The Media Effects On Youth Substance Use Criminology Essay

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There is an often asked question that if the use of substances is correlated with youth crime. The fact is that, in some cases, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco are related to youth crime, such as selling drugs, robbery to get money in order to purchase drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. The representation of youth crime as well as youth substance use can be reflected by the broad media system, such as, magzine, TV show, and newspapers. Even youth crime only takes a small percentage of the overall crimes, sometimes, the media over sensationalizes the actually happens youth crime. The media exaggerates the fact to make it seems like all youth crimes are involved with the use of substances; therefore, the society believe that the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is the main cause of every youth crime. This paper will use media as a source to discuss the differential association theory of crime regarding to youth substance use problems.

Theory of Crime

In criminology, the theory of differential association means that criminal behaviour is learned through interaction with intimate personal groups, individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal (Shaw, 210 class lecture, November 16). This theory focuses on individuals learn to become criminals without concern why they break the law. Teen Drug Abuse (n.d.) states that "63 percent of the youth who drink alcohol say that they initially got the alcohol from their own or their friend's homes." Adults can be easily addicted to substances, so do youth. The feelings of ecstasy make them feel good, so that they believe it is a way to run away from the reality. Therefore, they may not say no to someone who offers them the chance to feel that way. Some other youth may feel that using substances is a way to show off themselves, and it is ashamed if they have never try substances before. Teen Drug Abuse (n.d.) states that "20 percent of 8th graders report that they have tried marijuana." Following peers and friends' behaviours of using substances can, sometimes, be a start of continuous criminal behavious, such as robbery money to get substances.

Environmental Influences

Smoking too much is also a potential cause of crime, especially for youth. The statistics surrounding tobacco use and smoking show that: every six seconds a person will die of tobacco use, killing half of all users - 5.4 million people per year (World Health Organization, 2008). The tobacco industry loses customers every year because many users quit smoking or they die from tobacco related disease. Therefore, those companies develop different kinds of marketing tactics to attract new generations of tobacco users. Children and youth are exposed to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship through paid media, paid sports sponsorships and at retail stores (Cromplon, 1993). The tobacco industry claims that their advertisements are only for adult smokers and adult non-smokers; however, studies have shown that industrial advertisements effectively target non-smoking youth (DiFranza, Wellman, Sargent, Weitzman , Hipple,& Winickoff, 2006). Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship foster positive attitudes towards tobacco use among youth, which effectively motivates youth to smoke (Slater, Chaloupka, Wakefield, Johnston,& O'Malley, 2007).


DiFranza and Coleman (2001) believe that parents and friends are the primary sources of tobacco for new smokers. The differential association theory can also explain that people have little control over who they associate with, such as, community, parents, and peers (Shaw, 210 class lecture, November 16). The determinants in tobacco use among youth are creating a possible tobacco epidemic. Youth are subjected to the displays of cigarette by their family, friends, teachers, peers, and advertising by tobacco companies through newspaper, TV and other media. Ng et al (2008) reports that "boys receive ambiguous messages about smoking; on the other hand, they are informed about the disadvantages of tobacco smoking, while on the other, they live in social context where smoking is deeply rooted and accepted" (p. 800). Same with young adolescents need for other substances; it can be well reflected by the economic theories of crime that the public demand for illegal goods and the criminal entrepreneurs meet their demands (Shaw, 210 class lecture, November 18). When stealing cigarettes from parents cannot satisfy their needs, young adolescents emerge the idea to steal from somewhere else. They may steal tobacco from their workplace or from friends' houses, and many of them even do not realize that these are criminal behaviours. It is possible that early adopters of regulatory policies regarding youth access to substance products are also those communities that react early and prominently to other types of criminal behavior, and that it is these policies that tend to lower crime rates (Youth Tobacco Control, 2000).

Impacts of Media

Some media reports unnecessorily generate a sense of community in order to increase public fear of youth crimes. Hough and Roberts (2003) state that "opinion about youth crime is demonstrably misinformed on several dimensions . . . and results in large part from inaccurate media representations of youth crime.." It is true that "as the rate of change in cocaine use increases, a corresponding change occurs in engaging in delinquent behaviour." (Dembo & Sullivan, 2009). However, media reports focus on the large statistics to shock people and favors stories pertaining in order to get the public believe the crime. Before taking this course and reading related research studies, this writer's perceptions of crime has mostly relied on the stories telling by media. Media definitely has a leading position for people who does not study further about its reality. Especially for now, people are busying with their study and works and they get all the information from television, radio, internet, and newspaper. They will not take time to evaluate if each piece of news is really true or it just used to generate moral compass. After taking this course, this writer realizes that young adolescents are rarely appear in news, but they always connected to substances use or violence when they do.


Media usually generate public fear by exaggerating the fact, so that people believe the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is the main reason to cause youth committing crimes. Through learning criminology and reading related research studies would help readers to avoid easily believe in what it says on the news. In addition, youth crime is somehow related with substance use; but not all youth crimes are caused by substance use. However, it is necessary for young adolescents to avoid so many unhelpful tobacco and alcohol advertisements, and family members or peers' unhealthy impacts of using substances.