They range in age from 14 to 17. They all live in the same modest, working class Wheaton neighborhood. As children, they played together. As teen-agers, when the monotony got to them, they went out and stole together, according to their parents and the police.

And over the last two weeks, these six youths were arrested one by one, charged as part of a "loose ring" that police say is responsible for 79 crimes ranging from larceny to vandalism to burglary, all committed in the area stretching from Arcola Avenue to Randolph Road in Wheaton.

So far, police have recovered $2,186 worth of stolen property, including two motorcycles and a number of citizens' band radios, tape decks, and AM-FM radios taken from cars.

"It wasn't a thing where they'd all get together and say, let's go out and steal something," said Montgomery County police officer Bruce [WORD ILLEGIBLE], crime analyst for the Wheaton station. Rather, he said, they seemed to be responding to some vague impulse which they themselves could not explain to police.

"Just in walking from one house to another, they'd look into a car and see something they wanted and get it," said Cpl. Joseph Lamberger, one of the arresting officers.

Much of what was stolen was never sold for cash. "In some cases, they threw things away, just threw them away," Blair said.

"They definitely didn't have a need to steal these things . . . They all had access to money. I mean, none of the families showed financial hardship," Lamberger added.

The parents of two of the youths who were arrested maintained that their children were only responding to peer pressure.

"I think one of the reasons these things happen is because they don't like themselves. The don't feel as smart as some of the others," said one of the parents.

"You could say kids do these things because they come from broken homes or because they live in a slum ares." said one parent. "Or you could say it's because they come from a very wealthy family which doesn't have time for the kids. But that's not the case either. We're you're typical, average hard-working family.

"Why do these things happen? I don't know. I guess it's a part of a teen-ager's growing up," the woman added.

Police said the six youths arrested are part of a small minority of "repeat offenders" whose names and faces are well known to the police.

One of the youths, Blair said, a 16-year-old, was recently arrested for beating up an elderly man. "He knocked down the old man and proceeded to beat him up. He just didn't like the guy. They just had a personality conflict," Blair said.

Police made the first arrest in the case after this same 16-year-old allegedly robbed the neighborhood paper boy of some cash. The 16-year-old was a runaway at the time, Blair said.

Police later staked out the block where the youth lived, an area of moderately priced ranch-style homes, and made the arrest. Police said information they got from interviews with this youth led them to the other individuals who were also charged in the larceny cases.

Two of the youths have been taken to the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center, a juvenile detention facility in Rockville. The others have been released in the custody of their parents or other relatives, Blair said.