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Delinquency – A Handout for Parents and Teachers

by Judy Johnson

University of Northern Colorado

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Background

Generally, the term delinquency refers to any illegal act committed by a juvenile (someone below the legal age of adulthood, which varies from state to state). A youth can be considered delinquent for breaking any federal, state, or local criminal laws. In addition, they can considered delinquent for committing status offenses, which are behaviors that are not considered crimes for adults (truancy, running away, drinking alcohol, etc.). Juvenile delinquency impacts us all through costs of the juvenile justice system, rehabilitation and property damages, as well as the human suffering of crime victims.

The contribution of youth to the crime problem varies depending on the crime. In 1994, juveniles were responsible for:

  • 10% of murders
  • 14% of forcible rapes
  • 20% of robberies
  • 21% of burglaries
  • 25% of larceny-thefts
  • 48% of arsons

There was a 50% increase from 1988 to 1994 in the number of juveniles arrested for violent crime. Although juvenile crime has been traditionally considered a male problem, there was an increase in the percentage of females arrested in most offense categories. Since these are only the juveniles that have been arrested, the juvenile crime rate is higher than these figures, but to what degree is uncertain.

Development and Causes��

There are a variety of theories regarding the development of delinquent behaviors. However, it is a complex social behavior that usually cannot be attributed to any one causal factor. There is no compelling evidence that race, social or economic factors are strongly related to delinquency.

Loeber (1990) identified three paths leading to delinquent and antisocial behavior. The first path, an “aggressive versatile path,” begins in the preschool years and involves, in addition to hyperactivity, a variety of aggressive and nonaggressive conduct problems. The next path is a “nonaggressive path” which begins in late childhood or early adolescence and usually involves nonaggressive conduct problems (theft, truancy, substance abuse, lying) that are often committed with peers. The final path is an “exclusive substance abuse path” that begins in early to middle adolescence and with little history of other conduct problems.

One of the strongest predictors of delinquency and antisocial behavior during adolescence is aggression; it signals criminal behavior in adulthood. In addition, a number of studies have found a relationship between family variables and delinquency. These include low levels of warmth and supportiveness, as well as high rates of marital and family discord. Some research has shown that families of female delinquents may be even more dysfunctional than those of male delinquents. Other factors include ineffective and lax parental discipline and parents' involvement in criminal activities.

Peer involvement is also related to delinquent activity. A high percentage of delinquent behavior is carried out with peers and such behavior provides continued support and acceptance.

What Can I Do as a Parent?

In treating delinquency, individual and family counseling should be considered. Prevention of delinquent behaviors in youth is the most effective role for parents and teachers. Keep in mind the following:

  • A nurturing and supportive relationship, as well as a balanced and consistent system of discipline, is beneficial for your child.
  • Parental support groups are often available to help you deal with the difficult behaviors of your child and to learn additional parenting strategies.
  • Identify and address any negative family patterns (alcoholism, grief, domestic violence, abuse) through professional counseling.
  • Communicate with teachers and school staff to see if your child is attending school and how he/she is doing academically.

What Can I Do as a Teacher?

  • Teach appropriate social, problem-solving and coping skills. Peer groups focused in this area have been shown to be effective.
  • Give recognition for positive behavior, activities and accomplishments.
  • Keep open communication with the family and other agencies the child is involved in (i.e. probation, mental health).
  • Encourage involvement with positive adult role models (such as Partners or a Big Brother program).
  • Work to insure that the student experiences success both educationally and, when possible, vocationally. Provide as many experiences as possible for the student to bond to the school and positive peers.

Reference

Loeber, R. (1990). Development and risk factors of juvenile antisocial behavior and delinquency. Clinical Psychology Review, 10, 1-41.

Resources

Baker, F. (1991). Saving our kids from delinquency, drugs, and despair. New York: Harper-Collins.

Jenson, W. R., Rhode, G., Reavis, H. K., & Neville, M. (1994). Why me? Practical parenting techniques for tough childhood problems. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

McCarney, S. B., Wunderlich, K. C., Bauer, A. M. (1993). The pre-referral intervention manual. Columbia, MO: Hawthorne Educational Services.

Rhode, G., Jenson, W. R., & Reavis, H. K. (1993). The tough kid book. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Witt, P. A., & Crompton, J. L. (1996). Recreation programs that work for at-risk youth: The challenge of shaping the future. State College, PA: Venture Publishing.

� 1998 National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 phone 301-657-0270.

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