Police are concerned amid an alarming trend in crimes involving youth, which appears to be driven by social media and other social factors.
It comes after four children, one as young as seven, were caught attempting to steal from a Hamilton shopping centre overnight.
Police say they were alerted to the break-in at the Chartwell Shopping Centre after multiple alarms went off around 1am.
Officers arrived to find four children – aged seven, 10, 11 and 12 years old – at the scene holding stolen toys and other goods.
While three of the children remained at the scene, the 11-year-old fled after seeing police.
Hamilton City Area Commander, Inspector Andrea McBeth, told 1News officers stayed at the scene with the three children.
The child was found soon afterwards, having fallen eight metres "possibly from falling climbing over a fence or slipping off it" and injuring his arm, she said.
The boy was reunited with his parents at the hospital.
McBeth told 1News the string of crimes in recent months involving young children and youth is a "really concerning trend we're seeing across the country".
She said the average age of people committing "ram-raid type of offences" was between 12 to 18 years old "and now we’ve hit seven years".
"We’ve got something really wrong going on in the community when we’ve got people this young, at one in the morning, going out and committing offences of this nature.
"These are unlicensed young people; they’re not familiar with driving vehicles; they’re on the road and they’re driving and using the vehicles essentially as weapons to facilitate crime, be it entering shopping malls or to get away from the scene of the crime so there’s some real risk there.”
It follows a spate of ram-raids across Auckland this week, including the ram-raid robbery at Ormiston Town Centre, in Flat Bush, on Tuesday.
What's driving the crimewave
McBeth said the spike in crimes involving youth could not be attributed to a single factor, adding, "there's a whole lot of social issues behind this".
"If we've got a seven-year-old at one in the morning going with other young people to commit crimes, we've got a number of things going wrong to enable that to happen - parenting, social factors, deprivation, a good guardianship – they’re all matters that we need to consider but there's no one-size-fits-all here.
She said the "glorification" of youths' exploits on social media is also concerning.
"We're seeing things on TikTok, Facebook and other social media platforms and we've got some real concern that that is encouraging further behaviour of this nature."
McBeth said the issue is "something that needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis".
"Police need to work with the community and other partner agencies to get across some of these social factors."