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Choosing one substantive topic as your focus (e.g. drug use, violence, music, etc), discuss how it has been associated with the labeling of youth as deviant and/or criminal. You should draw on both theories of youth and youth crime, and example of real events in your answer."
The problem of drug use is one of the main concerns all over the world, it is no longer a problem which associates with adult, but also adolescent. The adolescent life-stage is a period of high risk for engaging in many different substance use and delinquency. (Lin & Dembo, 2008) Recently, drug use among adolescent has become a common phenomenon and also a new social problem in many society. There is an increasing number of adolescent uses of drug. Many people have seen this youth problem as a threat to society, even a global concern. Adolescent is the next generation. They are important to our society development as they will be the master of our future. We should pay more attention on their problem and help them. Now we are going to discuss how "drug use" has been associated with the labeling of youth as deviant or even criminal.
To discuss how drug use has been associated with the labeling of youth as deviants and criminals, we will firstly talk about few main reasons why do youngsters take drugs.
Using the theories of Differential Association (Sutherland, 1939) and Subculture (Cohen, 1955), in the stage of adolescent, friendship is very important to teenagers. In order to join their peer group, teenagers follow what their friends do, and teenagers treat it as a way to form peer group. They learn others behaviors by associate with others. Moreover, the drug peer group form a common set of values and interests which are opposed the dominant one, teenagers treat these norms and values as "ethics", especially for the "gangs subculture", youths will follow it in order to get peer approval. Statistic showed that 52 percent of 12th-graders said they were given the drugs or bought them from a friend. (National Institute On Drug Abuse,2010 ) Taking drugs is no longer abnormal for teenagers, it is only a common culture among their peer groups.
According to the Hong Kong Marginal Youths Study (Cheung, W.T. & Cheung, Y.W., 2004), over 70% of youth take drugs for leisure and recreation, they usually take drugs in some recreational areas, like raves parties, disco and karaoke lounges. We can understand that for some teenagers, taking drugs is one of the ways to express sadness and pressure. Teenagers may have different personal problems in their growing, they may easily affected by frustrations and this will make them more difficult to maintain healthy self-images and self-control. They will try to find some ways to escape and taking drugs is one of the ways to defense against. As they are now in a contradiction stage, they need to take more responsibilities but they do not have enough ability to deal with those "adult problem". Although they want to appear more adult, they cannot make it. Teenagers may feel depress and they will find some ways to escape, that's drug-taking. Also, some teenagers take drugs just because of curiosity and seek for excitements. It's true that some teenagers are not mature to think about the consequences after taking drugs. This is also one of the reasons why the society concerns the youth problem the most.
With the explanation of Social Bonding theory (Travis, 1969),"attachment to others" is one of the important elements for social control. Most youngsters are sensible to their family members' opinions, also they concern about their feelings. In order protect their bond, these youngsters will choose to behave well. However, some youth drug users reported that they have bad relationship with their family, or their parents are busy to work and just leave them alone, in these cases, they have weak social bond thus weak self-control. They may try to do something in attempt to get parents' attention and feel like being care. Under this condition, they may choose to take drugs.
In this part of the essay, we are going to trace the ways in which "drug use" has become a youth deviant labels.
The Monolithic media promotes a false consensus that alienates occasional drug users into further marginalization. (Cohen, 2002)
With the tight labels of deviance being attached to youth, media should be one of the parties responsible for it. Media is the mass communication channel in the society, they distribute different values and concepts to the communities every single moment. For the labels of youth deviant, it can be explained with a moral panic over youth drugs taking. Cohen (1972) wrote a book "Folk Devils and Moral Panics'', he introduced a term called "Moral Panic". It stated that "societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people."(Cohen, 1972)
Drugs use among adolescent is not something new in the society, but it is only a social problem suddenly "get notice" by the society. There are 5 common features about moral panic. First, the panic is "volatile", it appears and disappears in a sudden. Probably, the problem of youth drugs has been noticed time by time. Second, the panic is a threat that has consensus and widespread concern in the society. No matter the government, interest groups and parents, all of them concern about this problem. Third, the target group of the panic is regarded as a threat to the social moral values. Drugs use is seen as an immoral act in the society. Fourth, there is large degree of consensus in the society believes that the threat is real and serious. Fifth, the concept of moral panics is disproportional to the real case of the threat (Victor, 1998). Cohen (1972) stated that the "deviants" or the "threats" have already existed before society applied such labels, they appeared as "deviants" or "threat" only due to those labels.
[Process of Deviancy Amplification Spiral]
To create a moral panic, media always amplify the problem in a process of deviancy amplification spiral (Wilkins, 1964). Firstly, the spiral starts when an act is being labeled as "deviance", it is something already exists but being hidden. The widespread reported by the media makes the problem more serious and commonly known by the society. Because of the labeling by the media and society, the "deviants" will be isolated by and the identities of the deviants will be reinforced.
In the next stage, due to the public concern, government will strengthen the social control over those "deviants". The police and the law enforcement agents will spend more resources on dealing with the problem. The criminal justice system will also need to do something for the problem in order to release the public pressure, for example, having harsher sentences. In the past, many judges will only ask those youth drug users to pay fine as punishment, but now, because of the great public concern, they will punish them with incarceration. Also, politicians will enact new laws especially for the threat. As the deviants are being isolated by the society, it may lead them to more serious deviants. At this point, the whole spiral starts all over again. Fantasy becomes reality.
We can see that the whole process is worked out mainly by the mass media. The media is the primary definers to the deviants and its behaviors. It has great influence power to the society and to make an event as a threat. Most likely media choose the minorities as their target, they usually perceive them as a threat to the society. Looking back to our focus, teenager is the target of the spiral. Media exaggerates the real case of adolescents drug use, they always carry some frightening headlines, like "90pc surge in teenagers arrested over drugs". This will definitely raise the public attention. To suppress the threat and react to the problem, different parties in the society will begin to advocate their beliefs and make suggestions for the problem.
It is no doubt that teenagers are easily affected by the 'Deviancy amplification spiral'. They are the badge of the future, their behaviors have great influence power to the society and it is a reflection of the society. Teenagers are always the target of "Moral Panics", fear associated with teenagers never truly end but only in a different form and focus. Drug use has now become the focus of the society.
However, some theorists claimed that the public and political overact to the problem. We should be more rational. As Moral panics occur during periods of rapid social change and when the mass media take a reasonably ordinary event and present it as an extraordinary occurrence. (Jewkes, 2004: 67) In this case, we should be careful to examine the panic and we may find that the threat is greatly exaggerated. Reading on statistics is one of the examination ways as it will show the real numbers.
The mass media had painted a distorted picture of events. When an act set in process of 'deviancy amplification spiral', public becomes greatly concern about the problem. The increased social control leads to further marginalization and stigmatization of deviants. The media representation of crime can create more social problems and crime waves.
In a society, there is a mainstream of norms and values, they are all constructed through the interaction. They do not accept new cultures, or even treat those new cultures as subculture which should be eliminated. Teenagers became seen as a new aged-category since 1950s (Jewkes, 2004: 74), media and society have started to produce a new image for teenagers, as they loves excitements and do something without reason, etc. All these images can be easily found in TV series, like America TV series: Gossip Girl. With all these stereotype images, teenagers will then become the main focus of the society again.
According to the labeling theory perspective, societal reaction constructs deviant and crime. Tannenbaum (1938) he introduced a new term "dramatization of evil" which emphasized "the process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing and emphasizing any individual out for special treatment becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, and evoking the very traits that are complained of. The person becomes the thing he is described as being". Many theorists agree that label will be made through the process of interaction and socialization. As Media always over- emphasized the youth drugs- problem, the awareness of the society against this group of youth increased, a deviant label is made for the youth, and this block the opportunities for the youth to rehabilitate and reintegrate into the society. Because those youth are being excluded from the mainstream, they become actively deviants eventually.
In react to media's reports, society begins to view youth drugs problem as a threat to society. They start to give pressure to the government and some enforcement agencies. Many parents always over-react to the problem and make their children into the role of "deviant". Youngsters are under the power of adults, they are the least power group in the society. They rarely have chance to give a voice and no one to be their representative. Under the great numbers of controversies, some youth even they never take drugs, they can only accepts and adopts to those noise from the society. For example, when the media reported about "teenagers arrested for taking drugs in discos", they will stop their children to go to that kind of place and label those recreational areas as "bad" place and so on. These news reports are too general and we should make it clear that those arrested teenagers do not represent all teenagers. It is only a exaggerate image made by the media.
According to Becker (1963), whether an act will be treated as deviant depends on who commits the act and who feels he has been harmed by it. We should firstly find out "Who are rulers?". The rulers are responsible to judge what deviance behavior is and who deviants are. "Differences in the ability to make rules and apply them to other people are essentially power differentials. Those groups whose social position gives them weapons and power are the best able to enforce their rules." (Becker, 1963: 17) Most likely those rulers are powerful group in society, they have great influence power to change the social norms. Apply to the condition of young people, their rules are made by elders or adults It is because adults think that teenagers are not mature enough to make rules for themselves. And these rulers will have social intervention over the threat. They will take action when there is conflict of interests, moral indignation (Young, 2009)
Rulers 1 - Politicians / government
Drug abusers are seen as laws and norms violators. You may want to ask "who makes laws and norms at first?" and what are their criteria in making laws. It is argued that criminal laws are a set of rules made in the interests of those rule-makers or so-called "ruling class". (Chambliss, 1974: 150) Some ruling class will make good use of these minorities problem, that's the youth problem, to shift away the public attentions from more serious social problems, like economic depression. They may change the ways of counting criminals in order to make the problem look more serious, for example, to generalizes all drug users and drug abusers into one category, no matter they are addicted or not. In react to the public concern, policy makers always need to do something with no choice. Most of these policies are focus on those groups of deviants, for example, the School Drug Testing Scheme in Hong Kong, this will surely increase the publicity of these deviants.
Rulers 2 - Interest groups
Moreover, interest groups are one of the parties who reinforce the label of juvenile drug abuser. Different interest groups are trying to uphold their specific interests, for example, the political parties. In order to obtain support and votes from citizens for the election, they hope to make use of the "threat" as to make their policies sound more beneficial to the society. Parties most likely use "youth problem" as their main election agenda. Probably it is because young people are not the voters, it will not affect their election paths. As the media has over-emphasized the problem of youth drug addicts, this raises the public attention. The political parties then make use of these media's misrepresentation of youth, and making suggestion for this public concern, such as some drug treatment centre will advocate government should spend more resources in building more youth drug treatment centers. In one hand, those policies can help to solve thus show off their abilities. On the other hands, it will not affect others in the society. With the introduction of policies, the focus of the society will shift back to the youth, and it will surely reinforce the label attached to the youth drugs users. (Porfilio, B.J. & Carr, P, 2008)
Using the explanation of the labeling theory, labels can be classified to formal and informal labels. The formal labels usually form in the court or through some official process, for the informal one, it usually refers to the label made by family or elders, like parents may define drug addicts as "gang behavior". According to Becker (1963) Self-fulfilling prophecy, these label from the society directly lead to the process of self-labeling. In the case of youth drug use, both labels are made on them. Moreover, these labels have great influence power on youth, as these may alter how they perceived themselves. Labeling theorists claim that the process of labeling may make the self have a self-evaluation, also being isolated from the mainstream, they will accept the deviant label and perceive themselves as "outsiders". Teenagers start to have self-labeling and associated themselves with drug use eventually.
Most likely the society will choose the minorities who are powerless to label. The group of youth who use drugs is placed in the similar condition, as they are defined as deviants by the society. Different social control will be placed on them respectively, as the public concern about the adolescent drug use, the government and enforcement agents will pay more attention on them. As more stop and check on youth in some recreational areas, more youth will be prosecuted for drug uses. More and more deviants will be discovered and labeled since the first deviant is labeled by the society.
Nothing is criminal until societal reaction is made and marks the acts as unacceptable or norm-violated. With this perspective, we can see that "societal reaction" is very important to the process of dividing deviants and non-deviants. If we apply this into the case of adolescent drug uses, the deviant labels attached to them are also societal constructed. Society should take some degree of responsibilities for the label.
In some case, those youth who are labeled may victimize themselves. They will think that society made them as Outsiders, and they have no choice but to join other deviants. Through the association, deviants learn from other deviant, thus form a subculture which is different from the dominant society. As a result, deviant behaviors cause more deviant behaviors, and they accept "deviants" as their master status. The labeling causes isolation, and because of the isolation, the group of deviants begins to associate, this eventually reinforces their deviance behavior patterns and labels.
Youngsters are the important capital of the future, but at the stage of adolescent, they are the least power group in the society. Due to the reason that society always focus on youth behavior, media always amplifies the problem of youth, like drug use. Media, government, interest groups and society construct image for youth and make them as a threat to the society altogether. The overreaction also makes the youngsters label themselves as deviant eventually. Making the youth as deviant and associating them with drug use seems become an inevitable problem in every society.