Family and Juvenile Delinquency

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Family is the foundation of human society (Wright and Wright, 1994). The family is the primary group where children learn core values and beliefs that will shape them for the rest of their lives. Disruption to a child's family structure can have a lasting impact on his or her behavior. Where you grow up, what school you go to and what financial situation you are in contributes to if you are more likely to develop delinquent tendencies. A juvenile delinquent is a person who is under the age of 18 that commits a crime, but cannot be prosecuted as an adult. Children who have little to no family structure are more likely to act out or turn to crime.

A person's genes undoubtedly affect their behavior; but there can be no biological development without the environment playing a part. So, both biology and the environment impact behavior. The two most influential environmental components of childhood development are family structure and relationships with parents. Specifically, children who grow up in homes with conflict, are neglected, or are denied supervision are more likely to become delinquent.

A mother, father and a child. This ideal family structure is now rare to come by. In today's society divorce is extremely common. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States end up getting divorced. With this change, more and more single-parent or broken homes exist and juvenile delinquents are on the rise. According to statistics from XXX, there were about 1,100 delinquency cases went through the court system daily. In 2007, juvenile courts handled about 4,600 delinquency cases per day. (Puzzanchera et al., 2010). This shows that in 47 years the number of cases processed nearly quadrupled.

A broken home can be defined as a family where the parents abandon their children, are divorced, separated, or a child experiences the death of one or both parents. Due to parents being separated or divorced, children are not always exposed to affection at an early age. This can contribute to a child's lack of emotion and forming emotional ties to others, which may leave the child feeling out of place and having a lack of empathy. In a broken family there is more exposure to conflict. The more disruptive the event is, the more damaging the effects can be, which can result in permanent behavior. Children exposed to conflict are more likely to obtain PTSD, anxiety disorder and learning disabilities, leaving a child in a state of permanent fear and worry. Children who come from these type of families and have negative experiences are more likely to lash out and commit crimes starting at a young age. According to Single Parent Success Foundation more than half of all youths incarcerated in the U.S. lived in one-parent families as a child. Regardless of being from a two-parent household or a single-parent household, children are more likely to become juvenile delinquents if there is a lack of time spent with their parents. Spending enough quality time with parents creates a healthy environment for the child emotionally to grow up in. In addition, children need structure, including rules, comfort, respect and unconditional love, from their parents. Even though many juvenile delinquents do come from broken families, juvenile delinquency stems from a lack of or no positive parenting.

The structural functionalist perspective is explained as a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability (John J. Macionis, 2017). This approach points to social structure and social functions that promote social order, social structure and social function. Tying Structural Functionalism to Family structure and Juvenile Delinquency, I will look into the theories of social deviance. Deviant behavior can be committing a serious crime such as, rape, murder and assault or doing something out of the social norm. Structural functionalist would say that it is functional for society that children become delinquent.

Well known sociologist and structural functionalist Emile Durkheim, argued that deviance is a necessary part of all social systems. Deviance is necessary to social systems because it helps maintain social order which is crucial for a society to function smoothly. It plays an active role in help adhere to different communities within a particular society. Deviance serves several important functions. Specifically, deviant behavior affirms cultural norms and values by reinforcing what society sees as acceptable and not acceptable behavior. When a person is punished for their behavior they are seen as an example to the rest of society which leads to the advocacy of social order. Deviant behavior also affirms what is right and what is wrong. This helps individuals distinguish what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior developing a set social standards. Deviant behavior also promotes the unification of others within society. Acting on deviant behavior can bring people closer together. This is because of people's shared beliefs, norms and values. Finally, deviant behavior promotes social change. Deviance encourages the dominant society to consider alternative norms and values, promoting social change.

Robert Merton, another well known sociologist and structural functionalist found that society is set up in a way that may encourage too much deviance. Specifically, the extent and type of deviance people engage in depend on whether a society provides the means (such as schooling and job opportunities) to achieve cultural goals (such as financial success) (John J. Macionis, 2017). Merton argued that the United States was supposedly built on the American Dream. Meaning the U.S. supposedly supplies equal opportunity regardless of race, class and ethnicity. This dream encouraged individuals to gain success mainly financially. Individuals are expected to achieve these goals through hard work and education, but not all people are able to obtain these goals. This is due to the fact the U.S.'s means are not distributed equally between all members of it's society. This makes it difficult for all members of society to achieve financial success.

This strongly relates to the family structure you are raised in. Especially if your parents neglect or abuse you, reject you, use excessive disciplinary techniques, are extremely strict, erratic or punitive, and strong conflict within your family structure. When children grow up in these conditions, they tend to fall behind their peers in building success for themselves. Your parents usually provide you with financial stability and a home based in a certain community, which will factor into what school you will attend. When growing up in poverty or an area with an overall high crime rate, children are exposed at a young age to criminal behavior. With financial stability being so detrimental to a child's well being, living in poverty is the greatest threat. It can contribute to social, emotional and behavioral problems. With all of these factors playing a part, some children will become delinquent themselves. Not everyone in society has the opportunity to attain a success story and follow the American Dream.

The conflict perspective sees society as a complex system that is characterized by inequality and conflict that generates social change. This approach links deviance to social inequality. Alexander Liazos points out that deviant people are not as bad or harmful as we think, rather they are powerless. The power structure within a society is what marks what is deviant and what is not labeled as deviant. First, norms in all societies are written up in favor of the the rich and powerful. Anyone that threatens the powerful's status is likely to be labeled as deviant. Karl Marx, well known sociologist and conflict theorist, states that the law and all other social institutions support the interests of the rich. Powerful people are able to abide deviant labels. This meaning that the resources the rich and powerful have, help them pay or work there way out of deviant labels. Norms that are seen as right within society mask their political character. This shows that we cannot know if norms are truly fair or not. Simply put, people with power, wealth, riches and prestige are less likely to be labeled as deviant and people who do not have any power are more likely to be deviant. Growing up in a family structure that has wealth, prestige, riches and power helps a child not be labeled as deviant. Coming from a family that has little wealth, prestige, riches and power puts a child at a disadvantage to be labeled as deviant within society.

Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin extended on Merton's Strain theory. They suggested that certain groups or subcultures are more likely to be deviant.

Symbolic Interactionism perspective sees society as the product of the everyday interactions of individuals (John J. Macionis, 2017). This approach analyzes how people define deviance in day to day situations. The most influential theory under this perspective is the labeling theory. The labeling theory is the idea that deviance and conformity result not so much from what people do as from how others respond to their actions (John J. Macionis, 2017). This shows that deviance promotes people to make labels about others who are deviant to society.

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Family and Juvenile Delinquency. (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved February 22, 2024 , from

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