To what extent do parents have an influence over their children becoming delinquent?
There have been an increasing number of stories in the media regarding children and there increasing tendencies to crime. High profile crimes such as the Jamie Bulgar murder and shootings in universities across America have sparked a high level of controversy and research into what actually makes a child delinquent. There have been a number of factors which have been associated with child delinquency such as the individual child, peers, school, neighbourhood, the media and one which has received a huge amount of attention is parents and family. This essay will be looking at the extent to which parents have an influence over there children becoming delinquent.
It will explain reasons and ways in which parents influence there children into delinquency through lack of for example discipline, and a variety of other factors. It will then go on to examine other factors such as the individual, peers and school, which may contribute to a child taking the path of crime and will evaluate how much influence this has on a child.
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The US dept of justice created the office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention (OJJDP) which formed a study group on very young offenders to examine the prevalence and frequency of offending in children under the age of 13. This study group identified a number of risk and protective factors which were crucial in developing early intervention and protection programs for very young offenders. It found that some aspects of children’s behaviour such as temperament are established during the first five years of life. This foundation coupled with children’s exposure to certain risk and protective factors, influences the likelihood of children becoming delinquent from an early age. Risk factors are things which are most likely to pull a child into a life of crime. There are three types of risk factors; static, dynamic and protective. Static risk factors are those which are historical and cannot be changed such as age at first offence and prior criminal history. Dynamic risk factors are those which are changeable these are things such as substance and alcohol abuse.
Lastly protective factors are those which mediate and moderate the effect of exposure to risk factors. This is usually done by reducing the risk of exposure to crime, reducing negative chain reactions which means to deal with a delinquency problem identified in children from an early age rather than letting it spiral out of control. Another protective factor which should be instilled in children is establishing self esteem and self efficacy this in addition to opening up opportunities to them will reduce the calling of crime as they will have other things to keep them occupied and realise there are a number of things which they can do t broaden there horizons. However the identification of these risk factors have been difficult to pinpoint but it remains imperative to distinguish as these factors are essential to developing interventions to prevent child delinquency from escalating into chronic criminality. There area number of studies which were done in both the UK and the US to identify risk factors which are associated with a child turning to crime.
The Cambridge Study of Delinquency was a longitudinal survey of the development of offending and antisocial behaviour in 411 males first studied at age 8 in 1961 – at that time they were all living in a working-class deprived inner-city area of South London. It found eight different factors which contributed to children turning delinquent these were; low income family, large family, poor parenting, below average intelligence, parent with criminal record, impulsivity, antisocial behaviour, socio-economic deprivation and coming from a ‘broken’ home. A youth lifestyles survey which was carried out in the UK also identified eight different risk factors which are associated to a child turning to a life of crime these are; drug use, alcohol abuse, low interest in school, being bullied, lack of qualifications, delinquent peers, poor parenting and a lack of appropriate space for children to be in. According to the OJJDP study group on very young offenders, a group of 39 experts on child delinquency and child psychopathology convened by the OJJDP, risk factors for child delinquency operate in several domains: the individual child, the child’s family, peer group, school, neighbourhood and the media.
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This again corresponds with the findings of the Cambridge study which found compared with the un-convicted men, being a persister was predicted by having a convicted parent, high daring, a delinquent sibling, a young mother, low popularity, large family size and a disrupted family. Compared with the un-convicted men, being a desister was predicted by having poor housing, a convicted parent, high daring, low junior school attainment, low nervousness and a disrupted family. The large majority of those who were first convicted at ages 10–13 (91%) or 14–16 (84%) did not give up offending after the first offence. They continued offending (according to convictions) for an average of 13 years. Those who started at 10–13 years had an average of nine convictions; those who started at 14–16 had an average of six.
In contrast, the average for those who were first convicted at age 17 or older was much lower at around two convictions each. This shows us that the younger the offender starts the longer there career in crime. The results by the OJJDP also correspond with the results found in the Youth Lifestyles survey. Most professionals agree that there is no single risk which leads a child to delinquency rather the likelihood of early juvenile offending increases as the number of risk factors and risk factor domains increases. While parental delinquency is not the whole answer to juvenile delinquency, it is one of the major factors in this problem.
The notion of protective risk factors is one which parents are largely associated with. Traditionally it is the role of the parents to protect and harbour there children from a life of crime and deviance. However this is not always the case. There is wide belief that single parents are highly likely to have delinquent children for a number of reasons such as economic conditions which are inherent to single-parent families may place children at greater risk. Socialization of children residing in single-parent families may differ from those residing with two parents and may have a damaging effect on the child as well as they type of neighbourhoods, in which single parents often reside. Lastly the ways in which the system or officials from formal institutions such as school, police, and courts respond to children from single-parent homes may result in these children being more likely to be identified as delinquent. There is consistently a positive relationship between marital discord and delinquency. Children who witness marital discord are at greater risk of becoming delinquents.
Social learning theory argues that aggressive behaviour is learned; as parents display aggressive behaviour, children learn to imitate it as an acceptable means of achieving goals. However, most children who witness marital conflict do not become delinquent. A healthy home environment, one in which parents and children share affection, cohesion, and involvement, reduces the risk of delinquency. Parental rejection appears to be one of the most significant predictors of delinquency. Not only does parental attachment to children influence the likelihood of delinquency, but apparently so does the attachment of the child to the parent. This dual relationship implies an interaction between characteristics of both the parent and the child. A healthy home environment is the single most important factor necessary to keep children from becoming delinquent. Current positivist approaches generally focus on the cultural and socio-economic environment to which a young person has been exposed, and how these conditions may be criminogenic.
These theories de-empathize the fault of the individual, and stress criminal behaviour is largely determined by factors out with a young person’s control. Social ecology or social disorganisation theory says crime is generated by the breakdown of traditional values and norms. This was most likely to occur in urban areas with transient populations and high levels of migration, which would produce the breakdown of family relationships and community, competing values, and increasing impersonality. Children who are inadequately supervised by parents who fail to teach them right and wrong, who do not monitor their whereabouts, friends, or activities, and who discipline them erratically and harshly are more likely to become delinquent. Marital discord is a more powerful predictor of delinquency than divorce or single-parent family structure.
Family relations, not just the separation, influence delinquency. Abuse directly affects the child, yet the link between abuse and delinquency is not as strong as the link between rejection and delinquency. Abused children tend to manifest more problematic and aggressive behaviour than children who are not abused, but some abused children withdraw, become self-destructive, or focus their reaction inward. Other children show few behavioural effects of abuse. Being abused increases the chances of delinquency, but most abused children do not become delinquent.
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Research on causes of delinquency makes a major contribution to the understanding of the interaction of the family and delinquency. A child’s predisposition toward impulsive, aggressive, and antisocial behaviour may initiate a process within the family that ultimately leads to delinquency. Parents of a difficult child may stop parenting to gain peace within the home and may come to reject the child. Antisocial patterns established within the family may be exacerbated and reinforced as the child enters school. As the child enters adolescence, delinquent acts may further weaken the youth’s attachment to family, school and conventional ties. Whilst it is true that society does have a role to play in the upbringing of children in the sense of providing a social environment in which to bring up a child but it is clearly the role of the parent to mentor, advise and guide a child through to their adulthood.
No child has it easy, but it is true some are worse off than others and as a result of being disadvantaged in some way. But there is also another class of youngster, one without discipline and respect in their life, one without a strong guide in their life which ensures that the child stays on track and in the right direction in their life. These are the roles of parents and a society which attempts to divorce parents from this responsibility is only asking for more trouble. The role of a parent, is to watch, to guard, to mentor, to guide, to create a home environment suitable for a young person, but the role of a parent is to also educate a young person in their role in society. It is a clear deficiency of a parent, when a young person goes off the tracks. Therefore the question must be asked whether parents can, through effective socialisation, prevent delinquent behaviour among there offspring? In addition to affection, three elements appear to characterize positive parenting that is normative regulation, monitoring regulation, and discipline. The quality of supervision is consistently and strongly related to delinquency.
Parents must adequately monitor their children’s behaviour, whereabouts and friends. They must reliably discipline there children for antisocial and prohibited behaviour, but must do so neither rigidly or severely. It helps if they assist their children in problem solving, negotiate conflict and model pro social behaviour. Less is known about the link between parental attention to normative and moral development and subsequent delinquency than many other topics of family life. However research appears to indicate that delinquency is more likely when normative development is incomplete, and when children are unable to distinguish between right and wrong, feel little or no obligation to standards of behaviour, and have little respect for the rights and welfare of others. Parents play a critical role in moral development.
A variety of family circumstances have been identified as contributing to the delinquent behaviour of children. Children who are rejected by their parents, are inadequately supervised, and grow up in homes with considerable conflict are at greatest risk of becoming delinquents. The presence of any one of these family circumstance factors increases the chances of raising a delinquent child. The addition of more than one factor further enhances the odds of misbehaviour. There appears to be a cumulative effect such that the presence of more than one of these negative family attributes compounds the likelihood of delinquency. Not all children follow the same path to delinquency; different combinations of life experiences may produce delinquent behaviour. Finally positive parenting practices during the early years and later in adolescence appear to act as buffers, preventing delinquent behaviour and assisting adolescents in desisting from further delinquent behaviour.
In addition to parents having an influence on children becoming delinquency there are a number of other factors to consider such as the effect of school on children. A negative effect from school can impact the progression of delinquency developing in children. Failure to bond to school during childhood can lead to delinquency. In addition, as stated above, early neurological deficiencies, when combined with the failure of family, school, and community to provide adequate socialization, lead to early-onset offending that persists throughout life. A specific school risk factor for delinquency is poor academic performance. A meta-analysis of more than 100 studies examined the relationship between poor academic performance and delinquency and found that poor academic performance is related to the prevalence, onset, frequency, and seriousness of delinquency (Maguin and Loeber, 1996).
In young children ages 8 to 11, academic performance has been related to serious later delinquency (Loeber et al., 1998). Even when individual intelligence and attention problems are taken into account, academic performance remains a predictor of delinquency. Children with weak bonds (low commitment) to school, low educational aspirations, and poor motivation are also at risk for general offending and for child delinquency (e.g., Hawkins et al., 1998; Le Blanc, Coté, and Loeber, 1991). It is likely that children who perform poorly on academic tasks will fail to develop strong bonds to school and will have lower expectations of success. As a result, academic achievement and school bonding are, in many ways, interdependent. For example, one study found that boys who engage in delinquency are less committed to school and are also more likely to have “shorter plans” for their schooling. These boys described themselves as bad students (Le Blanc et al., 1991).
In addition to school fellow classmates and peers can also have a negative impact on a child. Peer influences on child delinquency usually appear developmentally later than do individual and family influences. Many children entering school, for example, already show aggressive and disruptive behaviours. Two major mechanisms associated with peer factors or influences are association with deviant peers and peer rejection. Association with deviant peers is related to increased co-offending and, in a minority of cases, the joining of gangs. Related to strain theory is subcultural theory. The inability of youths to achieve socially valued status and goals results in groups of young people forming deviant or delinquent subcultures, which have their own values and norms. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.552) Within these groups criminal behaviour may actually be valued, and increase a youth’s status. (Walklate: 2003 p.22)
The notion of delinquent subcultures is relevant for crimes that are not economically motivated. Male gang members could be argued to have their own values, such as respect for fighting ability and daring. However it is not clear how different this makes them from ‘ordinary’ non-lawbreaking young men. Furthermore there is no explanation of why people unable to achieve socially valued goals should necessarily choose criminal substitutes. Subcultural theories have been criticised for making too sharp a distinction between what is deviant and what is ‘normal’. (Brown: 1998 p.23) There are also doubts about whether young people consciously reject mainstream values. (Brown: 1998 p.23) Since a 1931 report showing that 80 percent of Chicago juvenile delinquents were arrested with co-offenders, empirical evidence has supported the theory that deviant peer associations contribute to juvenile offending (Shaw and McKay, 1931). The unresolved question is whether deviant peers model and reinforce antisocial behaviours or whether the association with deviant peers is simply another manifestation of a child’s predisposition to delinquency.
In other words, do “birds of a feather flock together” or does “bad company corrupt”? The theory of Differential association also deals with young people in a group context, and looks at how peer pressure and the existence of gangs could lead them into crime. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.552) It suggests young people are motivated to commit crimes by delinquent peers, and learn criminal skills from them. (Eadie & Morley: 2003 p.552) The diminished influence of peers after men marry has also been cited as a factor in desisting from offending. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.4) There is strong evidence that young people with criminal friends are more likely to commit crimes themselves. (Walklate: 2003 p. 2) However it may be the case that offenders prefer to associate with one another, rather than delinquent peers causing someone to start offending. (Graham & Bowling: 1995 p.49)
Furthermore there is the question of how the delinquent peer group became delinquent initially. The Study Group found that a strong case could be made that deviant peers influence Non-delinquent juveniles to become delinquent. For example, according to data from the National Youth Survey on a representative sample of U.S. juveniles ages 11 to 17, the most frequent pattern was a child moving from association with non-delinquent peers to association with slightly deviant peers, and then on to commission of minor offences. More frequent association with deviant peers and more serious offending followed, leading to the highest level of association with deviant peers (Elliott and
Menard, 1996; Keenan et al., 1995). Deviant peers influence juveniles who already have some history of delinquent behaviour to increase the severity or frequency of their offending. A few studies of children younger than 14 support this hypothesis. For example, in a study of Iowa juveniles, involvement in the juvenile justice system was highest for those who engaged in disruptive behaviour and associated with deviant peers at a young age (Simons et al., 1994). The Study Group concluded that deviant peers contribute to serious offending by child delinquents during the period of their transition to adolescence.
Although an extreme form of association with deviant peers, gangs provide a ready source of co-offenders. Not surprisingly, gang membership reflects the highest degree of deviant peer influence on offending. The Rochester Youth Development Study, the Denver Youth Survey, and the Seattle Social Development Project have all shown that gangs appear to exert a considerable influence on the delinquent behaviour of individual members. Juveniles are joining gangs at younger ages, and the role of gangs in crimes committed by youthful offenders appears to be an increasing problem (Howell, 1998). In the case of violence, even after accounting for other risk factors (such as association with delinquent peers who are not gang members, family poverty, lack of parental supervision, and negative life events), gang membership still has the strongest relationship with self-reported violence (Battin et al., 1998).
Lastly a focus on the individual is required when looking into factors associated with delinquency. Not everything can be blamed on parents as there is a large element of the child themselves which make them more predisposed to following a path of delinquency. Classical criminology stresses causes of crime lie within the individual offender, rather than in their external environment. For classicists offenders are motivated by rational self-interest, and the importance of free will and personal responsibility is emphasised. Rational choice theory is the clearest example of this approach. It states that people weigh up the pros and cons of committing a crime, and offend when the former outweigh the latter. A central deficiency of rational choice theory is that while it may explain when and where people commit crime, it can’t explain very well why people choose to commit crimes in the first place.
Neither can it explain differences between individuals and groups in their propensity to commit crimes. James Q. Wilson said the conscience and self-control of a potential young offender must be taken into account, and that these attributes are formed by parental and societal conditioning. Rational choice does not explain why crime should be committed disproportionately by young people, males, city dwellers, and the poor. (Walklate: 2003 p.2) It also ignores the effect a, young persons peers can have on them, and the fact that some youths may be less able to accurately foresee the consequences of their actions than others. Rational choice theory does not take into account the proven correlations between certain social circumstances and individuals’ personalities, and the propensity to commit crime.
If we study the characteristics of those processed by control agencies, and if we accept that they are representative of all delinquents, we may conclude that the typical juvenile delinquent is different from his peers in a number of ways. That is to say that there are a number of traits which are significant predictors of delinquent activity. Some of these traits appear to be fundamental personality factors hyperactivity, tendency to alcoholism, psychosis, low measured intelligence, small stature and poor health and being male rather than female. There are also some significant characteristic modes of social interaction which make the individual more prone to delinquency such as bad temper, unpopular with peers, disruptive behaviour in school, parents found him a difficult child, likely to be violent and poor work and bad results at school.
Lastly backgrounds are important in determining whether a child will follow a path of delinquency and a career in crime. These factors include environmental, living in a slum area, living in an area of high delinquency, social class, father unskilled labourer, poor surveillance, irregular discipline, lack of affection, family interaction characterised by antisocial behaviour, family breakdown and poverty. These young people are recognized as being difficult by parents, other children and teachers. The onset of these problems was very often early in the child's life, and the first steps into delinquency were often taken as early as 9 or 10 years old.
A significant implication which, has been highlighted is that bad behaviour is a general trait. Robins and Ratcliff (1980) have shown that each separate type of childhood deviance (hyper-activity, conduct disorder, bed-wetting, etc) is independently correlated with the overall level of adult deviance. Each separate type of adult deviance is predicted by the overall level of childhood deviance. The overall level of childhood deviance is a better predictor of adult deviance than any one particular childhood behaviour. These relationships do not depend on the continuation of the same behaviour from childhood into adulthood. Variation in the kind of bad behaviour manifested is more a function of age than of character.
Focus on risk factors that appear at a young age is the key to preventing child delinquency and its escalation into chronic criminality. By intervening early, young children will be less likely to succumb to the accumulating risks that arise later in childhood and adolescence and less likely to incur the negative social and personal consequences of several years of disruptive and delinquent behaviours.
Child delinquency usually stems from a combination of factors that varies from child to child. No single risk factor is sufficient to explain it. To develop effective methods for preventing child delinquency and its escalation into serious and violent juvenile offending, intervention methods must account for the wide range of individual, family, peer, school, and community risk factors.
Some effective intervention programs that focus on reducing persistent disruptive behaviour in young children have reduced later serious, violent, and chronic offending. Some interventions focus on parent behaviours that increase the risk of persistent disruptive behaviour in children. Peer relations training and school/classroom programs have also shown some promise. Still, many gaps exist in our knowledge about the development of child delinquency, the risk and protective factors that contribute to it, and effective prevention and intervention methods. Addressing these gaps offers an exceptional opportunity to reduce overall crime level.