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Imagine a thirteen-year-old boy living with his mother. His parents have been divorced since he was four-years-old. He has never really known his father and therefore uses his friends for his male role models. His mother has to work two jobs to support her family and is therefore not there to spend much time with her child. This is the type of child that is normally delinquent. Add to this scenario a group of teenage friends that are involved in delinquent activities and it is almost guaranteed that a juvenile delinquent will emerge out of this situation.
In an interview that I conducted with a juvenile corrections officer this scenario was seen as one of the biggest causes of juvenile delinquency. He, Mike Smith, said that: The three main causes of juvenile delinquency are fathers not being in the home, children being unsupervised, and child abuse. This is because children learn through modeling, or what they see, so if there is not a strong, good role model, they learn through their peers. (1999) One of the biggest problems of juvenile delinquents, or one of their biggest sources of delinquency, according to Mike Smith is, without a doubt, ? drugs and alcohol.
These are usually the things that lead to other delinquent acts such as skipping school, stealing, and acts of violence and destruction (1999). The only way that these problems can ever be solved is by everyone working together to make a difference in every child? s life. According to Smith, correcting the problem of juvenile delinquency, Would involve changes from the individual level all the way up to the societal level (1999).
This would mean that programs such as the Big Brother Program would be good programs to install in single parent families. The only problem with this is that children do not need just a male and female role model in their life; they need a good male and female role model in their life. In this case it is not quantity of role models it is the quality of role models in an individual? s life.
The main theory that best supports this interview is Hirschi? s social bond theory. This theory suggests that there are four elements of bonding that tie the individual to conventional society and thus prevent delinquency (Bynum and Thompson, 1999: 193). These elements are: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.
According to this theory, if all four elements are present in an individual the individual will not commit delinquent acts. Yet if an individual lacks even one of these elements, that individual has a higher likelihood of committing delinquent acts. Hirschi said that there is large variation among individuals in the amount of attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief in conventional behavior and therefore there is variability in their ability to resist deviant and delinquent conduct (Bynum and Thompson, 1999: 193). He said that delinquents tend to have relatively weak social bonds and consequently feel little remorse for violating generally accepted social standards (Bynum and Thompson). The findings in a study of four-thousand youths conducted in the cities of Denver, Pittsburgh, and Rochester gave five causes of juvenile delinquency. This survey sampled youths at high risk for serious delinquency and drug use and found that: (1) The more seriously involved in drugs a youth was, the more seriously that juvenile was involved in delinquency, (2) greater risks exist for violent offending when a child is physically abused or neglected in early life, (3) students who were not committed to school had higher rates of delinquency, (4) poor family life exacerbates delinquency and drug use, and (5) affiliation with street gangs and illegal gun ownership are both predictive of delinquency. (Schmallenger, 1997: 532) These five causes that are listed in the study are almost exactly what the person that I interviewed said were the causes of juvenile delinquency.
The only variation in what Smith said and what the study found is that my interviewee left out involvement in gangs and involvement in school. These two elements are very important in the causation of juvenile delinquency. Gangs are important because of the strong amount of peer pressure involved in gang life. For some gangs, initiation involves some type of criminal act, such as shoplifting or robbery. There is also the added factor of drug use and drug distribution for some gangs. Involvement with school is also very important because a non-delinquent child?
s day usually involves seven to eight hours of schooling. Whereas a juvenile who is delinquent is usually either not in school, or they are in school, but getting into a lot of trouble while there. This same study also identified youths who have many of the same risk factors for delinquency, yet did not engage in delinquent behavior. The study identified six factors that are said to strengthen juveniles so that they do not become delinquent. These factors are known as protective factors and include the following: Commitment to school, achievement at school, continuance of education (no dropping out), high levels of parental supervision, high levels of attachment to parents, and association with conventional peers and peers approved of by their parents (Schmallenger, 1997: 533) These factors explain why some children who have high risk factors for becoming a juvenile delinquent do not necessarily always turn out to be delinquent.
In my opinion, not all children who happen to be in situations of single parent families are going to become delinquent. There are some cases where there is no father in the household but an uncle or grandfather has stepped into the role of father and they end up filling that role better that the biological father ever could. There are also some cases where there are two parents in the household yet both parents are bad role models. This is a situation in which the child of parents such as these will usually turn out to be a lot like the parents. The simplest way to explain this is that people, as human beings, learn by example. We pick up on what the people around us do and we tend to act as they do, not as they tell us to do, if they happen to tell us to act different than they act.
When I think of juvenile delinquency, I think of acts that juveniles commit that are in violation of the law. I think that the causes of juvenile delinquency are exactly what my interviewee said that they were, lack of a strong male role model, children being left unsupervised, and child abuse. The problem of so many children today is lack of strong parental figures. There are too many youths that have been raised by the television. Until we begin to see our youth as the most important asset, we will never solve the problem of juvenile delinquency.
Bynum, Jack E. and William E. Thompson. (1999). Juvenile delinquency: A sociological approach (4 th ed. ). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn 038; Bacon. Schmallenger, Frank. (1997).
Criminal justice today (4 th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Smith, Mike. (1999). Personal interview. Troy, MO.
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