two statements:

"OK. We need you to return the item and we will return your $100" or "OK. You can keep it but please reimburse the $100 we also paid for it."

Be Careful and think clearly about the following point: If the original intent was that you'd pay $100 to subsidize the cost for him so that you could let your daughter also play with it, but did not specifically state that intent, then you should consider it as a gift, as his personal item, and leave it alone. Not stating this intent would be the equivalent of an ambiguous contract and in this case you are the drafter, he is the signer.

If the intent was for the device to be his for his personal use, then you cannot renege on that agreement because you're disappointed he took it.


I spoke with my wife in a hypothetical about this situation because I wanted to see a different take if she had one and we both agreed on one aspect of this story. Despite the outcome of whoever's iPod Touch it is, both parties in this situation are at fault for some reason or another and it still should be discussed and communicated (calmly and peacefully without jumping to allegations and insults).

The same is covered here. The son should have asked for the device back. If the device was kept in public space that everyone has "access" too but still in a "confiscated" state, then yes, perhaps he could have taken it, but it still should have been communicated that he was taking it.

Since the phone was not in a public space but rather in a private drawer in someone's personal space then he is partially in the wrong. He should have asked first for the device back. It is still not "stealing" (if the device is his) but it is a violation of family and interpersonal order.

Further update

Since the consulate analogy apparently wasn't on target enough, I have removed it but the rest of the answer still stands.

I'd like to note that a lot of users are trying to piece together information that simply doesn't exist. OP has removed their account so we can no longer receive updates (unless they decide to come back).

  • We don't know the context of the conversation that occurred when he lied about the pornography.
  • We don't know the restraints/implications/agreements made between the minor child and the parents when the device was purchased.
  • Yes, the child is an adult now, but what if he moved out right when he was 18 thus the device was put in a confiscated status when he was still a minor. We simply don't know.

A majority of users assumed a lot of things and a lot of the bandwagon has been to jump on the parents and engage, accuse, and judge them for their actions when we, as a community simply don't know the other side of the story or even more of the story simply because the OP was possibly infuriated, dismayed, or had a lack of trust in this community simply because of the way their question was reacted to.

At the end of the day both parties are adults including the child which means both parties should be able to communicate as adults. This should have been a non-issue and it was blown up for reasons unknown. Answering questions with information that we don't have goes against the premise of the question. We don't do that here.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 14:21
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    "Answering questions with information that we don't have goes against the premise of the question. We don't do that here." - If only this were true. +1 anyway.
    – zugzwang
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 5:11

Any opinions or advice on how I should address this matter, if at all, is appreciated.

You don't address it.

Accusing him of stealing his own device (which you took from him) will only harm your relationship further. Raising such an accusation, in your situation, cannot benefit any of the involved parties in any way.

In his mind it's his device. He was the one using it, and from your description it seems you also think of it as your son's device. Any accusation of stealing will turn into an argument over whose device it actually is. From your own words it is his property: You can't help him pay for something you will own, and you can't confiscate your property. You can help him pay for something he will own, and you can confiscate his property.

An even better choice than not addressing it, is to apologize for having crossed boundaries when you took away his belongings.

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    +1 for the parent should apologize to the son here. Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 9:52
  • Probably good advice here, but parenting is not always easy. Often leaving well enough alone is very good advice in many situations.
    – KalleMP
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:28

TL,DR: I don't believe you should've seize his device. If he's an adult, you should consider him as one. You shouldn't "punish" him as parents punish their son: you should have a talk about the problem, apply some reasonable restrictions at most, but not taking something that belongs to him.

You say you "helped our son pay for an iPod Touch". From this, I belive the iPod is considered to be his property:* he is the only user, and bought it for himself with your help. If that's the case, I have some concerns.

  1. You consider him an adult. An adult is free to decide what he keeps or not on his iPod - as far as it's legal - even if you don't like his choice. You can talk about the problem, but you shouldn't punish him. You punish a child, not an adult. (If it's illegal, that's a whole another question, of course.)
  2. The main problem seems to be that his young sister saw adult images because of his fault. Was she allowed to use the device? If not, she's the one who should've been punished. If yes, you should talk with your son about his carelessness, and come up with something that ensures this never happens again. Password protecting, removal of files, etc.
  3. He lied about the pictures. a) That's another problem to talk about; and the solution is not seizing an iPod. (How would this prevent future lies, anyway?) b) Honestly, what else did you expect when you asked your son "Do you have any porn on your mobile?" in a confronting way?
  4. Your son can't steal his own iPod. In his point of view, you "stole" his property (he paid 100$ for it - and that may be more money for him than for you), and he took it back from you rightfully. That's another thing to talk about. You should explicitly agree on who the device belongs to - see @SomeShinyObject's answer.
  5. Your punishment looks like a tool for ethical education: this works for a child, but it's nonsense to use on an adult. You should accept that after some point, you can't force him to follow your ethics, only hint him. And for this, you need reasonable methods. He grew up: your job as a teacher is over, you should evolve into a good, supportive friend instead, who he can always count on.

*If the iPod is considered a family property, and you agreed that other family members will use it, then my answer is 75% invalid. If it was (stated or not) considered his property before the issue, and you changed your attitude after - well, you shouldn't have.

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    I'm downvoting, because this answer addresses something outside of the question: namely, what the parent should have done. This isn't something the question is asking about, and isn't construed in a way that makes it relevant to this answer. You might be able to address the question using this; but you don't, and your TLDR makes it clear that you aren't. Peter's answer does this effectively.
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 17:11
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    @Joe Please realize that at the time I answered the question, it was "Did our son steal from us?", rather than the current one. This answer adresses this aspect, that is less strong in the new - edited - question. They did a wrong move in the past, and they shouldn't blame their sonif he takes the phone back. If you belive the tldr part degrades my answer, feel free to remove it.
    – Neinstein
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 19:09
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    This question seems to get edited daily, and I see OP has even removed themselves from it. Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 15:33

If the OP's handle is anything to go by it sounds like a parent who expects the 'children' to follow. I have 4 kids between 10 and 25 and they are all individuals. Sure, they do things I don't like or wouldn't do myself. But I have confidence that the parenting I put in will show through. They won't become me but they will become themselves. There comes a time when you have to let go and hope for the best and enjoy them and their own unique take on life.

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    LOL - indeed. When Huey Duey and Louie move out, she needs to come to grips with the fact that she's no longer MamaDuck365 as far as they are concerned. She's only MamaDuck when they want her to be , and in this case unfortunately, that might be as often as she's like, unless she takes some of the actions recommended in other answers.
    – user7405
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 19:03

We confiscated the device. He moved out about two months ago...

  • Your son simply did what young men naturally do - not sure why you had to "confiscate the device", as if he engaged in some criminal act. It would have been more than sufficient if you just threw out a hint in passing, not confronting him about the pictures or bawling him out. Something like - "you should be careful about things on the internet - there are people on there who aren't so nice..." - and not pursuing it any further. I might be more worried if I didn't find such things on his iPad.
  • Since he probably anticipated your reaction based on previous experience, he naturally lied about the pictures. Your history with him arguably caused him to lie to you.
  • Perhaps one of the reasons he moved out was because you "confiscated his device"? Also, since he apparently paid for most of the iPad, did you compensate him for the loss when you "confiscated his device"?

our young daughter found images of nude girls in the screenshot gallery on the iPod

Let your son alone. But consider disciplining your still young daughter for snooping around in her brother's stuff. It's not the sort of behavior you should be encouraging, unless you're interested in raising a hacker or a shoplifter or a miserable nosy-body. Didn't you ever teach her "Curiosity killed the Cat?" I suppose it's too late for that now - a year has gone by in the interim - but keep it mind.

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    OP did not invent the term, nor did I wantonly connect it with criminality: See: Asset forfeiture: Asset forfeiture or asset seizure is a form of confiscation of assets by the state. It typically applies to the alleged proceeds or instruments of crime. This applies, but is not limited, ... other criminal and even civil offenses. Some jurisdictions specifically use the term "confiscation" ... purpose of asset forfeiture is to disrupt criminal activity by confiscating assets that potentially could have been beneficial... Thank you.
    – user7405
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 7:25

Any opinions or advice on how I should address this matter, if at all, is appreciated.

A lot of the other answers seem to be focusing on "who really owns the device" and "who was expected to be using it day to day (implicitly or explicitly.)" Those are both good things to think about and, if necessary, clear up before deciding on a course of action. However, I'm going to focus on a slightly different angle:

He lied when we asked him about it... He moved out about two months ago.

So you confronted him about the porn and he lied about it. OK. So, now he's living on his own, and he's legally an adult, and you already know he's prepared to lie, at least about porn-related topics.

If you try to confront him about the disappearing iPod, there's a good chance he'll just lie about having taken it. There was a two month gap between when he left and when you noticed it was gone, after all. Plenty of time to throw shade on other people who might have had access (even if you're relatively sure it was him, it's grounds for his denial of culpability.)

Now that he's living on his own, he can easily deny you entry to his new residence in order to prevent you from searching for/finding the "stolen" property, which means the only way you're going to "prove" he did it is to either get the police involved or (further) damage your relations with him by forcing your way into his new home.

Do you really want things to go that far? Over some porn? I understand that you're upset about his little sister seeing that sort of thing (I would be too), but the damage is done and past now. Porn isn't exactly hard to find on the internet, so even if you do confiscate the device, you're not really preventing him from having access to it. You're not teaching him any kind of lesson here, you're only driving a deeper wedge between you for the future.

My advice would be to forget about the "theft." Don't even mention to him that you noticed it was missing, just let it go. Focus on your daughter and making sure she's okay after what she saw on the device.

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    images of nude girls don't really constitute porn by contemporary standards - not by a long shot.
    – user7405
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 6:42
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    @Vector, do you mean "soft" pornography vs. "hard" pornography? I'd say that "modern porn" largely is "hard" pornography, with e.g. clearly visible genital action, so I'm not really disagreeing with you.
    – Willem
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 13:45
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    Why would he lie about taking the iPad? It sounds like he bought it, using his own cash and $100 donated by his parents. Unless he signed that it was a loan, any judge would assume it was a present. So he owns the iPad, fair and square.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 0:18

If your children still spend time together (this is not clear from your question), then I recommend asking your son to put a password on his phone -- to protect your daughter.

Other than that, I would let what happened be water under the bridge and focus on making a positive transition toward this new chapter in your relationship.


TL;DR: it was *acceptable for you to take it, it was acceptable for him to take it back.

Given the described scenario, it seems to me that your only possible valid objection is that he went into your private space to retrieve his personal property, instead of asking for you to get it for him.

While your desk is considered "your space", it apparently wasn't locked, so I suspect that it was less "don't go there" and more "unless there's a blackout and you're looking for a flashlight", in which case I'd say it was well within acceptable bounds for him to look for and retrieve any property of his that may have been there when he was moving out.

You might think it would have been better for him to ask, but what would the point have been? Even if you considered the desk to be an intensely private space, this way at worst you suspect but have no proof of such a violation and if asked directly he can give a polite social lie (a lie intended to make the recipient feel better). If he had asked and you'd refused, best case is him just accepting that you are a thief, but it goes downhill from there. If he'd asked and you returned it, at best there would be some awkwardness around the reason it was taken. The more likely outcome in either case would be a pointless conflict, of a greater or lesser degree.

Your son did exactly the right thing. What you should do now is accept that, and then ignore the whole situation. Unless you want to get into an argument as to which is worse, having porn or being a thief?

*Minor and house rules, nothing inherently wrong with tossing it in a drawer and saying "that's where it will stay as long as you are living under my roof".

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    Any space where my property is held in order to deprive me of it is not a private space.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 0:26
  • Why was it was acceptable for OP to take it? Just because he lied? Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 15:38
  • @SteveSmith Because parents have a right to control their childrens' possessions, even if the children bought those possessions with their "own" money. Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 23:26
  • @SteveSmith: Ready To Learn’s answer plus house rules (while living in my house you’ll follow my rules, you don’t want to follow the rules, move out, which the son eventually did).
    – jmoreno
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 2:18
  • @ReadyToLearn Parents are also liable for any accidental damage the children cause.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 0:39

Put your energy in keeping a good relationship with your son going forward. In addition, talk with your daughter.

Note: I have null experience as parent. On the other hand, I have training in computer forensic, and I took that mindset to think about the possibilities of what happened.

My husband and I helped our son pay for an iPod Touch three years ago, paying $100. He paid the other half.

As others has pointed out, stablishing who owns the device is paramount to understand the situation. If you did not make it clear that it was a family device, then your son will think that he is the owner, and so will think virtually everybody else.

I think your son was the main user of the device anyway.

Do not address this issue. Consider the $100 a gift to your son, and avoid the conflict. I would recommend this even if it were a family device.

If your daughter misses the device (this may or may not be the case, considering that that two months went by without noticing it missing), you might consider getting another one. Which is also an opportunity to make your daughter earn it.

About a year ago, our young daughter found images of nude girls in the screenshot gallery on the iPod.

If it was family device, then your daughter was in her right to use it. Being a family device, how the images got there is an open question.

If it belongs to your son, your son clearly needs to be more careful with his device. Address this issue. It is never late to learn to put password protection on devices. You may have missed an opportunity to talk about that when you took the device.

Now, if it belongs to your son and he lent it to your daughter, then your daughter was in her right to use it. Yet, your son should think about what he has in the device before lending it.

If it belongs to your son, but he did not lent it to your daughter, then your daughter used it without permission. She should have got in trouble for that.

Did you see the pictures? Alternatively, is this just something your daughter said she saw? Because that would be a case of your daughter telling a lie to get your son in trouble.

If you did not see the pictures, then this is all a mess build up around a potential lie. I suggest forgetting about the whole deal. Even apologize to your son.

Anyway, under the assumption that you saw the pictures...

Address this issue if you have reason to believe there is something illegal about the images. For example if it was child pornography, or pictures taken or distributed without the consent of the model.

Assuming there is no reason to think there is something illegal surrounding the images...

Do not address this issue if you think these are images are of some girl or girls he knows (or that he thinks he knows[*]). I agree this can be reason of concern, which is another reason to work your relationship with your son.

Do not address this issue if you think a malware [**] or a malicious user has compromised the device, and that malware or a malicious user has put those images there. If that is the case, let your son take care of it on his own. If I follow the hypothesis of your daughter trying to get your son in trouble, then she is prime suspect for "malicious user".

[*]: For example, your son met somebody online who then - after some conversation - send him nude pictures. That person would then after a while ask him to send money to go visit him and have some "fun time". After that money is send, the person dissapears. For abstract: it was a scam. If that is the case, then your son is up for a lesson in internet safety... if you really want to address this, do not do it directly, you have no grounds to say that this is the situation.

[**]: From software installed from an unofficial app store, or from code injected via exploit (for example, one famous vulnerability involved opening pdf files from the email app). Although, I fail to imagine why malware would put these images in the screenshot gallery… it would be more likely for the malware author to program it to run pornographic advertisements for revenue.

Finally, address this issue with your daughter, if this was her first exposure to a nude picture (it might not be), this can go two ways: He now have an increased curiosity for nudity, or she finds it disgusting. It will not help you if she decides to hide what she thinks about it.

Note: A smart user who want to see some nude girls on a portable device with internet connection - unless the internet bill is not a flat payment, or the connection is really (I mean really) bad - will get the nude girls from the web every time. Doing so will provide the added benefit of getting pictures of a wider selection of girls without a permanent impact on used storage space (just a temporary one). A side effect is that you will not find them in the screenshot gallery (notice I said a "smart user"). If those images were there, it is because there is some value of they being there for who put them there. For example, getting somebody in trouble. Alternatively, these are not from the web, for example they are captures from a dating app or captures from video chat.

He lied when we asked him about it.

Do not address this issue.

I admit that I do not know what he said. I understand you concluded that to be the case. Yet, there are a some possibilities I can think of...

There is a chance that the lie was inconsequential, in that saying a lie or saying the truth would have resulting in him getting in trouble anyway. This suggest that you failed to communicate that you value his honesty.

There is a chance that the lie was just a technicality, or a misunderstanding. This suggest that he may need a more comfortable means to talk to you.

There is a chance he lied just to save himself some embarrassment (some things are hard to admit) but not out of malice or an attempt to deceive you. This suggest that he needs your support and to know that you are not embarrassed of him.

There is a chance he did not lie, but you did not believe him (again, I do not know what was said). In not trusting him, you may harm his trust in you.

If any of those were the case, I would recommend not bringing this up, but instead put your effort in keeping a good relationship with your son. Your son might have left, but if there is any indication that these "lies" are a predictor of future trouble, what your son needs is to know that he has your trust and your support.

We confiscated the device.

The only scenario where I can see a justification for confiscating the device is if it was family device. In that case, you remove it from them because they do not seem to be using it properly. Although, this alone is not enough to fix the problem.

If the device was your son’s, then I do not agree with the confiscation. You might have told him to be more careful with the device (use password protection, do not leave it unlocked, etc.) but ultimately having the pictures is not something wrong per se (unless there is something illegal around that). In this case, I suggest to apologize to your son.

He moved out about two months ago, and we just found out that he took the iPod from my desk drawer before leaving.

You may address this issue if the device was stated as a family device.

Under the assumption that you had plenty of opportunities to discuss it. This reinforces that idea that you have done some damage to his trust in you.

Ideally, he would have asked for the device because he is moving out, and you would have given it to him. Either because it was his all these time, or alternatively, as a gift.

However, that did not happen. If the device was his own, he is not doing anything wrong; he is only showing that there is a broken communication among you and him.

If the device was a family one, there is value in talking with him. In this conversation, worry first about what he needs and what is he up to. Then worry about what you need. Do you need that device back? Do you need to assert him responsible for the $100? Then you may ask for that.


Basic Assumptions

This answer is predicated on the assumption that your son was a minor three years ago when you confiscated his iPod Touch. If that is not the case, and he was an adult, then it comes down to your contractual (verbal?) agreement about the terms of him continuing to live in your house as an adult. If you had no agreement, then such confiscation was likely not appropriate and he had every right to take it back (except that violating your private space to take it was probably not okay, though it's debatable).

Also, I firmly believe that allowing children to possess items and enjoy the fruits of their labor is generally good for them. In fact, it's probably good for them to receive a salary and be required to buy items that they need or want—shoes, snacks, certain kinds of entertainment, soap, clothes maybe at the right age, perhaps lunch at school, and so on. This way, when the child inevitably is foolish with the money, he gets to enjoy the consequences—but the parents are there to provide a safety net so that these consequences do no real lasting harm. So read this answer with the knowledge that denying one's child access to personal possessions should be rare or should only occur in special situations that truly demand it.

First, What the Law Has to Say About It

Common law (in the US, at least) recognizes the right of minors to own property that is gifted specifically to them, and accordingly denies parents the right to appropriate a child's possessions except in a custodial fashion, to reserve such possessions for future use. The law does recognize the right of parents to prevent a child from spending his money, the right to take items away from the child to save them for the future or that are illegal for the child to own (e.g., a car), and that the parents retain rights to items they give their children that are common necessities such as clothes and shoes.

However, in my research I didn't see anything about the ability to prevent your child from receiving a gift in the first place. I could see a parent weighing carefully the potential misuse of a gift to their child and politely informing the giver that the gift needs to be given to the parent, who will provide access to the gift's use to the child as he sees fit, or the gift will be refused. This is an open question.

Disagreeing With Other Answers

Many other answers state that the device belonged to your son simply because he paid for half of it and it was understood by all that it belonged to him. I am answering just to resist this notion and say that that is not automatically true. I don't agree that minors living in their parents' house automatically and irrevocably own the fruits of their labors.

Consider: the only reason that a minor child living in his parents' house has any free money to spend, even if that child is holding down a job, is because his parents provide everything: housing, food, clothing, electricity, gas, water, garbage service, and so on. In a poor family where the parents cannot provide all these things, any income a child makes while living in the house would belong to the family first, and then only accrue to the child with the permission of the parents. The parents have every right to take every last dollar the child earns and pay the electric bill or buy groceries to feed everyone. It is only because you are rich that your child has any of his "own" money.

If anyone disagrees with this, consider the situation where your minor child earns his "own" money, then with that money purchases (or is simply given) any item you consider physically dangerous: a gun, poison, drugs, a chainsaw, or anything that you consider to be wholly inappropriate for him to possess or control. You'd take that thing away in a heartbeat, without any concern for the monetary value of it or who bought it or who has a "right" to it. As the parents, you have the right to it. You have the right to control your children's possessions while they are un-emancipated minors who live in your own home. You should not exercise this right without good reason, and in general it is best for children to be able to possess items and enjoy the fruits of their labors—it would generally be harmful to deny them these privileges and experiences unless there was great need or an overriding moral objection.

One way I have looked at it with my own child is that his things are, for now, "reserved indefinitely for his exclusive use." In this way, he understands that I have placed him as the caretaker of his things and I have no specific plans to revoke this at any time in the future; yet I do reserve the right to reallocate those things differently some day. For example, I would not consider it appropriate for him to burn all his possessions, as he would likely regret this down the road, plus we his parents have important life lessons in mind beyond mere possession, such as being good a steward of one's resources. Allowing him to destroy his things, while potentially strategically allowable for a life lesson, is probably not the (normal) best course of action.

Parents are not just guardians of a child's physical safety, but also his emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. So any item that consists of a danger in these ways, even if not presenting physical danger, is also a candidate for confiscating.

And finally, if you originally and publicly allowed your son to possess something that later became dangerous (or you realized the danger of), you'd still be right in taking it away.


Even if the iPod Touch was purchased wholly by your child's "own" money, if your child was a minor at the time you confiscated it, and you did it soberly with carefully thought-out reasons that justifiably override your normal pattern of allowing him to control his own possessions, then it was not his to take back, and he did in fact steal it.

So, all the people telling you that you made a mistake or did something wrong, are, well, wrong.

What Now?

Assuming that your child is an adult now, you are in a problematic situation–you don't have the authority any longer to tell him what to do, and your role has wholly changed away from discipline and direct teaching to the more indirect ones of giving advice, support, and being a safety net. (Hopefully, you were already transitioning into this role as your child matured, exhibited responsibility & independence, and gained trust—if not, then he's probably going to have a really hard time for a few years while he tries to figure adult life out with no prior practice.)

This means that you have to consider your goals and the likely effectiveness of any action you take to achieve those goals. If you approach this as a simple property-theft situation, and (say) call the police, you may get the item back, but you most likely won't be able to keep or maintain an ongoing relationship with him. Without this relationship, how can you ever expect to be a positive influence, or be a source of advice & support, and function as a safety net?

Additionally, at this point, you cannot control what media he views, and if he (presumably) has a job and is supporting himself and paying for his own housing, he soon will be able to purchase a new iPod Touch or other devices on which he can access media of his choosing, so taking the item back is a lost cause in terms of protecting him.

So I would recommend that you speak to him and attempt to open a communication channel that will foster the kind of relationship you want to have with him in the future. You might say something like this:

"Son, we were disappointed to find that you had taken the iPod Touch from your mother's desk. You lost that device because you misused it, and it wasn't yours to take back. We'd appreciate it if you did return it, and then we can negotiate on an above-board basis whether it does go back to you after that. However, if you choose not to return it, please know that we still want to be part of your life and want to love and support you as much as we can. Life is hard enough without letting a little thing like this break relationships within our family."

If he still refuses to return it, I would voluntarily offer to him that you've let the issue go and you forgive him, though the situation could have an effect in your calculations of the wisest way to allocate your resources in the future.

Some Caveats

I would not try to take the item yourself, nor search his new residence, or anything like that. Only receive the item if he voluntarily hands it over. You are his parents, not strangers who care more about the property than about his ultimate well-being.

If he protests that it was his and he had a right to take it, I wouldn't argue or go into much explanation about it, other than a very brief "we believe that parents have a right, and a duty when acting in their child's best interest, to control that child's earning, spending, and to decide what possessions their child is allowed to own. When we took it away, it was no longer yours." Then don't discuss it further—just stick with the reassurances that you want to maintain relationship with him and support him in any way you can.

You still have to decide what "support" does mean. If you believe that your son is engaging in actions that are harmful to him, you may elect to avoid giving any financial support so long as that is happening. It depends on his need and the situation—there's no simple rule you can follow. But, money is fungible, and the more money you pay toward his rent or basic necessities, the more money he'll have to put toward entertainment or pursuits that you consider inappropriate.

It's definitely hard to strike the balance of being firm, yet gracious, that remains connected to your child and supports him, but doesn't enable him in dysfunction. I wish you the best in your future relationship with him and all your children.

Final Thoughts About The Law

In your particular case, if the item was considered a gift, you may have had the legal right to take it from him at the time, but only in a custodial fashion, meaning that once he became an adult you had to relinquish his possession to him. Parents would be wise to consider the law in this case when deciding whether it is appropriate for their child to be given certain kinds of gifts. Further consultation with a lawyer would be wise in order to act wisely in the face of a large or potentially harmful gift which the giver will not relent in determination to give.

  • 1
    Most of this is good, hence my +1; however, I think you go a little bit too far with the "children own no rights to their property or even the fruits of their labor" part. Taking away a dangerous object, or an ipod with nude photos on it, is one thing, but "no rights whatsoever" is an entirely different category. If I was 8 years old and cut a neighbor's grass for $5, I very well might spend $1 before my parents even knew I had taken possession of the $5, and I should not be punished for that. If that meant my family eats less and is hungry I should be sent on a guilt trip but not punished.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:29
  • Of course, it can be situational... to add to my previous example, if I spent the entire $5 and that meant that we could not buy food again, for the 15th day straight, and my brother dies as a result, that is different. Under emergency situations, lots of things change. Under normal situations and default rules, I should probably be able to spend the money I make. I would not consider using my child's money in that way except in emergency; my daughter has even offered us her money in rough times, and we turned down the offers. It doesn't feel right to take what's theirs without great need.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:40
  • @Aaron Thanks for the input. I'll make it clearer that I don't mean parents morally can take their children's possessions at a whim and for any reason whatsoever. My whole answer is predicated on the parents intending to do what's best for the child, and allowing a child to possess items and enjoy the fruits of his labor is generally good for children. Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:42
  • That is true, taken in the context of "guardians of safety, emotional, mental, spiritual well being" does seem to suggest that we are not in disagreement. I am sorry for not taking your answer in its full context. In that light, I would agree that parents have the legal right (that includes within the family government structure with its own house law, not just state law) to take what belongs to their children but not always the moral right; we agree. Though that then begs the question "In OP's case, the boy was their son, but was he a child?" and now it's murky again.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:55
  • I have updated my answer; is that sufficient to get my position across more clearly? Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 23:57

Both parties are at fault here. The property question has been addressed in other comments. For me it is clear the device is his property.

If you have not yet confronted him, the best you can do is own up to your mistake and see if he understands it as an invitation to own up to his. For example: "By the way, I wanted to give you back the ipod. Now that you moved out, it's no longer our business what you keep on it. I just couldn't find it before leaving to meet you. I think (husband/wife) put it somewhere else. I'll bring it next time."

Yeah, it's a white lie, and transparent, and that's the purpose. If he's smart he understands he has one chance to say "I took it. Sorry, that probably wasn't right, I just didn't know how to handle this situation."

Then you have a chance to talk with him that taking it with him upon leaving was right, but the way he did it was not. And then you can both talk about the whole situation and resolve it.

  • What if he doesn't understand this is his chance to confess -- either because he's afraid, or thinks he's totally gotten away with it, etc.? What's the next step for the parents to take in that situation?
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 13:55
  • 1
    Wait, you want the son to come clean, so you suggest the parents lie to the son? Why not just get right down to brass tacks, and eliminate the mind games and white lies? "We don't mind that you took your iPod with you, but we just wish you had told us that you did it."
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 16:55
  • In this case, the small lie builds a golden bridge for the son. If you come with the blunt truth, you sometimes push people into being defensive.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 13:38
  • Of course, the son could also say, "You lost my iPod? You're going to replace it, right?"
    – RDFozz
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 21:04
  • I addressed that above in a comment.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 20:19

I do think you should talk about it but in a different dynamic then you have before.

First state that you don't like that he went behind your back. Be honest that your feelings were hurt. That's important in any [good] relationship. Let him know that as he has moved out this is no longed his home and there are new boundaries that he is expected to keep.

Second, admit to him, that now that he has moved out, he is his own man and he can do as he likes with his things. That you were wrong to try to keep this device when he left, and that you should have just given it to him as he was packing. Leave room for the fact that it may just be a misunderstanding. I certainly took things from my Grandmother's house when I moved out that she didn't think I was going to take. I just thought they were mine, and she didn't. We talked about it, and when it was all said and done, we were happier for it.

Third, lighten the mood, give a gift. If it were me I would buy a years subscription to Playboy for him or something. A kind of joke, that also says "I know your going to do your own thing". But at the same time I think taking a teens iPod for porn is an over reaction. Everyone has to have their own value system. The point is to make a gesture that shows that you are willing to accept his independence, and can "agree to disagree" on some topics.


The fact that each party paid half means that your $100 dollars was likely a gift and as such the device was his. When he became an adult, you no longer had to right to confiscate his property. It is doubtful that you could even ban in from using it in your house; since he was legally a tenant you can't just make drastic rules without the prescribed notice, usually 30 days. If you don't like what he does, you are perfectly free to give him that notice and tell him to find a new place. But you are not allowed to access his private possessions, much less take them, which is a crime.

Furthermore, it was your daughter who wrongly invaded his privacy. I don't think it's necessary to make a huge deal of this, but to be clear that is where the wrongdoing occurred. Furthermore, you have no reason to believe her over him. Lastly, he has no duty to tell your truthfully or at all what is on his private device. End of story. It was stupid to leave anything in the gallery of literally the only phone I've ever heard of that doesn't have a passcode, but that is not your problem.

Luckily for you, rather than taking you to court or calling the police to watch while he retrieved the device, he just took it. I suggest you don't stir the pot any further.

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