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adolescence and delinquency

Adolescence and Delinquency I couldn't begin to cover all the possible reasons that may cause an adolescent to become a "juvenile delinquent." During my research, I found that the term juvenile delinquency is defined a number of ways. Mosby's Medical Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary summed up juvenile delinquency best with this definition; "resistant antisocial, illegal, or criminal behavior by children or adolescents to the degree that it cannot be controlled or corrected by the parents, endangers others in the community, and becomes the concern of a law enforcement agency"(1994). I found that most theories about what causes delinquency in children and adolescents originate with families and parenting. Many statistics and studies have been conducted comparing the number of youths that had chosen a delinquent life style, with single parent households, or parents who were drug and alcohol dependant. It is my belief that three out of four parenting styles that we have studied in our text, when taken to extremes, can be just as damaging to an adolescent as a parent suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. Parents who exhibit an indifferent parenting style send the worst possible message to their children. "When permissiveness is accompanied by high hostility, the child feels free to give rein to his most destructive impulses"(Craig, 1996, p.316). And where exactly in the question of causation does nature Vs nurture fit in. What about the child who seemingly has balanced, consistent authoritative parents, and still chooses a delinquent lifestyle. I'm going to address some of these issues in the pages to follow, beginning with an external factor that may influence some of our younger children; TV. The impact of television violence has been debated since TV first arrived in America. According to a study highlighted in US News and World Report, the more violent TV programs children watch, the more likely they are to commit violent crimes. "The greatest impact is on pre-adolescent children who do not yet have the capacity to gauge what is real and what is not" (Zuckerman, Aug. 2,1993). The theory states, that combined with a lack of parenting by "plugging" children into the TV, these children later in life will be conditioned to violence, regarding it as exciting, charismatic, and effective. Opponents of this theory argue the "solution to the problem of television violence may be to reinforce the traditional institutions of church, family and neighborhood, which provide the moral armor against bad influences from other sectors of society" (Bender @ Leone, 1997,p.57). These advocates sort of differentiate between good and bad violence on TV. One example is the popular television show Law and Order, which is divided into two sections. In each episode is the depiction of a crime, followed by a trial of the accused. Probably the most controversial focus of juvenile delinquency causation can be attributed to the breakdown of families, giving rise to a large number of single parent households. According to Robert L. Maginnis, a link does exist between single parent families, juvenile delinquency and crime. "Children from single-parent families, he argues, are more likely to have behavior problems because they tend to lack economic security and adequate time with parents" (Maginnis, 1994). "Children from single-parent families are two to three times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems than are children in two parent families" (Bender, Leone, 1997 p.64). This report goes on to say these children "are more likely to drop out of school, to get pregnant as teenagers, to abuse drugs, and to be in trouble with the law." Bender and Leone cite a study from the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency that reports the most reliable indicator of violent crime in a community is the proportion of fatherless families. Fathers typically offer economic stability, a role model for boys, greater household security, and reduced stress for mothers. " When compared to children from two-parent families, children from single parent homes are more prone to crime: They use drugs more heavily and commit more crimes throughout their lives. They are more likely to be gang members. They make up 70% of juvenile delinquents in state reform institutions. They account for 75% of adolescent murders. They are 70% more likely to be expelled from school" (Bender @ Leone, p.64). Bender and Leone go on to cite a 1991 research review published in the Journal of Marriage and Family saying, "growing up in a single-parent family is linked with increase levels of depression, stress, and aggresssion; a decrease in some indicators for physical health; higher incidence of needing the services of mental health professionals; and other emotional and behavioral problems." Of coarse, with every theory of delinquency causation, there is a counter theory. Kevin and Karen Wright contend in their Washington DC Brief on Delinquents and Crime, that "Not only is data contradictory and inconclusive, the authors contend that much of the research conducted during the 1950's and 60's was flawed by bias against single mothers." What a tangled web we weave. I was a single parent for ten years. I have no doubt that my sons are lacking in some ways from experiencing the fullness of a loving two-parent household. On the other hand, Faith and God were always part of my modeling, and possibly from his grace my sons were, and are "good boys." Theories regarding causation of juvenile delinquency and violence cite biological factors ranging from inherited personality traits and genetic defects to biochemical imbalances and brain damage. Some studies indicate that biological factors, including genetics, may predispose a child to commit violent crimes. Scientists have recently been exploring the role of certain neurochemicals- particularly serotonin, a brain transmitter that regulates mood and emotion in triggering violence. Another study claims to have found a "dramatic connection between lead poisoning, which can impair brain function, and juvenile crime" (Bender @ Leone, 1997 p.79). Other biological factors claim undiscovered brain damage early in childhood development can increase the risk of juvenile delinquency or violence. "Head injuries could damage a part of the brain that helps curb aggressive impulses, or general impairment of the brains abilities, making it harder for a child to comprehend societal rules, or to function well in school" (Bender @ Leone, 1997. p. 79). Environmental theories regarding juvenile delinquency generally support the idea that most violent behavior is learned behavior. The top three detrimental influences include violent and permissive families, unstable neighborhoods, and delinquent peer groups. I noticed that single parent families weren't at the top of the environmental list. All of these influences supposedly teach children delinquent behavior. Theories about learned violence often go back to family situations when the child is very young, often citing spanking as the first "no-no." Another possible cause of juvenile delinquency is a lack of moral guidance. The general foundation for this theory is, in my opinion, tragically credible. Authors Bender and Leone describe moral poverty in this quotation: "Moral poverty is the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach you right from wrong. It is the poverty of being without parents and other authorities who habituate you to feel joy at others' joy, pain at others' pain, happiness when you do right, remorse when you do wrong. It is the poverty of growing up in the virtual absence of people who teach morality by their own everyday example and insist that you follow suit." This quotation, unfortunately says it all. In extreme moral poverty, a child may grow up surrounded by deviant, delinquent, and criminal adults. It gets worse. They may also be in abusive and violent settings. This moral vacancy is said to create children who live for the present moment, and have no concept of the future, nor do they have feelings of remorse or awareness of consequences. When you add to this equation the fact that guns are more available to our children now, than ever before, the result is meaningless random violence. According to the Journal of American Medicine Association dated June third, 1998, "Access to firearms and other weapons has been cited as an important factor contributing to the rise of violence- related injuries among adolescents" (JAMA, 1998, p.167). Young children are accounting for more violent crime than ever before. This kind of violence makes me very afraid for my wife and children. I have seen and talked with morally vacant children at my job at the Oregon Health Sciences University. My hart sinks to my stomach at times. There are probably many possible causes of delinquency that I haven't mentioned in this paper. It is my belief that parents my unknowingly push their children toward delinquency by simply using poor parenting styles. I believe, as the text, the most damaging parenting model is when parents show no interest in their role as a parent, and combine this with a low level of affection. This indifferent parenting style offers absolutely no guidance to an adolescent, leaving plenty of room for those environmental factors to take over. A clearly more effective parenting style models the authoritative style highlighted in our text. Children brought up under this framework have a much better chance of avoiding the pit falls of delinquency. There has also been legislation introduced to use public funds to empower religious institutions to act as safe havens for at risk children. Many deterrents have been tried to reduce the effects of juvenile delinquency. More youths are being tried as adults in certain cases, and curfews are being enforced now more than ever. Law enforcement agiencies aggressivly enforce truency laws, and most officers I talk to are very intollerent of the slightest sign of disrespect when approaching suspect youths. Child and family counseling techniques have changed to fit more complex and extreme situations.
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