Families, Delinquency, and Crime: A Case of Control Essay

Criminal activities and delinquent behavior are on the rise in our American youth. Families have to deal with and address an upsurge in deviant, antisocial and delinquent behavior in children.

If parents are not active in the lives of their children, which results in a lack of discipline and guidance, it contributes to these delinquent behaviors. But what happens when the parent or parents are strict disciplinarians, law abiding citizens and members of society who have not engaged in criminal, delinquent behaviors? Where do these children learn to engage in deviant, delinquent and often criminal behaviors and the parents have lost control over their children? Often the actions and behaviors displayed, by these youths, are learned through the observations of parents, other adults or their peers. This is called vicarious learning – the learning by observing, retaining and replicating behaviors observed in others. Vicarious learning is also referred to as observational or social learning. While vicarious learning could be done in any life stage, it is thought that it is greatly important in childhood when authority is most important.

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Vicarious learning is mainly associated with the works of noted psychologist Albert Bandura.  While vicarious learning explains how observation learning occurs, it does not completely explain why delinquent and deviant behaviors occur. Why delinqunet and deviant behaviors can be better explained through the social and self control theories.            Social Control Theory is associated with the works of Travis Hirschi and Michael R.

Gottfredson. Hirschi and Gottfredson proposed that if the process of socialization and social learning is used to teach it will increase self-control and reduce the desire to engage in antisocial, delinquent behavior. This theory contends that if we connect to our society we are less likely to commit crimes because: 1) Having a close, intimate bond with others deters us from crime. 2.) Commiting to activities we enjoy deters us from crime as we don’t want to lose our interest in those actitivities. 3.

)  Committing time to activities we enjoy deters crime as we don’t want to take time away from those activities. 4.) The more we believe in a social, moral order the less likely we will commit crime. The social  control theory is great at detering crime but what about youth who may have been exposed to positive reinforcements yet still commit crimes? The actions by these youths can be better explained through their lack of self control.            Hirschi contends in the Self Control Theory that poor parental guidance and discipline as well as a lack of ability or unwillingness to monitor their children’s behavior is a lack self control. Criminal and delinquent behavior based on a lack of self control theory is: 1.) Crime is excecuted through force or fraudulant means to satisfy one’s desires or selfish interests.

2.) Crime is short lived, engaging in instant gratification, it’s easy to commit a crime, get a way with it and reap the benefits. 3.) The crimes often share some of the same benefits of noncriminal gratification. Self control explains the problems of a young lady in which I did an interview through a personal friend of mine.  Amy (Name has been shortened to protect her identity.

) is a 16 year old juvenile delinquent who has the face of an angel but engages in destructive, delinquent, dangerous and criminal behaviors.            Amy did not have a picture perfect childhood but her behaviors has her mother puzzled. Amy’s parents were divorced when she was 4 years old. After the divorce she and her older brother lived with their mother until she turned 6 years old.

Their mother worked as a licensed pratical nurse and provided them with the love and discipline they needed. There was a fire in the apartment in which they lived, Amy and her brother were sent to live with their father and his family.  Amy and her brother did not have contact with their mother as Amy’s father and his family hide the children, changed telephone numbers and addresses without notifying their mother of their whereabouts. Amy and her brother had both positive and negative examples of adult behaviors to help shape and mold them into the children they are today. Amy and her brother have successful relatives but watched their father slip into the role of a functioning alcoholic.

He worked as a security guard to provide and their was food in the house but often it was not quality food. They lived in an apartment without gas for years, the electricity was on for lights but the father said if he paid the gas bill “he would not have beer money.” Since the apartment’s hot water functioned off gas, it meant Amy and her brother would have to shower in cold water or boil water to take a wash up in a sink to get clean. This was particularly disturbing for Amy because she was a maturing young lady going through puberty and was more conscienctious of her hygiene. This was a far cry from the stable, loving comfortbale home Amy’s mother had provided for them.

After 4 year of trying, Amy’s mother found them and attempted to have her brother and her live with her, but the courts denied it due to the lies that Amy’s father and family members stated to the judge regarding their mother. Amy’s mother was in their lives and provided financially and emotionally for them as best she could without living with them full time. At the age of thirteen (13), Amy became pregnant and the doctor, due to her age, performed a late term abortion because it was felt Amy was not physically, financially nor emotionally ready to become a mother. Amy’s mother readily agreed to the abortion and against the judges orders decided to take Amy to live with her because she felt that Amy was not getting the proper guidance that a young lady needed. Not surpsing, Amy’s father did not protest this as “it’s one less mouth to feed and I didn’t know what to do with a girl anyway.” After Amy moved in with her mother, she informed her mother that their father had a “crack whore” living with them and she took their money, wore their clothes, ate the food and used their hygiene products that were purchased by their mother to give the children a sense of normalcy.

Amy’s mother established ground rules and expectations for Amy and for a while she adhered. Things were going fine until Amy turned fourteen (14) and started to run away from home. Amy was arrested and returned to her mother’s home only to run away again and again.

Hoping that if Amy was where she desired to live she would return to school and improve her behavior, Amy’s mother agreed to allow her live with her aunt. Amy moved in with her dad’s sister, who did not watch nor monitor Amy and her own children’s behavior. Amy became more and more out of control. Amy’s friends drank, did drugs and engaged in promiscious sexual acts with older adult males. Amy’s mother intervened and forced her to return home but after Amy threatened to kill her mother, her mother said she is not going to take that abuse not from her child and Amy ran away again and was locked up for juvenile delinquency.

Amy’s mother tried counseling, court intervention, and threats nothing seemed to work for Amy. This March, Amy was arrested for assault and battery and was sentenced to 60 days in a juvenile detention facility and ordered to pay resitution. Amy went through her detention but came out no better. She is still engaging in delinquent and criminal behaviors, disrespecting and threatening her mother. Her mother is at the end of her rope and does not know what else to do for Amy. Amy is currently attending counseling and understands that if she is arrested again the judge has stated she will do adult time in an adult facility.

This does not seem to frighten Amy, as she has not made any efforts to change or improve.Amy’s behavior is a direct result of a lack of self control. Amy did not have a responsible parent to lead and guide her into becoming a young woman. She did not feel love, safety  nor security in the home with her father.

She was allowed to do what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it. Her father was so drunk or to busy to care as he was more focused on this crack addicted girlfriend than he was on his children. By the time her mother intervened it was too late, Amy was bitter and angry with the world. Because she’d formed a social network of delinquent peers, she began to engage in the same irresponsble acts they did. Even after being arrested and serving time in a juvenile facility Amy is still out of control and shows no signs of changing. Tough love, counseling, serving time in a juvenile facility and the threat of adult dentention has not helped Amy.

Amy laughs at the juvenile detention center she states “It’s a piece of cake in there. They give you these stupid ass gold stars for cleaning your room, getting a good grade and not getting into trouble! Who gives a shit about that? I just want to get out, go fuck and smoke me some weed. If I get caught I get caught, what are they going to do? Send me back in here!”In my opinion, Amy’s behavior is a direct result of lack of parental control, lack of self control, and an inherited mental disorder. Some of the women on both sides of Amy’s family tree are drug addicted, thieves and prostitutes, although they hail from strong Catholic families. Amy’s social network needs to be changed to include responsible, respectful youths but most importantly she needs to be held accountable for her behavior and actions. It is obvious she is not taking her crime and punishment seriously. Otherwise she would not still be engaging in the very acts that have gotten her into trouble. I feel that our juvenile justice system is outdated as it appears to reward children for doing things they should be doing anyway like not committing crimes, not casuing problems, completing assigned chores and getting good grades.

For a person like Amy, a gold star is not an incentive but a joke. Counselors tend to sugar coat and placate the juveniles due to the laws on the books. Our laws are outdated as too many young criminals have no sense responsibility or accountablity for their actions. Accountability starts with the parents or guardians of these children, if they are not showing responsible behavior how can we expect much more from the children?BIBLIOGRAPHYSimons, Ronald L.

, Simons, Leslie Gordon, Wallace, Lora Ebert. Families, Delinquency, and Crime: Linking Society’s Most Basic Institution to Antisocial Behavior. California: Roxbury 2004Hirschi, Travis. & Gottfredson, M  Commentary: Testing the General Theory of Crime”.

Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 1993Gottfredson, M. & Hirschi, Travis. A General Theory of Crime.

California: Stanford University Press. 1990 


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