Although there are many complex crime-causing factors, family and familial factors rank among the leading causes of juvenile delinquency. The conventional interventions to juvenile delinquency have far-reaching and detrimental effects on minors and do not reduce incidences of recidivism. Players in the criminal justice system recognize the contribution of family and familial factors to the development of criminal and delinquent tendencies and their potential in minimizing minors’ engagement in illegal and socially unacceptable behaviors. From the perspective of a social learning theory, family relations, structures, and parental inputs are fundamental factors influencing youths’ involvement in crime. Although traditional juvenile justice is widely practiced, enhancing family and familial factors provide an effective intervention for minimizing the potential of delinquency among minors.
Theoretical Reference for Family-Based Approaches to Address Juvenile Delinquency
Family-oriented juvenile delinquency prevention strategies recognize households as the foundational units of society where young adults obtain such societal aspects as socially acceptable and illegal behaviors. It is where minors internalize the social patterns, norms, and values as observed and witnessed firsthand in their families. This perspective is anchored on Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, a psychologist who emphasized the influence of observing and modeling in determining the behavioral outcomes of an individual, especially in minors (Bandura, 2019). Proponents and supporters of this psychological theory view crime and delinquency as a deliberate response and reaction to exposure to a particular life. Vostroknutov, Polonio, and Coricelli (2018) corroborate this view and emphasize its potential in influencing conformity and anti-conformity tendencies to social values and norms. From this perspective, most causes of crime and juvenile delinquency can be linked to social learning theory.
Families, especially parents, are an integral element in child development and significantly influence the potential for a child’s involvement in juvenile delinquency. This implies that such family factors as parental substance abuse, absenteeism parenthood, ineffective parenting habits, and sibling criminality increase the likelihood of delinquent and criminal involvement (Boccio & Beaver, 2019). Similarly, such familial aspects as family structure, cohesion levels, divorcee, and conflictive atmosphere contribute to the potential of delinquency (Delcea, Fabian, Radu, & Dumbrava, 2019; Mwangangi, 2019). This implies that family and familial factors are influential causative agents with the overwhelming potential to drive individuals to engage in socially unacceptable behaviors. In this regard, the social learning theory provides the most rational framework, which explains juvenile delinquency.
The relationship between such family factors as parental conflicts, antisocial and criminal parents and siblings, and low cohesiveness, and poor parental involvement, and juvenile delinquency is widely documented. For instance, a study conducted by Mwangangi (2019) demonstrated the definitive role of such familial aspects as stable marriages, divorce, and family cohesion in influencing antisocial behaviors in children. According to the survey, children in stable families enjoy the best parental preparation and are least likely to experience behavioral problems. Specifically, the study noted that the separation of minors from their fathers is a leading cause of numerous social issues, including teenage pregnancy, child sexual abuse, and aggressive behaviors (Simmons, Steinberg, Erick, & Cauffman, 2018). Conversely, youths who live and grow up with both parents are least predisposed to such delinquent acts as sexual violence and drug abuse. For instance, one survey established that only 5% of minors who lived with both parents engaged in crime compared to 12% from other family arrangements (Mwangangi, 2019). The findings of this study provide invaluable insights into the inherent impacts of family-related factors and juvenile delinquency, which can be integrated into preventive programs.
Additionally, disorganized family structures, inappropriate upbringing environment characterized by psychological deficiencies, and poor parental controls are strong predictors and causative agents of juvenile delinquency. Delcea et al. (2019) illustrate the causal relationship between these familial factors and adverse behavioral outcomes for minors. Although the researchers argue that some people are psychologically and genetically predisposed to delinquency, the survey’s findings underscore the decisive influence of the social factors in youths’ behavioral outcomes. The genesis of juvenile delinquency and antisocial behaviors is significantly widespread in children brought up in specific undesirable environments. For instance, in the study conducted by Delcea et al. (2019), over half of the respondents in criminal groups lived in dysfunctional and disorganized families with a poor familial atmosphere and low parental involvement. These results were replicated by a survey conducted by Bobbio, Arbach, and Illecas (2020), which outlined parental participation, family closeness, and communication as mitigating factors for juvenile delinquency. Therefore, although the structure itself is not such a decisive factor, the realities behind it, including conflictive family atmosphere, strained parental relations, child abandonment, and poor cohesion, increase the predisposition of minors to delinquency.
Family relationships characterized by shared vision, goals, commitment, and trust generate satisfying social connections, which promote the adoption of prosocial norms among minors, effectively discouraging delinquency. According to Hoffmann and Dufur (2018), family social capital is produced and intensified in familial establishments with robust parental involvement, socialization, and physical and emotional connections. For instance, Hoffmann and Dufur (2018) theorize that investing parental time to socialize with children, interacting with them emotionally and physically, and participating in their activities meaningfully minimize the potential of delinquent behaviors. This implies a negative correlation between family social capital and youths’ involvement in antisocial activities. Therefore, intensifying parent-child interactions, relations, and engagements establishes the likelihood of children internalizing parental instructions, which minimizes the potential for delinquency.
Expanded Literature Review
Childhood and adolescence are among the most critical phases of human development. During these developmental stages, children are exposed to acceptable social values, behavioral patterns, and norms. In this regard, family and parents are indispensable components of shaping and influencing the behaviors of children. Through the lens of the social learning theory, Bandura (2019) contends that juveniles learn to engage in criminal acts and conforming behavior in the same manner of association and exposure. Boccio and Beaver (2019) corroborate this perspective and posit that families function as the foremost teaching institutions of socially acceptable behaviors. This implies that the family is a critical stabilizing force with the potential to contribute to the inculcation of positive behavioral disposition or criminal tendencies. Álvarez-García, González-Castro, Núñez, Rodríguez and Cerezo (2019) argue that children growing up in families with such antisocial behaviors as violence and aggressiveness are highly likely to embrace such habits. Similarly, poor parental monitoring increases the juveniles’ vulnerability to antisocial behaviors (Low, Tan, Nainee, Viapude, & Kailsan, 2018). Therefore, family and familial factors are critical elements which should be integrated into juvenile delinquency preventive programs.
As incidences of juvenile delinquency increase, criminal sociologists are advocating for a paradigm shift to family-oriented preventive strategies. Multiple studies demonstrate the significant potential of the family as the single most effective instrument of addressing juvenile antisocial behaviors. In this regard, there is a pressing need to view the family as the initial safety gate for addressing the challenge of juvenile delinquency. Therefore, juvenile justice system resources should be reinvested to support communities and families.
Family-oriented strategies provide the most effective preventive approaches to address the challenge of juvenile delinquency. Multiple studies illustrate the potential of these options in preventing and mitigating antisocial behaviors in minors. Ensuring the stability of families, cohesiveness, intensifying familial bonds, and promoting greater parental involvement are innovative and scientifically proven interventions for reducing antisocial behaviors in minors while avoiding the detrimental effects of conventional preventive programs.
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Bobbio, A., Arbach, K., & Redondo Illescas, S. (2020). Juvenile delinquency risk factors: Individual, social, opportunity or all of these together? International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 62, 1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlcj.2020.100388
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Simmons, C., Steinberg, L., Frick, P. J., & Cauffman, E. (2018). The differential influence of absent and harsh fathers on juvenile delinquency. Journal of Adolescence, 62, 9−17. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.10.010
Vostroknutov, A., Polonio, L., & Coricelli, G. (2018). The role of intelligence in social learning. Scientific Reports, 8, 1−10. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-25289-9