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Juvenile Delinquency and Family Structure

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Juvenile Delinquency and Family Structure

by

Anika Doggett

Elon University

Abstract

This article attempts to explain the effect of family structure on juvenile delinquency. The least amount of communication and structure the family provides, the more likely the child will engage in delinquent activities. Data for this research were collected from a high school in a predominantly low-income area of the south. Research was conducted through the use of surveys. Findings suggest that family structure does indeed both negatively and positively play a role in the production of juvenile delinquency.

Juvenile Delinquency and Family Structure

Obviously something is going on in today's society if more and more children are committing delinquent crimes. Sometimes a researcher has to get to what he or she thinks is the root of the problem to figure out what spawns a certain issue. What provokes a child to become delinquent and what makes the child gravitate so easily towards this lifestyle? This study explores how family life influences juvenile delinquency. Juveniles are more likely to become juvenile delinquents if there is little structure provided for them in their families.

Although there are several influential variables, there are three main categories on which I will be focusing that encompass all of these variables. These categories are family functioning, impact of family disruption, and two-parent versus single parent households. All of these aspects of family are very crucial to the upbringing of a child and could ultimately lead to delinquent behaviors if the family is not functioning "properly." Properly is defined as a two parent, violence free, and openly communicating household.

According to Wright and Wright (1994) the family is the foundation of human society. Children who are rejected by their parents, who grow up in homes with considerable conflict, or who are inadequately supervised are at the greatest risk of becoming delinquent. Immarigeon (1996) says it best when he states that justice can be better served and young people steered on the right path by involving families in juvenile crime cases. If anything would play a large part in delinquency it would be a family. Understanding how the family and how the juvenile within the family works gets to the core of delinquency.

Families are one of the strongest socializing forces in life. They teach children to control unacceptable behavior, to delay gratification, and to respect the rights of others. Conversely, families can teach children aggressive, antisocial, and violent behavior (Wright & Wright 1994). This statement alone could easily explain how the juvenile may end up becoming a delinquent. Wright and Wright (1994) suggest positive parenting practices during the early years and later in adolescence appear to act as buffers preventing delinquent behavior and assisting adolescents involved in such behavior to desist from delinquency.

Adolescence is a time of expanding vulnerabilities and opportunities that accompany the widening social and geographic exposure to life beyond school or family, but it starts with the family. Research indicates that various exposures to violence are important sources of early adolescent role exits, which means that not only can a juvenile witness violence within the family but on the outside as well (Hagan & Foster 2001). If violence encompasses all emotionally environmental aspects of the juvenile's life, he or she is more likely to engage in delinquent activities.

A substantial number of children engage in delinquency. Antisocial and/or aggressive behaviors may begin as early as preschool or in the first few grades of elementary school. Such childhood misconduct tends to be resistant to change; for example, the parents disciplining more harshly, often predicts continuing problems during adolescence, as well as adult criminality (Prochnow & DeFronzo 1997).

In the realm of family functioning there is a theory known as the coercion theory, which suggests that family environment influences an adolescent's interpersonal style, which in turn influences peer group selection (Cashwell & Vacc 1996). Peers with a more coercive interpersonal style tend to become involved with each other, and this relationship is assumed to increase the likelihood of being involved in delinquent behavior. Thus understanding the nature of relationships within the family, to include family adaptability, cohesion, and satisfaction, provides more information for understanding youth (Cashwell & Vacc 1996). The cohesiveness of the family successfully predicted the frequency of delinquent acts for non-traditional families (Matherne & Thomas 2001). Family behaviors, particularly parental monitoring and disciplining, seem to influence association with deviant peers throughout the adolescent period (Cashwell & Vacc 1994). Among social circumstances which have a hand in determining the future of the individual it is enough for our present purpose to recognize that family is central (Wright & Wright 1994).

Referring back to the issue of monitoring, a lack of monitoring is reflected in the parent often not knowing where the child is, whom the child is with, what the child is doing or when the child will be home. Monitoring becomes increasingly important as children move into adolescence and spend less time under the direct supervision of parents or other adults and more time with peers. Previous research found that coercive parenting and lack of parental monitoring contributes not only directly to boys' antisocial behaviors, but also indirectly as seen in the contribution to their increased opportunity to associate with deviant peers, which is predictive of higher levels of delinquent acts (Kim, et al. 1999).

Communication also plays a big role in how the family functions. Clark and Shields (1997) state that the importance of positive communication for optimal family functioning has major implications for delinquent behavior. They also discovered that communication is indeed related to the commission of delinquent behavior and differences are shown within categories of age, sex, and family marital status.

Gorman-Smith and Tolan (1998) found that parental conflict and parental aggressiveness predicted violent offending; whereas, lack of maternal affection and paternal criminality predicted

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