Social Learning Theory Analysis

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 6
Words: 1400
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


The social learning theory has so far carried the most weight in criminology. However, Anytown’s Department policy reflects an unconventional manner of applying this theory. The child’s well-being, the family unit, and society in general stand to lose more from such an arrangement than if the policy had not been implemented because the policy leaves out gaping loopholes in its delivery. There is the likelihood of abuse in foster care; furthermore, psychological damage from removal is another possibility. Children affected by the policy may not be immune from peer influence and mass media which could lead to delinquency or criminality as well.

Ethical and moral issues arising from policy implementation

Most theories on criminology are centered on understanding why crimes occur so that prevention may be instated. In the social learning theory, it is assumed that people carry out crimes as a result of exposure to conditions that favor crimes, criminal role models, and reinforcement of criminal values. Such people grow up knowing that crime can be a rewarding experience. These views are especially relevant in understanding juvenile behavior because they explain how deviance or confirmation results. Based on these premises in the social learning theory it is possible to see why, apart from prior delinquency, “relationships with juvenile delinquents are the highest predictors of recidivism amongst young criminals” as argued by Singer and Hensley (2004, p 462). The family services and job Department of Anytown would therefore be partly justified to try and eliminate such negative influences by getting children out of negative environments in homes that possess child abusers, drug and alcohol offenders, or domestic violence instigators. Through differences in reinforcement and punishment of crime, it is sometimes possible to cause children to pursue such negative behaviors because there is no consistency. Siegel (2007) states that those parents who have engaged in domestic violence will appear to be silently telling their children that aggressive behavior is alright and this may cause children to become violent too. Alternatively, instead of just sending such negative signals to one’s children, these very individuals can teach minors that crime is okay. In such circumstances, parents who engage in drug use may perpetuate beliefs that increase the conditions that may lead minors to become criminals. Although most citizens classify crime negatively, some parents may make it look like a plausible alternative in particular conditions and these values may be passed on to their children. Role models greatly affect the decisions made by others and this is particularly relevant to minors. If children respect their parents, then they are likely to imitate what their parents/ role models do; this is especially so if they witness positive rewards from those crimes. All the latter conditions make homes with former child abusers, drug or alcohol offenders, and other criminals quite risky to society as they are breeding grounds for the development of adult criminals. Removal of children from such places would therefore seem a possible preventive technique for the crime.

Conversely, the social services system is currently dealing with very many cases of child placement. They sometimes have to overlook important phases of proper child assignment just so that they can cope with the numbers; the phases include assessment, healthcare provision, and education planning for the child. To this end, the foster care system has produced children with immense psychological and emotional challenges as explained by Singer and Hensley (2004). One would therefore argue that an already inefficient system would only be more ineffective if more children were introduced. Since no mention has been made by Anytown’s Department concerning the development and improvement of their social services then it is likely that an already bad situation will turn into a worse one.

It is also necessary for Anytown to realize that the family unit is an essential aspect of society and that the growth and development of children can be severely affected by removal from their birth parents. This policy would have the same ramifications if it were in a real town or if it were a real policy. There are always limitations to the emotional attachments that foster parents can form with adopted children. Additionally, the children who must go through this removal often undergo an identity crisis concerning themselves, their biological parents, and their new parents. These issues crop up whether the system is flawed or not. But with a flawed system, the matter usually intensifies. It is not certain where Anytown is located and it can be possible that it may be in a country like the US which is characterized by an overstretched foster care system. In such countries, it is a common scenario to find children moving from one foster home to another and being abused in those very homes that are intended on helping them. What is particularly disconcerting is that the inconsistencies characterizing such foster systems are synonymous with the psychological damage that occurs in children. They often learn to mistrust others, become unhealthily self-reliant, and grow to be angry at authority. Assuming that Anytown is in the US or a country with a similar social service system, affected children in this town may act out and develop juvenile delinquent behaviors as a result of that damage. Such effects may be more detrimental to society than if the policy had not been implemented. (Reinhertz et al, 1996)

Whether the policy is a misinterpretation or misapplication of the social learning theory

This new policy by Anytown can be regarded as a misapplication of the social learning theory because it will not have eliminated all influencers. Children are not just affected by their parents as they grow up; they interact with their peers, mass media, and technology. Anytown will have to contend with the fact that removing children from homes with previous criminals is not a guarantee that the other external factors will also be eliminated. This is especially true when one considers the effects that peers have upon each other. Peer influence can counter any positive values that may have been instilled in a child by their parents. (Singler & Hensley, 2004) For example, if a minor belongs to a peer group that takes drugs or sells them, he or she may be abused and degraded for choosing not to take those drugs. He/she may be subjected to insults because of being morally upright. Such a person may succumb to the pressure of using and selling drugs just so that he/she can stop the negative behavior emanating from none use. This example illustrates just how critical peer influence is in social learning. Placing children in foster care may not be a deterrent to crimes because it still allows for peer influence. This implies that Anytown has not interpreted the social learning theory wholesomely and may fail in its efforts to deter delinquency or crime. Mass media and the use of technologies such as the Internet also expose children to situations in which rebellion and even crime can seem attractive or plausible. Therefore, children who receive such signals through these means are likely to acquire delinquent or criminal behaviors in adulthood. The social learning theory combines two types of variables i.e. those that tend to discourage delinquency -parental guidance- and those that encourage delinquency – peer influence or mass media. Anytown Department has only considered one side of the spectrum i.e. behavior that encourages delinquency but has not looked at others that discourage good behavior and this may result in failure of the policy to yield any positive responses.

Furthermore, the application of such a model also ignores a very critical aspect in various individuals- that they are all influenced differently by the challenges they go through. To this end, what may work for one person has the potential to fail for another. In other words, this policy has made a sweeping application to Anytown children in homes with documented offenders yet some of them may not necessarily respond positively to being removed from their homes.


The new policy may have been based on the social learning theory but it is a misapplication because it does not account for individual reactions to the program and it does not include other external factors affecting delinquency or crime. Furthermore, ethical issues such as inconsistencies in the system make the foster care system a very risky venture; children may be exposed to the very same abuses that they were being protected against.


Singer, S. & Hensley, C. (2004). Social learning applied to adolescent firesetting, Offender therapy & comparative criminology journal, 48(4), 462

Reinherz, H., Siverman, A. & Glaconia, R. (1996). Long term adolescent and child sequelae of abuse. Child abuse & neglect. 15(50), 43

Siegel, L. (2007). Criminology – the core. NY: Wadsworth publishers