Juvenile and Delinquent Crime

by Steve Morgan - Date: 2008-07-07 - Word Count: 1956 Share This!

It is hard to establish any single cause of delinquency in young members of society but a combination of factors within their immediate surroundings may push an individual in the pathway of crime.  Statistics show that young people between 10 and 17 years of age are increasingly involved in criminal activity and the relationship between a young criminal and their up bringing is one that is still debated today.  A child's life starts in their home environment where their family interaction builds the foundations of their future behaviours, ethics and values.  The family structure and family function are important topics within this subject that will be discussed in the following essay.  Also how the parental control and discipline may help to influence the child into delinquency.  While not a proven fact or a forgone conclusion, low family income and diminished social status may also play a part into future delinquency issues.  Another influential chapter of a child's life is usually the schooling and the people that they associate with in and outside of that environment.   These topics will also be expanded on in the following essay, showing that these social factors may help to influence a child into delinquent behaviour.  The socio-economic side of a family will be discussed and how it may be influential in pushing a child into the delinquency pathway, and also demonstrating that the social class and poverty that they are raised in may influence them into a world of criminal activity.


Firstly the social aspects of the child's upbringing are a vital phase of their life.  The family, and its values, is the initial contact the child has on its world  where in order to survive it is compelled to copy its parents. These initial contacts with their ‘guardians' has a long-lasting influence on their future behaviours. The 'family structure' is a long debated term questioning whether it is an influence on a child's life.  It refers to a child coming from a single parent family, focusing on divorce or separation.  It is shown in studies that "single parent families disproportionally tended to have convicted sons" (Farrington, 1997, p388).  This is debated as other factors such as economic status also come into play in a single parent family.  It is often assumed that if a child comes from a single parent family that they are likely to be disadvantaged and become criminal minded.  This conclusion comes from criminal statistics but it has been questioned since the development of self report studies.  The term 'family function' is also important.  It looks at the parenting style and interaction, comparing a close and supportive family to an unstable, uncaring family.  Family function is further broken down into four categories.  (1) Control, "is the way that the parents manage the process of disciplining their child". Within this category is 'Enmeshed disciplinary style' where the parents are punishing "trivial misbehaviours and giving a high rate of commands and criticisms" (Blackburn, 1993, p162).  They are continually disciplining the child for insignificant things and controlling the child's every move.  The opposite of this is the 'Lax disciplinary style'.  This is where there is "a very low level of parental control and rules".  (Module 3, p23) Very few antisocial behaviours are acted upon by the parent and "when punishment is used, it is not administered contingently" (Blackburn, 1993, p163).  It is not yet proven which, if either or any of these styles, contribute to the development of a delinquent child as enmeshed style may develop the child into a social aggressor, whereas, the Lax style is shown to have inadequate supervision and control over the child's behaviour.  Another important factor of the family function is (2) Encouragement.  Positive feedback for the children plays a vital role for their confidence and self esteem.  When parents socialise with their children and offer advice and support, the child's social skills improve.  However, "It is a consistent find in the literature that parents of delinquents are less supportive and affectionate and don't share quality time with their children".  Constant belittling and a non supportive parenting style does not provide the child with the positive outlook that they need.  (3) Supervision is where the parent is aware of what the child is doing and who they are doing it with.  As the child grows up it often becomes harder to follow their activities, but a parent that successfully sets the boundaries as to what their child can and cannot do will find that they may be able to control bad behaviour more effectively.  Finally (4) Managing conflict is where the family is continually arguing with each other.  "Conflict between the parents in the form of disagreements, quarrelling, hostile attitudes, and marital instability or break-up has been found to be prominent in the early lives of delinquents in longitudinal studies" (Blackburn, 1993, p164).  Again this does not prove that all families that cannot manage conflict have delinquent children but it does show that delinquent children often come from families that have this factor.  Each of these family structure and family function factors do not alone contribute to the development of a delinquent child, but studies do provide strength to the arguments that many of these factors are present in the studies of juvenile criminals.  Research to argue for and against this is limited but findings so far confirm that most delinquents have many of the negative aspects of family upbringing such as parental conflict and an unsupportive family.  


One more point to the family influences is having parents that have criminal pasts or are still being convicted for crimes.  The parent morals and behaviours tend to be taught to the young child and are thought to be another possible contributor to juvenile offending.  "It has consistently been found that criminals are more likely than non-criminals to have criminal parents.  While it is not proven whether it is a genetic link or a behavioural one, the studies that have been conducted find that "juvenile records of the parents and children showed similar rates and types of offences" (Farrington, p389).  Again it is not a conclusive link to juvenile crime but one that has a strong argument as the studies that have been conducted show that a high percentage of criminal adults have criminal children.  More studies are needed to prove this further.


Family income is also another factor within the family umbrella that should be considered here.  A low income generally puts the family in a low income residential area where delinquency can be considered the norm compared with middle and upper class communities.  The social aspects of lower class communities will be discussed later in this paper.  The family is often found wanting of many material items as well as emotional fulfilment and parent squabbles over money may be more frequent.  "In the Cambridge study, low family income, large family size, unsatisfactory child-rearing, low IQ, and parental criminality were relatively independent predictors of delinquency" (Blackburn,1993, p172). Again each of these, alone, are not strong arguments, but can be labelled as a contributor to delinquency. 


Low income areas often have lower income schools (decile 1 and 2) where the students are from similar families and circumstances. These schools have less money, can attract less able teaching staff and the truancy rates are higher compared with upper class schools (decile 8, 9, 10).  While school is not the sole factor determining delinquent behaviour it is a contributor as "it has been found that children who do poorly at school, lack motivation and feel alienated are most likely to become involved in crime".  It would be fair to say that most delinquents have experienced problem behaviour at a high delinquency rate school.  The school also needs to take responsibility for contributing to some of the factors mentioned earlier in the family context such as control, encouragement and supervision.  Low delinquency rate schools tend to be better in all aspects where as high delinquency schools do not fair well here.  "The main school factors that were related to delinquency were a high amount of punishment and a low amount of praise given by teachers in class" (Farrington, 1997, p393).  For most delinquents this type of adult behaviour is what they experience at home and together with school life can be a strong argument for the beginning of modelling delinquent behaviour.


School provides an environment where most children meet their peers with whom they associate with in and out of the schooling hours.  Often the child who skips school does it with their peer group.  "Numerous studies find that one of the strongest predictors of delinquency among adolescents is the delinquency of close friends" (Blackburn, 1993, p177).  Negative peer group influences are a strong argument for the contribution of delinquent behaviour as the members of those within the peer group tend to have the a similar upbringing as one another and can therefore relate to each other.  There is argument against this saying that the peer group alone cannot influence a person but the peer group tends to be formed by adolescents with similar upbringings and they provide encouragement and support for their peers behaviours.  Many Gang members state that they found security and non-judgemental attitudes a strong influence in making their decision to join. There is good evidence that juvenile offenders associate with other offenders.  So a peer group may not be solely responsible for an individual's behaviour but may provide the encouragement that the individual needs to persuade them into displaying delinquent behaviour.


The social standings of a person and their family's position within the society is another factor to consider when thinking about delinquency.  "Traditionally crime has been thought of as a lower-class phenomenon" (Siegal, 2000, p67).  Statistics certainly show this but this is not a strong argument as statistics rely on reported incidents.  They don't take into account the unreliability of the statistics or that the police may be patrolling the lower income areas more often, in the belief that the criminals come from that area as the statistics show.  By concentrating police presence in these areas it may well become a ‘self fulfilling prophecy' that more criminals will be apprehended. Low economic areas have families with low education, lower incomes, poverty and unemployment.  This may be a form of labelling which is often seen in all classes.  In a lower class society people may be labelled as criminal minded as the rest of society views them as the type that have reasons to commit crimes because of their economic standings.  Labelling may also be seen in the family environment if the rest of a child's family are known criminals within a society.  While social class is expected to be a direct link to criminal activity the low class areas tend to be targeted by police and police statistics, therefore it is inconclusive as to whether the theories are true and it is a weak argument to say that social class is a contributor to juvenile crime.


There are certainly a great number of uncertain factors that contribute to, and influence, a child's up bringing.  Lack of in-depth conclusive studies and the reliance of police statistics make each of the factors mentioned unreliable as a sole contributor to the development of a delinquent.  It is shown however, in the studies that have been conducted, that these factors are present in the lives of a great proportion of convicted juvenile criminals.  Taking into account their family, school, peer and social lives often paints a picture of the negative aspects in a large proportion of those criminals.  Further studies will need to prove this, but it will be extremely difficult to show that any individual factor is conclusive evidence and that any or each factor is solely responsible for juvenile crime.

Related Tags: social, children, parents, law, criminals, influences, upbringing

Retired Principal originally from England but now resident in New Zealand for the past 55yrs

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