Sunday, October 28, 2012

Juvenile Delinquency Theories

“Once a criminal, always a criminal”, this is a famous saying that is common to the American household and which most finds to be true. Once an individual associates him or herself with criminal behavior they are labeled by their community and expected to reoffend. Society now looks at these juveniles and wonder why it is that these children are behaving in such matter.

              It has been clear by now what Juvenile Delinquency is and how it affects society. A juvenile is a youth teen ranging from as young as 9 years old till the age of 18 who engage in illegal criminal behavior. Defining delinquency is not the hard part, figuring out the reasons why adolescents commit crimes is. The study of juvenile delinquency is important because it provides us with trustworthy and reliable theories that can help with understanding the motives of juveniles. These theories fall under three categories, biological, sociological and psychological
Biological Theory considers delinquent behavior as predisposed and revolves around the idea that children are born to be criminals. Cesear Lambrosso is credited for creating the major biological theory called Positivism. His theory states that individuals whom grow up committing crimes have inherited biochemical and genetic factors. Lombroso also states that criminals tend to have certain facial features that are considered a predisposition to commit crime such as a flattened nose and supernumerary teeth. Another criminalist, Sheldon, found that different body types made individuals behave differently. For example, he believed that mesomorphs were more likely to commit crimes because they were athletic, as opposed to the physic of an endomorph, a fat person (Champion, 2004).

               Trait theory relies on the idea that delinquents show biological and physiological similarities to our primitive ancestors, the textbook The Juvenile Delinquency written by Siegel and Welsh describe it as “savage throwbacks of an earlier stage of human evolution. These views had a strong impact on criminology in the 19th century but eventually these views evoked criticism for their “sound methodology and lack of proper scientific controls” (Siegel and Welsh, 2012), and by the middle of the twentieth century biological theories fell out of favor as an explanation of delinquency.

Contemporary biological theories include the Biosocial Theory which states that both adolescent thought and behavior have biological and social bases (Siegel and Welsh, 2012). This theory uses genetics and social environment to determine whether or not a child will become delinquent. While childhood behavior has a lot to do with a poor environment, disrupted socialization or inadequate parenting the biosocial theory presents the fact that we must also take into consideration their genes, because that is what ultimately makes everyone unique and makes all individuals react to their environment differently. For example, a kid with a pathological trait such as a disability, an abnormal personality, brain damage or low IQ may be at high risk for committing crime. This risk is then increased by environmental stressors such as failure in school, bad parenting, substance abuse and delinquent peers.

              There are many major social factors that are believed to cause or affect delinquent behavior such as social relations, community conditions, and level of violence, poverty, and racial disparity. All of these factors play a huge role in the way adolescents see their lives and help them turn to delinquent behavior. There are numerous amounts of sociological theories that can describe different ways a child can become delinquent. Here are some of the ones that are most important.

Social Disorganization theory is when a community reduces the chances of advancement for the children. For example, schools have high dropout rates, high levels of graffiti, high poverty levels and so on. Residents in these areas experience conflict and despair and as a result they turn to antisocial behavior. Strain theory states that when an individual has goals or has wants that the economic mainstream creates desirable and is unable to achieve the goals set before them in a legitimate way, the individual will find alternative ways of achieving his/her goals, usually turning to criminal behavior. Cultural Deviance theories explain that due to the draining lifestyle of kids living in deteriorated neighborhoods they turn to social isolation and delinquent behavior. These behavior explained in cultural deviance create subcultures such as gangs and cults in which these adolescents join to feel accepted, loved and a part of a group. When a society is creating conflict for a youth to achieve success, these teen experience status frustrations because they are not allowed to reach goals set by the larger society. (Siegel and Welsh, 2012).

Psychological theories help understand juvenile delinquency and “like religion, more than like sociology or law, psychology is essentially concerned with the individual himself and is addressed centrally to the processes within and around the individual which give rise to specific forms of behavior” (McDavid and McCandles, 1962).

Two major types of theories include Psychodynamic theory and Social Learning theory. The Psychodynamic theory places it emphasis on the notion that one of the main causes of juvenile delinquency is children’s abnormal personalities that were created and developed in earlier life. Since then these “unconscious mental processes” (Siegel and Welsh, 2012) have been controlling the adolescents criminal behavior. The Id is the drive for immediate gratification and can explain delinquency acts such as shoplifting or burglary. The ego is the realization of real life and helps control the Id. Superego develops through interactions with parents and other responsible adults and develops the conscience of moral rules. This psychodynamic approach states that traumatic experiences during early childhood can prevent the ego and superego from developing properly, therefore leaving the Id with greater power (Champion, 2004).

Social Learning theory is also a major theory that implies that criminal behavior is learned through close relations with others, it asserts that children are born good but learned to be bad. This theory states that all people have the potential to become criminals because modern society presents many opportunities for illegal activity but one has the choice to not engage. If a child is raised in a clean community that has strong morals and if that child has positive role models at home and in the community, he or she is more likely to grow up achieving her goals. Opposing that scenario, when you have a child growing up in a poor neighborhood where he or she is surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence every day, it is very likely that this child will grow up committing crimes. (McDavid and McCandless, 1962).

There is not one set answer on why our youth turn to criminal behavior, but there are plenty of biological, sociological and psychological theories that can help acquire reasoning’s and knowledge to better understand our juveniles. Once these theories have been carefully analyzed, applying them to our juveniles in a case by case scenario can help deter and keep our children from choosing a life of criminal behavior.

Boyd R. McCandles, John McDavid. “Psychological Theory, Research, and Juvenile Delinquency.” The Journal of Criminal and Police Science 54.1 (1962):1-14. JSTOR. Web. 24 Oct 2012.

Champion, D.J. (2004). The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law. 4th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall Inc.

Ellwood, Charles A. "Lombroso's Theory of Crime." Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and 2.5 (1912): 716-723. JSTOR. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.


  1. Straight Genius!! You should run for DA!! *silent finger snapping*

  2. I thought about juvenile delinquency needs to be socialized more wider. because at the moment the problem of juvenile delinquency is important (silvia qotrunnada-12410182)