What Causes Juvenile Delinquency

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Psychologists, sociologists and criminologists the world over have long debated the various causes of delinquency. This paper focuses on some of the causes the have been and are considered viable from a theoretical and practical perspective. Some of these theorists point to the seminal experience of a childhood trauma especially child abuse, either of a physical or sexual nature. Others indicate that race, gender and socio-economic conditions (especially poverty) are of prime importance in a young person’s life. There is also the factor of peer influences. Young people are especially vulnerable in their early teen years and subject to a great deal of peer pressure to conform to certain values, norms and behaviors. Delinquency continues to be a salient topic today and we continue to search for answers to its causative factors. INTRODUCTION

Juvenile delinquency continues to confound a broad range of behavioral specialists the world over. Some point to child abuse as a key factor while others suggest that child abuse alone is not a predictor of delinquency. There are some theorists who indicate that socio-economic conditions combined with peer influences can be an enormous factor in the development of delinquent behavior. This thesis will address some of the different theories and their attempts to explain why some young people fall into delinquent behavior.

Peer Influences
Hoge, Andrews, and Leschied tested three hypotheses with respect to delinquent behavior. They worked with a sample of 338 youth in their study. The first theory centers on parent-child relationships, the second on peer influences and the third on attitudes towards authority. It is clear from the beginning of the article that the authors acknowledge that not one but a combination of factors are the strongest predictor of delinquent behavior. They note that familial relationships combined with an association with delinquent peers offers the highest predictor for delinquency (1994, p. 547). Although it might be tempting to assume that parental abuse of their children would be the conclusion here in terms of familial influence, the authors note this is not necessarily the case. There are parents who give poor directions to children, fail to structure their behavior and do not reward or punish appropriately. “…our prediction was that the highest levels of antisocial behavior would occur where poor attachment between parent and child was combined with poor controls.” (Hoge, Andrews, and Leschied, 1994, p. 547). Wong’s research focuses on the notion of social bonds as a means of encouraging delinquent behavior. She points out that young people who associate with groups or individuals pursuing positive goals and commitments have a far less chance of engaging in delinquent behavior. “In contrast, there are activities that lack long-term objectives, lack a sense of commitment and responsibility, and involve casual or volatile relationships. For example, activities such as smoking and drinking do not serve long-term objectives” (2005, p. 322). Her theory suggests that the more time spent involved in behavior that has no sense of direction or long-term commitment to it (such as watching television), the greater the likelihood that one will begin to engage in delinquent behaviors. This is especially true when the people around you are encouraging the lack of long-term goals or commitments. Vitaro, Brendgen, and Tremblay support the theory that spending time with deviant friends exerts a great deal of pressure on a young person to adopt the same behaviors. “The Peer Influence/Socialization model (Elliott et al., 1985) proclaims that weak bonding to conventional peers leads to association with deviant friends, which in turn is responsible for initiation or aggravation of delinquent behaviors” (2002, p. 314). Even though this may be true, the authors also suggest that the presence of even one non-deviant friend may be able to mitigate some of the...
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