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Essay/Term paper: Adolescence and delinquency

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Psychology

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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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