The Effects Of Juvenile Delinquency On Adult Political Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


Political science research has demonstrated that political behaviors are not biological but are learned behaviors through the process of political socialization. Political socialization has been found to influence the amount of political participation as children enter adulthood. A child undergoes the following political socialization process: first, induction into his culture and trained to become a member of society; second, development of awareness of the political world; and lastly, the child goes beyond the passive role of citizen and observer to become an active participant. [3] Political socialization studies suggest the American child's basic attachment to the political system is firmly established at a relatively early age. [4] 

During adolescent years, individuals are politically influenced by primary socialization agents, which include family and education. Children grow up to become responsible citizens through the interplay of various influences and institutions - including family, religion, school, peer groups, the mass media, and the law-that help shape their sense of civic duty and political self-confidence. [5] 

From research on political socialization and its effects, political scientists have theorized that individuals frequently exposed to the agents of political socialization will display active political behavior and political participation once they become adults. Those persons isolated from political socialization agents are more likely to be less interested in political affairs. Individuals with low political efficacy, trust, and civic duty are more likely to stay away from the polls than others. [6] 

This study will explore if a relationship exists between a history of juvenile delinquency [7] and inactive adult political participation. Typically, in the late teens and early twenties, delinquent boys and girls cease their delinquencies when they marry and decide to settle down. [8] However, it is hypothesized that juvenile delinquents are isolated or alienated from the most influential agents of political socialization during childhood, leading to inactive political behavior, decreased knowledge in politics, and less interest in political participation [9] once reaching adulthood. After reviewing literature on the significance of political socialization, surveys will be distributed to determine if a correlation exists between juvenile delinquency and adult political participation in order to test the hypothesis.

Furthermore, the influence of family depends on the role of the family members residing in the household. Families with present and active fathers are more likely to raise children with greater political interests than those children residing with only their mothers. [13] A study conducted on Jamaican families found children residing in single-mother households entered the eighth grade uninterested in politics and with less political efficacy. This study also provided results showing 39 percent of twelfth grade students from maternal families were interested in politics while 55 percent of students from two-parent families were interested in politics. [14] In addition, studies confirm children raised in single-parent families may be at greater risk than those in two-parent families to drop out of school, to become involved with crime and illegal drugs, and to experience periods of unemployment. [15] A study conducted by Chris Coughlin and Samuel Vuchinick found that in single-mother families, children by the age of 10 were twice as likely to be arrested by age 14 than those children from two-parent homes. [16] This may be attributed to the fact that single parents have to work harder to provide for the family's economic well being as well as a loving environment for their children. [17] Increasing numbers of single-parent homes may diminish political values for society as a whole. [18] 

Influence of Education on Political Socialization

Ancient philosophers were the first to recognize the significance of educational influence on political socialization. Since early political socialization studies, education has been recognized as one of the most significant institutions that provide political knowledge. Dean Jaros, author of Political Socialization, stated, "the great emphasis in the Republic on making the young into good citizens through extremely comprehensive state-run instructional programs is so impressive that many think education, not politics, was Plato's chief concern." [19] Through education, children begin to understand the political system and political authorities.

They [children] also begin to feel a connection with the political system

early in their academic studies. The young child's involvement with the

political system begins with a strong positive attachment to the country;

the United States is seen as ideal and superior to other countries. This

Attachment to the country is stable and shows almost no change through elementary-school years. This bond is possibly the most basic and essential aspect of socialization into involvement with the political life of the nation. [20] 

Child associations with governmental and political symbols, such as the American flag, begin during elementary school. With time, young people often begin to view their roles in the political system with far less complacency, coming to see themselves less as passive subjects and more as active participants. [21] 

Although school provides children with attitudes and beliefs towards the political system, researchers are concerned teachers do not place importance on voting and the influence individuals may have on the political system through their participation. [22] Yet, school does provide the necessary knowledge about the people involved and the organization of the political system, which helps individuals gain interests in the political system and political participation as they mature.

In studies conducted of second grade students and eighth grade students, the results showed younger students identified government with persons such as a police officer and the President. According to earlier studies regarding the child's growing awareness of political objects and relationship, the President of the United States and the policeman were among the first figures of political authority the child recognized. [23] However, in this study, the eighth grade students were able to link Congress with the term government. This supports Greenburg's argument, "Children move, in a sense, from a very personalized conception of governmental authority to one better characterized as "legal-rational," institutionalized, or impersonal political authority." [24] The same study discovered 27 percent of the second grade students did not understand what government meant, while the nine percent of eighth grade students did not understand.

Political values taught by family and secondary school are further enhanced by higher education. [25] Higher levels of education seem most likely to encourage citizens to participate meaningfully in politics. [26] College students in the United States are more prone to support civil liberties and social programs sponsored by government.

During the 1970s and 1980s, many were concerned the youth exhibited political ignorance, apathy and alienation; therefore, new programs were designed to promote political literacy and political participation in education. [27] Service learning has been implemented into the educational curriculum. By connecting the academic classroom with community service programs, students become more active participants in their civic community. [28] Another way teachers have encouraged student participation and activism is through a program called Project Citizen. Project Citizen encourages student involvement within their communities by having them identify the most important issues and forming resolution proposals. [29] 

Influence of Organizations and Activities on Political Socialization

On the contrary, scholars have found the outcome of political participation does not depend on the amount of education, but relies upon the amount of political knowledge, which may be acquired inside and outside the classroom. [30] Most political scientists find schools are a basis for political learning and participation through activities and organizations. Student activities in and out of school are associated with greater attention to politics and great knowledge and tolerance. [31] Significant activities include: newspaper writing, debate clubs and student government. Debate clubs teach students that two sides exist to every story and also help familiarize students with political, social and economic issues. Participation in student government teaches students the fundamental rules of the political process. [32] 

The roots of adult civic and political participation begin to develop in pre-adult experiences. [33] In general, researchers claim organizational membership affects political attitudes, information about public issues, social networks, norms for participation and civic skills. [34] Participation in school organizations and activities received much attention during the 19th century. Scholars of political behavior since de Tocqueville ([1840] 1945) have contended that one primary way in which people can become engaged in political participation is through organizational membership. [35] 

This life-stage [late teens and early 20s] does show an increase over the

pre-teen period in the individual's involvement and interest in the events

of the political world and in greater crystallization of the political self…

With time, individuals increasingly are socialized into their new roles and

are exposed to different conditions that influence political behavior. [36] 

Similarities between adult voluntary associations and high-school organizations suggest they might play similar roles in generating political engagement. [37] 

Also, some children at early ages learn about the political process by participating in political activities such as wearing campaign buttons. [38] Political campaigns are powerful catalysts for pre-adult political socialization. [39] Campaign participation requires social interaction, which might be an important predictor of political participation, and may even be one of the motivations for political participation. [40] 

Influence of Peer Groups and Social Class on Political Socialization

Adolescent participation in school organizations also allows for the political influence of peer groups. Political scientists have recognized the influence of peer groups on political behavior and political participation; thus, serving as an agent of political socialization. It is believed among political scientists that individuals belonging to few social groups will have less interest in political participation due to the feeling of alienation. [41] 

There is evidence, for example, that citizens who belong to few groups,

who are socially unintegrated, may lose feelings of efficacy in democratic politics, may support political extremism, or may become especially

rejective of referendum proposals. [42] 

When examining the influence of social groups, researchers have also conducted studies on peers and found individuals are influenced by the political beliefs within their peer groups. However, the socio-economic status of the peers must be taken into account because values differ according to class status. [43] The lower class individual lives from moment to moment, is unable to control his or her impulses, and is likely to be unskilled and to change jobs frequently. Edward Banfield further states, "The stress on 'masculinity,' 'action,' risk-taking, conquest, fighting and 'smartness' makes lower-class life extraordinarily violent. However, much of the violence is probably more an expression of mental illness than of class culture." For the working class individual, participation in organizations is only for leisure, not for the purpose of civic or service interest and engagement. Furthermore, the working class individual may vote, but his or her political participation is not motivated by political principles, but by party loyalties. [44] Individuals from lower classes appear to be less interested in politics, whereas members of middle or upper classes are more likely to engage in politics.

If lower-class youngsters associate with lower-class peers-and if peers,

in fact, have political socialization capabilities-we would expect these

characteristic lower-class political values to be reinforced; on the other

hand, should lower-class youngsters associate with upper-class peers,

their political values should show some modification in the direction of

those typical of the upper classes. [45] 

When peer groups and families with low socioeconomic backgrounds cannot provide great political influences, the influence of political socialization in school is imperative for these children. [46] 

Influence of Race and Gender on Political Socialization

In addition to social class, race and gender are not to be excluded from the list of political socialization agents. These three factors together influence political behavior and opinions. In American society, Blacks have experienced increasing dissatisfaction from the political system. [47] Therefore, Blacks are less likely than Whites to believe in the political system and its effectiveness. For example, some researchers have found African-American children tend to place less trust in government than white children in the United States. These children are also less confident of their ability to influence government.

Besides the racial divide over politics, a gender gap [48] also exists regarding political issues and resolutions. Gender differences emerge early in a child's life. Through observation of males holding political power, girls are taught that they are not to engage in political affairs. [49] According to Dennis, a survey of American adolescents supported the view that girls knew less about politics than males. Also, boys were more able to identify historical political leaders while girls were less likely to do so. [50] 

Even as children enter adulthood, their political ideologies are linked to their gender. Females interested and involved in politics tend to be more liberal while men are closely linked with being more conservative. A theory explaining why women are more liberal postulates that due to some combination of socialization and biology, women-as mothers and the primary caregivers for children-tend to develop a moral and political perspective that emphasizes compassion and the protection of human life. [51] 

Influence of Experiences and Political Events on Political Socialization

According to Jaros, the beginning of political socialization occurs during the childhood years, but the process is not limited to childhood alone. [52] Adults continue undergoing the process of political socialization process, because they continue experiencing events throughout their lives. These adult experiences have the possibility of influencing one's political behavior, political ideologies and political participation in the political process.

Socialization may be a continuous process extending throughout the life

cycle. This raises the possibility that early socialization may be displaced

or overridden by later socialization, nullified by adult experiences or even

by deliberate counter socialization. [53] 

Political events, such as presidential elections and campaigns, are a part of adult political socialization as well as child political socialization. A study conducted by Sears and Valentino, found adolescents had high levels of partisan opinions at the beginning of presidential election campaigns although they had little knowledge. [54] Much research indicates both children and adults readily express political opinions, but these are often based on poor information and reflect somewhat inconsistent and unstable underlying attitudes. In response to the socialization of political events on children, Sears and Valentino stated, "to pre-adults, politics are usually of rather low visibility, with low ambient levels of exposure to relevant communication. As a result, most socializing communications, and the greatest socialization gains, are likely to be triggered by the intervention of exogenous political events." [55] 

An individual's everyday life has also been recognized as an influence on political behavior and socialization, especially if it is chaotic and stressful. [56] Stressful situations in life influence an individual's participation, beliefs and interest in political affairs. Primarily, stress and "bad times" lead to political inactivity and lack of interest in political participation. Bad times-stressful events-are found to depoliticize people, and to turn them away from politics as they try to cope with the challenges facing them. [57] This also leads to political distrust and the undermining of the democratic system. [58] Overall, findings suggest personal problems are unrelated to political behavior and attitudes unless individuals see government as responsible for the occurrence of taking care of the problem. [59] 

A Study of Nonvoters and Why They Do Not Participate in Elections

By conducting surveys and interviews, Jack C. Doppelt and Ellen Shearer investigated the reasons some individuals do not vote in presidential elections. The study revealed many nonvoters were registered to vote for the 1992 presidential elections, because of the Motor Voter Law that made registration more accessible and less time consuming. [60] It was also found that 80 percent of the registered nonvoters did not cast a vote for the 1992 presidential elections. [61] During Doppelt and Shearer's study, they found many nonvoters fell into the category of what he referred to as the Alienateds. [62] The Alienateds represented the poorest individuals; only 11 percent were college graduates, 40 percent of this group was registered to vote, but had the most pessimistic view about government and politics among the five groups. [63] 

Interviews conducted by Doppelt and Shearer revealed why two women from the Alienateds group did not vote. One woman dropped out of school when she was 16 years old and was abandoned by her mother at a young age, leaving her father to take care of her. Her father, who had health problems, was denied social security benefits, which left her with a sour feeling of politics. Because of her history, this woman has no interest in participating in politics and is not a registered voter.

Another individual in their study is a registered voter. However, this woman has a history of juvenile delinquency. Her parents divorced when she was three years of age and moved back together when she was nine years old. She rebelled against her father moving back in the house by staying away from home and smoking marijuana. She grew up uninterested in politics and has not voted, although she is registered.

The latter scenario presented by Doppelt and Shearer demonstrate the possibility of juvenile delinquency affecting political participation once children become adults. The remainder of this study will examine if juvenile delinquency does, in fact, cause isolation from the agents of political socialization, leading to political inactivity.


In order to begin investigating if a relationship exists between a history of juvenile delinquency and adult political participation, questionnaires will be distributed to a randomly selected group of 200 individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 in Petersburg, Virginia.