Juvenile delinquency for a long time has remained a debatable topic among psychologists, criminologists, and even sociologists. Many opposing and concurring arguments have been experienced with many researchers concentrating on real cause, which can be explained using different theories ranging from the classical to contemporary ones. Agnew (2005, p. 16) states that there is need to have different and flexible theoretical views on causes of these crimes which is mainly necessitated by the changed ways of living, which has greatly influenced the socio-cultural status of many modern societies.
Many theorists have come up with different explanations seeking to investigate these trends in juvenile crime. Some have associated it with factors such as race, gender, poverty that is depicted by poor socio-economic status. Other theorist associate it with childhood events such as sexual abuse or even other forms of physical abuse likely to have been experienced by an individual. Peer group influence has also provided a large surface area for juvenile crimes to thrive of thus quite a number of available theories are associated to this in a greater way. Authorities have also bee associated with juvenile crimes as they drive the criminal justice systems (Agnew, 2005, p. 27). This affects the way the young people view them and any actions by the authorities automatically affect the reception given to them by young offenders.
This paper seeks to look into the social based theories that explain juvenile delinquency both in traditional and modern or advanced perspective. Some of the most considerable theories include the feminist theory, social disorganization theory, strain theory, sub-cultural, and educational theories among others. It is worthy to note that some of the emerging theories are not yet official as they are formulated from the preexisting ones and therefore cannot be treated as autonomous. Modern studies on juvenile delinquency have found these factors influential enough in juvenile delinquency thus describing them as contemporary theories (HÅn-su & HyÅn-sil 2008, p. 39). A good example is educational abilities of some victims of this kind of crimes. However, these theories can still be associated with the traditional ones in one way or the other.
Juvenile delinquency is one of the major fields of modern criminal studies that are ongoing. Closer analysis of this phenomenon has been summarized by various theorists, which have been put up by different scholars (Esbensen, et al, 1993. P. 33). Well being of a society is the most important factor that predetermines the rate of juvenile crime. Merton suggested that it is the role of the society to instill collective and positive aspirations of a society into it members and ensure this is continuous. However, when many people especially adolescents are obstructed from achieving their aspirations, they switch to crime meaning that they prefer use of illegal and forceful means to achieve what is expected of them. Behavior among the teenage population has attracted a lot of interest with many studies being done on the same in recent years. Between 1935- 1955, the Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory, a group of researchers made very robust attempts to understand teenage behavior in relation to crime (71).
Kvaraceus scale of study formulated in the year 1952 was used in predicting juvenile behavior in the united states enabling tremendous growth in attempts to asses both psychological and social factors that influence adolescents to commit crime (Xiaogang & Lening 2008, p. 112). This tool utilizes a set of multiple-choice questions that help in the predictions of an individual’s behavior when answered by the person being tested and analyzed by a professional. Kvaraceus found out that delinquent children had had very significant differences with others in maters pertaining academic aptitude, family relations, truancy records, school attendance and perceptions on the two main genders. Xiaogang & Lening (2008, p. 119) further reveals that delinquent children posed a negative response for these maters with 65 percent expressing total discomfort when in class learning, implying that they were not interested that much in attending school. Delinquent fellows also reported to have experience a form of racial abuse by those that they felt were unfairly biased.
The US criminal justice system has shown that seventy percent of all children in juvenile correctional facilities have one or more educational disabilities. These children happen to pose lower grades than their fellow children hence only thirty-five percent of all disabled children make it up to graduation compared to all students’ rates that stand at 76 percent (Esbensen, et al, 1993. P. 58). These studies also showed that first crime among this group of students was committed before they leave high school.
Studies in the United States have further proved that delinquent individuals suffered more violent abuse than non-delinquent peers (68). One in ten of serious juvenile offenders have reported to have in one way or the other undergone victimization as compared to one in ten of non-delinquent friends. Victimized individuals have been observed to be more violent and difficult to control due to the assumption that they are already spoilt (Coughlan, 2007, P. 9). They therefore prefer victimizing others in an attempt to find consolation for what previously happened to them (82). This sticks them in the world of crime in more of a permanent basis hence changing their habits become difficult. Being blended by the society as out cast also affect their abilities to reconsider their ways of living since they find the damage caused more irreparable.
Bias such as ethnicity, race and economic status have been found to propel juvenile crimes even further. This is because social animosities among involved parties lead to adoption of false perceptions against the other groups (Agnew, 2005, p. 61). African Americans have been found to have higher numbers of juveniles under safe custody, which is associated with the racism that still, exist among the American society. Minorities have also been found to have more number of juveniles under safe custody. These populations may contribute very little to the total population of a country but the opposite is experienced when it comes to crime. In the United States for instance, the minority constituted only 32 percent of the total population in 1995 but sixty eight percent of the total juvenile population in custody were from these minority groups mainly the Negros, Latinos, and Hispanics.
Social disorganization theory
Developed by Clifford Shaw and McKay Henry in Chicago school, this theory closely relates juvenile delinquency to social disorganization of a society as dictated by the ecological aspects surrounding a society. They define social disorganization as the inability of a society to organize itself in a more socially acceptable manner that perpetuates harmony and the general social well being of a society because of ecological changes within a society (HÅn-su & HyÅn-sil 2008, p. 71). For instance, a city may experience a massive relocation of its inhabitants who go ahead to establish other settlements within the vicinity thus ending up with informal settlements such as slums.
People no longer live together as a cluster leading to emergency of new social classifications with low-income populations finding themselves together and vice versa. Such groups of people usually exhibit a higher population turnover leading to more crowding and eventually causing degradation of their economic empowerment implying that they will be poorer and weaker in tackling life (94). Youth from these poor neighborhoods tend to adopt immoral behavior, as they feel pressed by their socio-economic status well described as averagely low. Through the process of interacting, young people learn different behaviors from those within their neighborhoods and in most cases end up adopting the same behavior with time. Negative neighborhood ecological trends have been linked to higher crime rate among juveniles as social disorganization results in such clusters of communities that developed new social status especially with low-income populations (116).
High population heterogeneity makes it difficult for such societies to come together and establish informal social structures. This means that there lacks uniformity within the society, dictating that a homogeneous society which can collectively adopt good moral values remain illusive. The young adults in such status will always get into criminal activities so easily as the socio-economic status does very little to prevent indulgence in criminal activities (128). Peer influence is the main vector that spreads such undesirable habits among the youth living in such neighborhoods because people of the same age do interact and learn from one another faster and more easily made to believe their friends more easily again raising juvenile delinquency.
Strain / institutional anomie theory
Strain theory is also known as the social class or the Mertonian Anomie theory. An American sociologist named Robert Merton, who mainly used the American economic status as his platform for argument, came up with this theory in expounding more on juvenile delinquency (Coleta et al 2007). Americans had developed a culture that was filled with prospects for freedom, prosperity, and opportunity that he called the ‘American dream’. Merton used the term anomie to imply that the living standards of the people was like a dichotomous key subdivided in numerous hierarchical levels that dictates what was expected from them and what could actually be achieved by the people.
This cloud of beliefs led to an increase in juvenile crimes when certain obstructions were encountered such as unequal social status and imbalanced availability of opportunities for all people (Esbensen & Huizinga, 1993, p. 301). The society witness massive drop out from schools by the vulnerable youths with many citing this as means to enable them achieve what was expected of them by the society, using alternative methods which is through criminal activities. This theory is still relevant up to hitherto with many youths dropping into being gang members commonly known as ‘hobos’ or drug abusers which enables them get the much expected social status through crimes such as robbery with violence.
The strongest impact of this theory especially in adolescents is that they are informed of the American dream as early as possible with a lot of information on what is enjoyable thereafter. The society has however exposed a greater weakness in the sense that little emphasis are put on the legitimate means of how to achieve these dreams implying that the way one plays the game is not important but whether one wins or looses (317). Basing on this fact, many juveniles opt for illegal means to achieve what they are expected to, thus increasing their vulnerability to be victims of criminal activity and deviance from socially acceptable conduct as a result of crime.
According to HÅn-su & HyÅn-sil (2008, p. 51) this theory is fetched from the fact that modern societies have demonstrated a culture of separation where discrete groups of people have fragmented away from the main society and established their own values and norms. These differential affiliations have introduced the culture of learning antisocial behaviors that are clearly defined by criminal studies as crime.
Studies have shown that the most vulnerable group is the adolescents who mainly find it difficult to get along with the traditional ways of living. This has even gone to the extent of formation of cults which comer up with their own ways of living and governance (63). Crimes from this kind of clusters have been reported in many African states where most societies are ravaging in poverty. Since the youth are the most affected, juvenile crime have increased in places where this behavior is left to take course unabated as very young people learn crime easily.
The theory of Educational disabilities
Although this factor is seen by many as not social, it has resulted into a very huge impact on the general social setups of the society as regarding these children who have problems with their studies. The American society is fond of labeling them as potential criminals basing on their inability to do better in class as Cullen & Wright, (2002, p. 103) reveal. These children have a tendency to commit crimes because they are challenged mentally, and cannot use their rationale well in making decisions.
The US government introduced the special education law back in 1975 with an aim of ensuring that this group of its citizens are well taken care of in matters pertaining education. However, school administrators have gone ahead to suspend and expel these children from school further intensifying the psychological burden they find themselves with when labeled as potential criminals by the society regardless of their mental abilities (Cullen & Wright, 2002, p. 116). These children end up perceiving themselves as failures and loose hope in life thus getting into crime to find solace and eventually end up in systems of juvenile justice because of social rejection by those who are supposed to embrace and educate them.
This is one of the major modern theories acknowledged by many researchers. Most theorist of modern psychology agree with this theory that an individual is more likely to be affected by the way their parents bring them up either negatively or positively depending on the existing family values already in possession by the parents. As Weiher et al. (1991, p. 22) puts it, parent-child relationships such as closeness, acceptance, correction, rejection among many others play a very important role when it come to predicting likely behavior a child will develop as they grow. Family influence have bee associated with negative trends with some research showing that family influence is more influential than peer group influence. Better communication strategies with strong emotional support have been found to reduce juvenile delinquency.
Children with non-traditional family set ups such as single parents and reconstituted families commit more juvenile crimes than those children do from traditional families. Because a child from traditional family enjoy intimate family relationship with both parents who become mentors and role models. This is in the sense that in parents able to devote more energy and time to their children, hence positively influencing their habits (Benjamin & Lahey, 2003, p. 62). These children are also least associated with delinquency as they get more resources and a more sensible family setup. On the other hand, non-traditional families fail in larger proportions to provide the same thus, children from such families are likely to get into crime when they seek to make up for what they lack. Traditional family parents have the advantage of sharing the cost of commitment to their children especially financially. This is contrary to what faces a non-traditional family parent who may find it difficult to commit time for emotional and financial support to all of his or her children
Modern society is experiencing a rapid increase in non-traditional family set ups with many people opting for single parenthood especially women to avoid commitments that come with one being a wife and at the same time a mother. Therefore, according to Coughlan (2007, P. 29), juvenile delinquency is more rampant due to such social setups brought about by living preferences of the modern generation (35). Just as good parenting may have a benefiting effect on bringing up morally upright children, the opposite results in a poorly natured child who is more vulnerable to getting out of school for example, and getting involved in criminal activities.
This encompasses a set of explanations by various sociologists and renowned scholars on how differences in numerous characteristics such as gender or race can lead to an increase in rates of crimes among different members of the society. Other documents focus on group differences and how those in positions of authority trigger commitment to crime by young people (Coleta et al 2007).
Racial differences traditionally, can be associated with the Marxism theory too which postulates that those in positions perceived superior are the most likely to dictate the pace as goes the infamous saying that ‘he who pays the piper, calls for the tune’. Marxist theory argue that people those who own production chains have the greatest say in making any decisions pertaining that particular line of production. Larry et al. 2008, p. 227). Argue that others who are the minorities will have to go by what the haves dictate such as the type of work to be done, by who and how. Biases that have lead to discrimination of certain specific minority groups among the many world societies have lead not only to unresolved conflicts, but also in an increase in juvenile delinquency especially in the American societies. This finding is among the most recent theories in criminal justice that explain why delinquency is on the rise in such social set ups where a particular race feel more superior than the other to the extent of treating the latter as subordinates (229).
Racial abuses for example can be tracked right from the social status of many societies with less cosmopolitan places being affected more. This implies that where a group of people is in small numbers, biases more prevalent. Perceptions on people weak economically greatly affect young people relations with, view of people of the opposite class. It is evident in many societies across the globe that these young people will always behave in a way suggesting that they are opposed to what pertains those perceived as opponents (Agnew, 2005, p. 119). This usually results in numerous conflicts, as antagonistic beliefs are ever experienced with majorities emerging triumphant over the minorities eventually encouraging crime especially with the youth.
The Kaplan theory on self-esteem as delinquent factor
Most young people especially adolescents will always want to stay and fit in a place they feel accepted. Whenever this fails to happen, these people turn for alternatives to ensure that the recapture their original status of self-satisfaction. The already established criminal organizations within the society always benefit from decisions of such young people who feel rejected by their own class (Benjamin & Lahey, 2003, p. 19). Criminal organizations usually offer a very satisfactory settlement, as they are easy to accept and make one feel good thus restoring the much sought self-esteem.
Unfortunately, swings in self -esteem are experienced most in adolescent again making the young people more vulnerable. This is because at this stage they have developed self-preferences, which may not by provided by the society, thus making them feels rejected (Larry et al. 2008, p. 47). A solution to this is usually alternative peer groups into which they get into even if they are engaged in criminal activities. Self-derogatory theory formulated by Kaplan is being used in many research studies to establish how far reaching the effects of low self-esteem are, in juvenile delinquency.
Gender differences are the main factor used to argue with this theory. Despite the fact that the theory focuses on the overall rates of committing crime among people of all ages, careful analysis can lead to a more direct link to juvenile crime. The theory too, seeks to clarify why male commit crimes more than females, and why females commit crime in the general social perspective (Weiher et al. 1991, p. 42). Gender disparities experience by females is one of the major catalysts increasing the number of junior female offenders. Positions assigned to females in many societies especially in the developing world are more disadvantageous compared to that of their male counterparts. Females are likely to get into crime such as drug peddling at an early age when their rights are denied for instance when forced to drop out of school to give room for their brothers who are socially assumed to have better chances of attending and successfully completing studies (72).
Females at their younger age are more like to be abuse sexually by their dominant males thus opt for alternative forms of life, which makes them end up in crime brackets. This is because they cannot be accepted back into the society so easily as they are already labeled as delinquents at a tender age. This theory is used to explain female juvenile offences and how being female may influence the rate at which juvenile delinquency occur (82). Crime among youthful members of the society can only be understood well by considering different social encounters by females in events where men want to demonstrate their prowess in ruling women.
Juvenile crime can easily be tackled when intercepted at its point of origin. Individuals who happen to be involved in such crimes usually develop the craving to do so while still young therefore posing a very good opportunity to tackle the vice as children are more malleable and can easily be molded into positive characters. Psychosocial factors also play a very important role in juvenile crime as the way people think and live determine the general social uprightness of the young generation. Perceptions cultivated among different groups of people by the people themselves are more detrimental to minorities especially when they are negative. Societies with more conspicuous differences such as races are more like to experience higher rate of juvenile delinquency.