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Adolescence and delinquency

Adolescence and Delinquency

I couldn't begin to cover all the possible reasons that may cause an

adolescent to become a "juvenile delinquent." During my research, I found

that the term juvenile delinquency is defined a number of ways. Mosby's

Medical Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary summed up juvenile delinquency

best with this definition; "resistant antisocial, illegal, or criminal

behavior by children or adolescents to the degree that it cannot be

controlled or corrected by the parents, endangers others in the community,

and becomes the concern of a law enforcement agency"(1994).

I found that most theories about what causes delinquency in children and

adolescents originate with families and parenting. Many statistics and

studies have been conducted comparing the number of youths that had chosen a

delinquent life style, with single parent households, or parents who were

drug and alcohol dependant. It is my belief that three out of four parenting

styles that we have studied in our text, when taken to extremes, can be just

as damaging to an adolescent as a parent suffering from drug or alcohol

addiction. Parents who exhibit an indifferent parenting style send the worst

possible message to their children. "When permissiveness is accompanied by

high hostility, the child feels free to give rein to his most destructive

impulses"(Craig, 1996, p.316). And where exactly in the question of

causation does nature Vs nurture fit in. What about the child who seemingly

has balanced, consistent authoritative parents, and still chooses a

delinquent lifestyle.

I'm going to address some of these issues in the pages to follow, beginning

with an external factor that may influence some of our younger children; TV.

The impact of television violence has been debated since TV first arrived

in America. According to a study highlighted in US News and World Report,

the more violent TV programs children watch, the more likely they are to

commit violent crimes. "The greatest impact is on pre-adolescent children

who do not yet have the capacity to gauge what is real and what is not"

(Zuckerman, Aug. 2,1993). The theory states, that combined with a lack of

parenting by "plugging" children into the TV, these children later in life

will be conditioned to violence, regarding it as exciting, charismatic, and

effective. Opponents of this theory argue the "solution to the problem of

television violence may be to reinforce the traditional institutions of

church, family and neighborhood, which provide the moral armor against bad

influences from other sectors of society" (Bender @ Leone, 1997,p.57). These

advocates sort of differentiate between good and bad violence on TV. One

example is the popular television show Law and Order, which is divided into

two sections. In each episode is the depiction of a crime, followed by a

trial of the accused.

Probably the most controversial focus of juvenile delinquency causation

can be attributed to the breakdown of families, giving rise to a large number

of single parent households. According to Robert L. Maginnis, a link does

exist between single parent families, juvenile delinquency and crime.

"Children from single-parent families, he argues, are more likely to have

behavior problems because they tend to lack economic security and adequate

time with parents" (Maginnis, 1994). "Children from single-parent families

are two to three times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems

than are children in two parent families" (Bender, Leone, 1997 p.64). This

report goes on to say these children "are more likely to drop out of school,

to get pregnant as teenagers, to abuse drugs, and to be in trouble with the

law." Bender and Leone cite a study from the Journal of Research in Crime

and Delinquency that reports the most reliable indicator of violent crime in

a community is the proportion of fatherless families. Fathers typically

offer economic stability, a role model for boys, greater household security,

and reduced stress for mothers. " When compared to children from two-parent

families, children from single parent homes are more prone to crime:

· They use drugs more heavily and commit more crimes

throughout their lives.

·They are more likely to be gang members.

·They make up 70% of juvenile delinquents in state reform


·They account for 75% of adolescent murders.

·They are 70% more likely to be expelled from school" (Bender @ Leone,

p.64). Bender and Leone go on to cite a 1991 research review published in

the Journal of Marriage and Family saying, "growing up in a single-parent

family is linked with increase levels of depression, stress, and aggresssion;

a decrease in some indicators for physical health; higher incidence of

needing the services of mental health professionals; and other emotional and

behavioral problems."

Of coarse, with every theory of delinquency causation, there is a counter

theory. Kevin and Karen Wright contend in their Washington DC Brief on

Delinquents and Crime, that "Not only is data contradictory and inconclusive,

the authors contend that much of the research conducted during the 1950's and

60's was flawed by bias against single mothers." What a tangled web we

weave. I was a single parent for ten years. I have no doubt that my sons

are lacking in some ways from experiencing the fullness of a loving

two-parent household. On the other hand, Faith and God were always part of my

modeling, and possibly from his grace my sons were, and are "good boys."

Theories regarding causation of juvenile delinquency and violence cite

biological factors ranging from inherited personality traits and genetic

defects to biochemical imbalances and brain damage. Some studies indicate

that biological factors, including genetics, may predispose a child to commit

violent crimes. Scientists have recently been exploring the role of certain

neurochemicals- particularly serotonin, a brain transmitter that regulates

mood and emotion in triggering violence. Another study claims to have found

a "dramatic connection between lead poisoning, which can impair brain

function, and juvenile crime" (Bender @ Leone, 1997 p.79). Other biological

factors claim undiscovered brain damage early in childhood development can

increase the risk of juvenile delinquency or violence. "Head injuries could

damage a part of the brain that helps curb aggressive impulses, or general

impairment of the brains abilities, making it harder for a child to

comprehend societal rules, or to function well in school" (Bender @ Leone,

1997. p. 79).

Environmental theories regarding juvenile delinquency generally support

the idea that most violent behavior is learned behavior. The top three

detrimental influences include violent and permissive families, unstable

neighborhoods, and delinquent peer groups. I noticed that single parent

families weren't at the top of the environmental list. All of these

influences supposedly teach children delinquent behavior. Theories about

learned violence often go back to family situations when the child is very

young, often citing spanking as the first "no-no."

Another possible cause of juvenile delinquency is a lack of moral

guidance. The general foundation for this theory is, in my opinion,

tragically credible. Authors Bender and Leone describe moral poverty in this


"Moral poverty is the poverty of being without

loving, capable, responsible adults who teach

you right from wrong. It is the poverty of

being without parents and other authorities

who habituate you to feel joy at others' joy,

pain at others' pain, happiness when you do

right, remorse when you do wrong. It is the

poverty of growing up in the virtual absence

of people who teach morality by their own

everyday example and insist that you follow suit."

This quotation, unfortunately says it all. In extreme moral poverty, a child

may grow up surrounded by deviant, delinquent, and criminal adults. It gets

worse. They may also be in abusive and violent settings. This moral vacancy

is said to create children who live for the present moment, and have no

concept of the future, nor do they have feelings of remorse or

awareness of consequences. When you add to this equation the fact that guns

are more available to our children now, than ever before, the result is

meaningless random violence. According to the Journal of American Medicine

Association dated June third, 1998, "Access to firearms and other weapons has

been cited as an important factor contributing to the rise of violence-

related injuries among adolescents" (JAMA, 1998, p.167). Young children are

accounting for more violent crime than ever before. This kind of violence

makes me very afraid for my wife and children. I have seen and talked with

morally vacant children at my job at the Oregon Health Sciences University.

My hart sinks to my stomach at times.

There are probably many possible causes of delinquency that I haven't

mentioned in this paper. It is my belief that parents my unknowingly push

their children toward delinquency by simply using poor parenting styles. I

believe, as the text, the most damaging parenting model is when parents show

no interest in their role as a parent, and combine this with a

low level of affection. This indifferent parenting style offers absolutely

no guidance to an adolescent, leaving plenty of room for those environmental

factors to take over. A clearly more

effective parenting style models the authoritative style highlighted in our

text. Children brought up under this framework have a much better chance of

avoiding the pit falls of delinquency. There has also been legislation

introduced to use public funds to empower religious institutions to act as

safe havens for at risk children.

Many deterrents have been tried to reduce the effects of juvenile

delinquency. More youths are being tried as adults in certain cases, and

curfews are being enforced now more than ever. Law enforcement agiencies

aggressivly enforce truency laws, and most officers I talk to are very

intollerent of the slightest sign of disrespect when approaching suspect

youths. Child and family counseling techniques have changed to fit more

complex and extreme situations. The fact is that we live in an imperfect

world, and final solutions to this problem will probably not be found by men,

but by God.

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