Juvenile Delinquency Theories

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Juvenile Delinquency Theories

Through an understanding of causes of juvenile delinquency society may come to deal preventively with delinquency; certainly treatment of the offender needs to be based upon an understanding of the causal mechanisms that have produced him. In this paper we'll describe three theories of juvenile delinquency such as Social Learning Theory, General Strain Theory and Behavioral Theory and discuss appropriate preventive programs based upon these theories.

In 1977 Albert Bandura, a Stanford University psychology professor, published Social Learning Theory, in which he postulated that human learning is a continuous reciprocal interaction of cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors. Sometimes called observational learning, social learning theory focuses on behavior modeling, in which the child observes and then imitates the behavior of adults or other children around him or her (Wiesner, Capaldi, Patterson, 2003, p. 318). 

In his research on social learning theory, Bandura studied how violence portrayed in mass media can have a tremendously negative impact on the behavior of certain types of children watching violent television shows. What he noted was that some children will observe and then imitate the behavior of the characters on the television screen. From these observations, we can conclude that juvenile delinquency is the result of imitation of aggressive actions. Bandura determined that certain types of children learn to perform violent and aggressive actions by observing and then modeling their behavior after what they have seen. He referred to this as direct learning through instantaneous matching of the observed behavior to the modeled behavior (Wiesner et al, 2003, p. 320). Therefore, social learning theory states that learning can occur through the simple process of observing and then imitating others' activities. 

Merton (1957) formulated a social strain theory of criminal involvement (Broidy, 2001, p. 10). Merton proposed that a society instills in its citizenry aspirations for upward mobility and a desire for selected goals. However, when legitimate avenues to goal attainment are blocked, anomie or strain sets in, which in turn compels the individual to violate the law in order to attain these goals. Lower-class persons are viewed by Merton as more susceptible to the ravages of anomie because they are more regularly thwarted in their efforts to participate in the economic rewards of the wider society (Broidy, 2001, p. 12). 

Merton assumed in his theorizing that humans are conforming organisms who only violate the law when the disjunction between goals and means becomes so great that the individual believes he or she can no longer pursue socially sanctioned goals via legitimate channels. Society and certain social variables are, according to strain theorists, responsible for the majority of crime being committed in the world today. According to Merton, a society that emphasizes goals over the means to obtain these goals, and that restricts access to opportunities for legitimate advancement, is establishing the conditions for anomie and future criminality. Strain theorists have long argued that once a person is removed from a situation of anomie or frustration, negative behavior will recede (Henry, Tolan, Gorman-Smith, 2001, p. 173). 

Agnew's (1992) general strain theory offers a promising framework for understanding juvenile delinquency. A major type of strain, according to Agnew's general strain theory, consists of experiencing unpleasant events or circumstances, including aversive situations at home, particularly arguments and violence (Broidy, 2001, p. 21). The theory proposes that adolescents are pressed into delinquency by negative emotional reactions that result from being situated in an aversive situation from which they cannot escape. This blockage frustrates the adolescent and may lead to desperate avoidance and/or anger-based delinquency (Broidy, 2001,...
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