Juvenile Delinquency Essay, Research Paper
Problems in Juvenile Delinquency
The post world-war II era saw an unprecedented rate of growth for America. The birth of Corporate America gave people an opportunity to move out of the cities and into kinder, more picturesque suburbs. Women were entering the workforce in greater numbers. With two income families, Americans had more money to spend on luxuries such as boats, vacations and hobbies as they never had before. This was the beginning of a time when living was good, the quality of life was high, and everyone seemed happy.
However, this idealistic lifestyle was not without its costs. Due to this mentality, the emphasis is now placed less on families and more on getting ahead by the quickest means available. We presently live in a get rich quick society and our youth is paying the price. The number of crimes involving children is epidemic.
According to the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse in Washington DC, “Twenty percent of serious violent crimes are committed by adolescents. Another eight percent are committed by adolescents in conjunction with older offenders” (Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse 427). This number is only going to increase. The JJC continues by stating, “Experts predict that if the present trends continue, by the year 2010, the number of juvenile arrests for violent crime will more than double” (428). Lawmakers seem to be constantly playing catch-up in their efforts to bring the crime rate down.
The problem is that most efforts are ineffectual at best. For example, if a minor in the state of Utah commits four misdemeanors or one felony, then they are taken from their homes and placed in state correctional facilities or foster care. Taking them out of the main stream of society may seem like the logical thing to do, but many institutions provide only sterile environments for an offender to rehabilitate. In state run reform schools, a majority of the kids is able to check themselves out when they turn eighteen and most of them leave without the tools necessary to correct their behavior on the outside. At least half of the school population is made up of kids that were released before eighteen but did something to land them back in the system; repeat offenders. When they do eventually leave, many leave angry at the institution and have even less respect for authority.
This lack of respect seems to be spawned from living in a dysfunctional home. Dysfunctional homes where parents are timid about asserting their authority over children seem to raise children who are more aggressive and disrespectful. Typical parents of this discipline style use little or no punishment, avoid asserting parental control, and make few demands on their children. Parents with overly harsh parenting style obviously tend to bring up children who are even more aggressive. These parents are prone to physically abuse their children, verbally attack them, and take away basic privileges. Striking a child has much to do with meeting the parent’s emotional needs and nothing to do with concern for the child; parents often erroneously justify the abuse as “discipline” intended to “help” the child. Physically abusive parents can create an environment of terror for the child, particularly since violence is often random and unpredictable. Abused children often feel anger. Children of abusive parents have tremendous difficulties developing feelings of trust and safety even in their adult lives. (Patterson and Stouthamer-Loeber 1299)
Other researchers in this field confirm these findings. J.D. Hawkins and R.F. Catalano compiled data showing that the familial relationship is a primary determinant of child behavior. They found that in cases involving substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school dropout, and violence, a dysfunctional family increased the risk of social deviancy. A family history of the problem behavior, family management problems, family conflict, and parental attitudes and involvement were the contributing factors to the above-mentioned social problems. With an increase in single parenthood or both parents in the workplace, the question has come up about who is there to raise the children. With fewer interactions with parents, and without some alternative, children are left to essentially raise themselves. The emotional bond between parents and children is weakening and the family unit is declining. As children get closer to adolescence, if that support isn’t there, they look to their peers to fill the void. The influence of gangs has become more popular as an alternative to family life.
A friend of mine grew up in a dysfunctional family. His father was physically abusive towards him and his mother. During this time in his life, peer pressure and substance abuse influenced him. He had no respect for his teachers or any authority figures, and he was constantly acting out aggression towards others. However, during a retreat, he was introduced to Christianity and began attending church. His whole outlook on life changed. He began to have better relations with his father and whole family. They all started to attend church together and his parents began participating in the church choir. He attributes the improved relationship to a personal change within himself and his father trying to improve also. (Kim)
Family support groups have become prevalent as an effective way of countering this shift in family values. These programs provide child rearing education and social support to the families who participate. In a paper presented to the Texas Youth Commission, Barbara Graves added, “Family support programs have been found to decrease aggression in the children who participate with their families” (Graves 1). The effects of support groups are long lasting in comparison to strong arm or tough love programs that are popular with legislatures. Graves went on to say that “The reduced aggression outcomes have been documented in follow-up studies occurring up to 22 years after program termination” (1). These sorts of programs are designed to bring families closer together by teaching them to work together and to reinforce the importance of the family.
Ecclesiastical youth groups and formats such as The Church of Jesus Christ’s Family Home Evening, provide a structure where people can strengthen similar beliefs and values during preset times. The basis is the need to spend more time with one another. J.C. Howell, of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, states, “The most effective programs are those that address key areas of risk in the youth’s life, those that seek to strengthen the personal and institutional factors that contribute to healthy adolescent development, those that provide adequate support and supervision, and those that offer youth a long-term stake in the community.” (Howell 7)
Despite having their respective jobs that take them away from home, parents have the responsibility of reaching out to their children. Active child rearing is the most important of all jobs. Children on the other hand have the responsibility to try and bridge the gap. The challenges that parents face in balancing work, home and private life are tremendous. Children need to be taught to respect this challenge and do their best to do their part. It is a two way street. The lack of either part creates problems. Dr. Redford Williams, chief of behavioral medicine at Duke, states it best when he says, “Maybe the only way to reduce the burden is to share it, to more equally divide home responsibility” (Williams 2).
Graves, Barbara J., Ph.D. “The Texas Parents as Teachers Program and the Reduction of Aggression in Boy’s from Single-Parent Homes.”
Howell, J.C., ed. Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, 1995.
Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse. Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A Focus on
Violence. Rockville, MD: Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse 1995.
Kim, Hyun Suck, Personal Interview, April 19, 1999.
Patterson, G. R., and M. Stouthamer-Loeber. “The Correlation of Family Management Practices and Delinquency.” Child Development. 55 (1984): 1299-1307.
Williams, Dr. Redford. “One Child Enough To Put Working Mothers At Higher Stress, Health Risk.”