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General Environmental Causes of Juvenile Delinquency

Peer Influence

Despite the fact that juveniles may appear to be just as

intelligent and cognitively developed as adults, their ability

to regulate their behavior accordingly is still adolescent.

Recent work done by a professor of Psychology, Laurence

Steinberg, found that adolescents do not fully understand how to

deploy their cognitive skills until their late teenage to early

adult years. Steinberg found that at the same time when a young

person is going through physical changes as a result of puberty,

his or her brain is also going through an extreme

transformation. The brain is not fully developed until a person

in their mid-20 and adolescences lend to social variables, such

as friends, to help make everyday decisions (Steinberg, 2005).

Moreover, research has found that adolescence is the period in

which most begin to break away from principles instilled in them

by their parents and develop their own set of values (Childs,

2010). Adolescents often then look towards their peers for

social regulation. According to Southerland’s Differential

Association Theory, criminal behavior is thought of as a

communal process in which one learns criminal behavior through

social influence (AS cited by Browne, 2013).

Family Structure
There is an abundance of research that examines the impact

of family structure on delinquency. The majority of research

finds that youth from broken homes report increased levels of

delinquency. For example, in a longitudinal survey of 411 males

living in South London, Juby and Farrington (2001) found that

delinquency rates were higher among 75 boys who were living in

non-intact homes compared to boys living in intact families.

Moreover, Price and Kunz (2003) conducted a meta-analysis

involving 72 studies that involved divorce and juvenile

delinquency. The results indicated that children from divorced

homes have higher rates of delinquency (status offenses, crimes

against person, felony theft, general delinquency, tobacco and

drug use) compared to children from intact homes, with the

exception of alcohol use (As cited by Parks, 2013).

Children from broken homes have been found to be involved

in a significantly higher amount of delinquent acts than

children from intact homes. Both male and female children from

broken homes were found to be negatively affected by parental

absence. For instance, girls from a single parent household

(emphasis on paternal absence) have been associated with

delinquency issues related to vandalism and auto trespassing,

run away, incorrigibility and sexual deviancy. Male children

from broken homes have been found to be involved in higher rates

of alcohol and drug usage, promiscuity, property offenses and

traffic violation . Children from a broken home have been found

to be two to three times more likely to have emotional and

behavioral problems, when compared to children from intact homes

( Mullens, 2006).

Cultural Factors

Delinquent behavior often occurs in social settings in

which the norms for acceptable behavior have broken down. Under

such circumstances many of the common rules that deter people

from committing socially unacceptable acts may lose their

relevance for some members of society. They respond to the

traumatizing and destructive changes in the social reality by

engaging in rebellious, deviant or even criminal activities. An

example of such a setting would be the modernization of

traditional societies and the accompanying changes wrought by

the application of new technologies; shifts of this magnitude

affect the types and organization of labor activity, social

characteristics, lifestyles and living arrangements, and these

changes, in turn, affect authority structures, forms of

obedience, and modes of political participation—even going so

far as to influence perceptions of reality (world youth report,

Physical Conditions

The first category is the physical condition of a child that

influences the child’s behavior in a number of ways that may

eventually translate to delinquent behaviors. Physical issues

such as disabilities, malnutrition, and drug abuse amongst

others contribute to how a child responds to certain situations.

These physical conditions of the child may influence their

behavior in several ways. First, the physical disabilities may

be the direct cause of the delinquency. Secondly, to compensate

for these disabilities, the child may engage in delinquent

behavior. Lastly, the nature of the bodily condition may result

in abundance of energy finding outlet in delinquency behaviour

(As Cited by Howell, 2015).

The Effects of Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile delinquency is a big problem in the United States,

where 92,854 minors were incarcerated in residential facilities

for juveniles in 2006. In fact, about 17% of all the people

arrested in the United States are under the age of 18. Not only

does the problem affect the victims of the crime; it also

affects the juvenile delinquent family, future, and society as a


Effects on the Victims

The most obvious people affected by juvenile

delinquency are the victims. Whether the crime involves theft,

vandalism, or violence, the victim always suffers loss. The

victim may incur expenses related to lost wages, health care, or

psychological care in addition to the cost of replacing damaged

or destroyed items.

Effects on the Juvenile Delinquent

The juvenile who commits a crime also suffers

effects that he or she is probably unable to predict. He or she

may lose his or her freedom while being incarcerated or placed

on probation. The juvenile may lose ground academically as well.

Although placement in residential detention centers for

juveniles may be appropriate consequences for the adolescent's

criminal actions, it also puts him or her in relationships with

other delinquents, who may be more sophisticated or influential.

This makes recidivism likely and, in many states, when a

juvenile older than 14 becomes a repeat offender, he or she can

be tried and sentenced as an adult. The delinquency may even

have future consequences on the adolescent's college and career


Effects on the Families

The upheaval and trauma of having a family member

who is a juvenile delinquent can create instability for the

other relatives. Not only does the family have to cope with the

needs of the child who is in trouble, but they may also have to

raise large amounts of money to pay for lawyers. In addition,

the family has to face the ethical issues of responsibility to

the victims of the child's crime. Families must usually attend

group counseling sessions, which can be disruptive and costly

during the time when the child is in detention or on probation.

Effects on the Community

There is a correlation between juvenile delinquency and

drug use, gang involvement, alcohol abuse, and sexual behavior.

All of these issues challenge communities by making

neighborhoods unsafe and costing large amounts of public money

to be spent on law enforcement and school safety.

Effects on Society
Young people who commit serious crimes before they are 18

years old challenge the future for everyone involved. They may

be acting out to protest perceived abuses that have been

perpetrated against them. They may believe that there is no

future for them outside of a life of crime. They may be

expressing anger or frustration directed against another person

or group or looking for approval from a gang. Whatever the

motive, juvenile delinquency affects too many American

individuals, families, and communities. It is a serious problem

that challenges the efforts of government agencies, politicians,

educators, faith communities, and nonprofit organizations alike.

Causes of Juvenile Delinquency

Insufficient Education

Criminology data regarding undereducated children and

juvenile crime show a strong correlation. From an early age,

failure at school is an important factor for predicting future

criminal behavior. In fact, a 25 year-long study of 1,500

children in low-income inner-city Chicago neighborhoods found

that children who attended a high-quality preschool were 28%

less likely to develop drug problems or be incarcerated in

adulthood. Additionally, they were 22% less likely to be

arrested for a felony and 24% more likely to attend a four-year


In our nation’s failing public schools, children experience

“overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, and

insufficient funding for ‘extras’ such as counselors, special

education services, and even textbooks.”1 These inadequacies are

what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says are the

beginning of the School-to-Prison pipeline, the policies and

practices of the American school system that push many

schoolchildren on a path to incarceration.

If children have poor academic performance, poor

attendance, face expulsion or drop out of school, their

probability of committing crime is magnified. Leaving school

early reduces the chance that juveniles will develop the social

skills that are gained in school, such as learning to meet

deadlines, following instructions, and being able to deal

constructively with their peers. A child without a proper

education will eventually learn that he or she is at a

disadvantage in the workforce. This feeling of hopelessness,

exacerbated by the national media’s emphasis on low employment

numbers and fiscal crises, can create an environment ripe for

juvenile crime(Regis University, 2017).


Substance abuse is found in a majority of cases of juvenile

delinquency, Two trends are identified in regard to substance

abuse and minors. First, juveniles are using more powerful drugs

today than was the case as recently as 10 years ago. Second, the

age at which some juveniles begin using drugs is younger.

Children in elementary schools are found to be using powerful

illegal drugs. The use of these illegal substances or the use of

legal substances illegally motivates young people to commit

crimes to obtain money for drugs. Additionally, juveniles are

far more likely to engage in destructive, harmful and illegal

activities when using drugs and alcohol(Broemmel, 2017).

Peer Pressure

Adolescence can be a painful time of growing into oneself

and seeking acceptance from peers and social groups. Wanting to

fit in and be accepted often serves as motivation for teens to

succumb to peer pressure. In a recent survey of nearly 1,000

teenagers, only 10% said that they had not been influenced by

peer pressure2. Young people cite peer pressure as one of the

major reasons they engage in risky behavior, such as teen sex,

reckless driving, alcohol, drug and tobacco-use, crime and gang


In some societies, especially inner-city areas, it is common

knowledge that gang activity is high and many teens become

involved. What is becoming further understood is how gang, drug

and other criminal activity can be profoundly influenced by peer

contagion, a phenomenon whereupon deviant behavior committed by

one adolescent is transferred or transmitted to other

adolescents. Interestingly, the ripple effect of peer contagion

has impact on groups of teens in geographic areas such as

neighborhoods, subsequently forming gang territories.

Peer pressure is such an integral part of gang activity

that the New York City Police Department has developed a unique

“forced outreach” program. The purpose of the program is to

track at-risk teenagers and separate them from the negative

influences of gang activity in an attempt to sever this

emotional entanglement, giving these teens the space to make

better choices. Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association

Theory, which predicts that an individual will choose the

criminal path when the majority of his/her learned attitudes,

which are influenced by their social group, view law-breaking as

favorable. This learned behavior, and the powerful influence of

the social group on attitudes toward lawlessness, aptly explain

how peer influences can affect juvenile crime in a negative

way(Regis University, 2017).

Family Issues

Family plays a huge part in the development of an

adolescent, both positive and negative. Adolescents learn what

is and is not acceptable by the surrounding environments, which

is dominated by the family life. For example, if a father

disrespects and hits a mother, then a son might consider this as

acceptable and copy it later in his life.

Coming from a broken home through abandonment or divorce

can profoundly affect a teen's perception of life. Sometimes in

these situations, a teen can be neglected, punished too harshly

or not regularly disciplined. Any of these conditions can cause

juvenile delinquency as the teen has missed out on complete

moral development(Eleanor, 2015)


Several mental health factors are also seen as contributing

to juvenile delinquency. It is important to keep in mind,

however, that a diagnosis of certain types of mental health

conditions--primarily personality disorders--cannot be made in

regard to child. However, there are precursors of these

conditions that can be exhibited in childhood that tend to end

up being displayed through delinquent behavior. A common one is

conduct disorder. Conduct disorder is defined as "a lack of

empathy and disregard for societal norms" (As cited by Broemmel,



Mental factors, like physical factors, may determine

delinquent behavior in one or more of three ways: (1)

Delinquency may be the direct response to, or expression of, a

particular mental state, for example, obsessive imagery. (2)

Delinquency may be the expression of certain impulses or

emotions left uncontrolled or stimulated by a special mental

condition; (3) Delinquency may be an attempt at adjustment or

compensation for certain mental peculiarities(Bridges, 2008).