Juvenile Delinquency

Crime has been part of human civilization. Crime committed by children under the adult age is often described by the law as juvenile delinquency. Sociologists have sought to come up with various theories that would help shed light into what motivates children and youths to engage themselves into criminal activities. Different factors motivate children participation in crime although the underlying factors affecting them seem to converge at some point irrespective of their race or gender.

Delinquency is the behavior of children and adolescents which can be regarded as criminal in case they are charged under adult law. Delinquent behavior may also be simply defined as problematic behavior that is displayed by minors (Gottfredson, 2001, p 4). The behavior becomes problematic when the minors display anti social behaviors and go against laid down rules and regulations. The age definition of minors varies from state to state. Some states have put it at 14 years while others classify the group as lying between 14-20 years. Nonetheless, statistics show a high rate of occurrence of pretty offences like truancy to serious crimes in these groups ranging from gang activity, drug peddling, rape and robbery. If committed by minors, they are regarded as juvenile delinquency (West, 1982, p, 99). Various psychological, social and economic factors contribute to the transformation of innocent children and teenagers to criminal offences.

Regardless of the criminality of a juvenile, there are some factors that influence delinquency. These factors are present in almost all cases where juvenile delinquency is observed. Family composition is one of these factors. Its clear that many juvenile delinquents learn their behavior from family situations they are exposed to (Martin, 2005, p 3). Sociologists have observed a common trend where most delinquents come from disorganized family situations. If a family for instance has a history of violence the young ones are likely to copy and replicate it in their own lives. Broken or dysfunction families influenced childrens learning and they were bound to internalize everything they saw happening and practicing it as well.

Social class is another factor that does contribute to juvenile delinquency. Though a little controversial, the type of social class of the child may also influence himher to engage in crime. Some scholars too suggest that there are regular patterns of delinquency in high poverty-level neighborhoods. In the past children born in poorer classes were thought to be more delinquent than those born into affluent classes (Martin, 2005, p3).

Finally, the education experiences that a child undergoes, does have huge influence on the way he or she views crime. Lack of education or little education is thought to be a primary cause of delinquent acts among children and young adults (Martin, 2005, p3). At the same time education may enlighten children and contribute to criminal ideas. This paper is trying to analyze two cases of juvenile delinquencies based on some sociological theories.

Both psychological and sociological theories are better placed to answer the above questions regarding young Justins case. Robert Mertons strain theory seeks to explain the relationship between goals people set to achieve and the means they use to achieve them. This theory was build on the basis of Emile Durkheims Anomie theory. Emile sought to describe a situating where there was complete breakdown of norms in the society leading to a situation of lawlessness (Taboni, Mongardini  Merton, 1998, p 11). According to Merton the society encourages members to use legitimate means to achieve goals. Goals in the American society may include wealth, comfort and high social status while acceptable means include hard work, education and savings for example (Martin, 2005, p3). Due to the inequalities that exist in society, not all members are able to attain the goals legally hence they resort to criminal or illegitimate ways to attain them. There is an anomie situation when members of the society cannot attain their goals through legitimate means (Welsh  Siegel, 2006, p.67).The inability for the members of the society to attain the goals easily create social strains, hence the development of strain theory. They can be young children like Justin or adults who become frustrated by the obstacles that prevent them from achieving success. Justin comes from poor family that barely affords basic necessities. There is an apparent feeling in Justins family that the society or American system has denied them the necessary means through which they should achieve the comforts every American is entitled to. Therefore he has resorted to crime to achieve the goals that he and his family desire.

The Chicago School of Sociology formulated the theory of ecology where various urban places were mapped and studied. Some urban places had higher rates of crime than others. Inner cities, although had a mixture of all ethnicities, were normally dominated by African Americans. Government and institutions exclusion of the particular group and unfair treatment cannot be discounted as a factor contributing to the miserable life of the African Americans families thus trickling the negative effects to the youths. The sociologists concluded that structural conditions like overcrowding, poor transport, poor schools, poor sanitation and children born out of wedlock were the main courses of crime in these areas (Martin, 2005, p 24). These crimes were committed by both minors like Justin and adults alike. Justin is African American living in the inner city ghettos with the conditions reminiscent of the ones described above. Justin comes from a single parent enduring financial difficulties and means to feed his family poverty reflection. These conditions push him to engage in the criminal activities probably unwillingly at the early age.

Psychologically, Justins case can be explained by the conditional learning theories formulated by Ivan Pavlov. The theory focuses on change in behavior of people and responses to stimuli (Morrow  Tracey, 2006, p, 34). Pavlov used the dog and bell experiment to prove that environmental conditions do stimulate the actions and repetition of the actions is based on reward and punishment.  According to the theory, conditions that one goes through life act as stimuli to the behavior that a person exhibits. Environmental stimuli can reward or punish someone. In the case where an offender is rewarded, heshe is likely to continue till the law catches up with himher. Punishment is likely to reinforce the idea that crime is not productive and that it should never be engaged in. Justin comes from a poor family that does not have resources to meet their financial and basic needs. The conditions under which they live push him to seek the comforts in whatever way possible. When he steals and engages in gang activity, he gets the money needed to supplement his family income. That is a reward that he has got after being pushed by the poverty surround him. However when he is arrested negative stimuli is applied and he is conditioned to regard crime as antisocial.

Abby has been regularly abused by her step father and she runs away to seek refuge in a safer place of alcohol and drugs. Her case can be explained using the psychoanalytic theory that was developed by Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, every person is born with three personality types the Id the Ego and the Super ego (Martin, 2005, p 3). The Id drives all the selfish desires with no regard for other people. Its especially dominant in infants. The Ego suppresses the selfish drives of the Id and injects some level of rationality into the person. The super ego is the guiding conscience that always analyses the egos choices and determines if they are right or wrong according to personalitys choice definitions (Martin, 2005, p 19). Emotions like guilty and shame is a reflection of the superego (Martin, 2005, p 19).

Abby is clearly going through traumatizing events in her life at an early age. These events are hampering her development and her childhood is clearly dysfunctional. The step father appears to have been abusing her for a long period, probably even before she was thirteen. She is feeling guilty and shameful due to the sexual abuse she goes through and seems there is no one to share her pain with. Traumatizing events in childhood may lead to a child to behaving delinquently. Abbys behavior is as a result of underdeveloped ego and superego. The superego is morally weak and that is why she is acting on primal urges like engaging in drugs and alcohol which is socially unacceptable. She is unable to act outside her own interests.

According to Melanie, (1936) as quoted in Mitchel  Greenberg, (1983, p 133), External reality of a child mirrors a childs instinctive life. The external life that she is exhibiting is a reflection of what she is going through mentally. Safety is what she looking for because her innate feelings are demanding and she goes out to seek for them. Underdevelopment of her ego and super ego has led to uncontrollable expression of the innate feelings. Rationality is clearly lacking in the choices she is making and that may explain why she is engaging in alcohol and drugs as an escapist move affecting her school performance.

Intervention in Justin and Abbys cases
Justin is a bright child who needs to complete his education. Once he is through with college he will be in a better position to work and support himself and the family. The Strain theory was developed in during the time of Great Depression when most American families lost their livelihoods hindering their achievement of societal goals. The economic situation of his family is reminiscent of the Great depression times and clearly hampers their quest to attain the comforts that every family needs. However a minimum wage job in the city may help supplement the family income and help keep Justin out of crime and gang activity. Though it may not fulfill their needs optimally, it will prevent him from going to crime and at least some of the needs that apparently crime provides will be met.

Abby seems on the other hand to be more emotionally affected than Justin. Her traumatizing events have led to a dysfunctional childhood that propels her to act egocentrically resulting to anti-social behavior, which at times may be regarded as criminal. In her case, she will have to be taken to a rehab center where she will undergo vigorous counseling to dissuade her from engaging in drugs. Further, counseling and therapy is needed to try and help her recover from the events that have shaped her life so far. At thirteen, she may be exiting late childhood and her psychological development may not be optimal as it would have been in early childhood. However, she can be helped develop her personality types which will help her make rational social choices that will not be considered delinquent.

No single theory can conclusively explain the causes of Juvenile Delinquency in the various contexts that they occur. Many of the theories explaining crime in sociology have regularly been criticized for lack of empirical evidence or giving a biased argument. However what theories like Strain theory by Merton, Anomie by Durkheims and conditional learning can be combined to supplement each other in their weak areas and effectively address problems like juvenile delinquency.


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