The family is the foundation of humanity. Children who are rejected by their parents, who grow up in homes with considerable conflict, or who are inadequately supervised are at the greatest risk of becoming delinquent. Adolescence is a time of expanding vulnerabilities and opportunities that go along with it, widens social and geographic exposure to life beyond school or family.
Family is one of the most influential institutions in socializing a child. Being raised in a single parent home can lead to delinquency, regardless if it was because of divorce/separation, death, or incarceration. The outcome of the child’s life is considerably different compared to a child who has a stable life with both parents. With only one parent, a child may receive only half the guidance given by two parents. This usually results in the child making wrong decisions like getting involved with other risk factors such as school problems or dropping out. The way we are socialized by our surroundings has a dramatic impact on whether we become delinquents.
The composition of families is one aspect of family life that is consistently associated with delinquency. Children who live in homes with only one parent or in which marital relationships have been disrupted by divorce or separation are more likely to display a range of behavioral problems including delinquency, than children who are from two parent families (Thornberry, et al. 1999). Children who witness marital discord are at greater risk of becoming delinquents. Previous research has demonstrated associations between exposure to parental divorce and marital conflict while growing up and children’s psychological distress in adulthood (Amato & Sobolewski 2001). Social learning theory argues that aggressive behavior is learned; as parents display aggressive behavior, children learn to imitate it as an acceptable means of achieving goals (Wright & Wright 1994).
When parents are divorced and there is just one parent to take care of the child, the child is quick to feel just “half there”. If it is the mother who has the child, she may have to work to support him, and she would not be able to be home when he comes home from school. If he comes home and finds the home empty, he would not stay there, but he will go out with his peers. The “gang” will then get bored and look around for something to do. This will lead to stealing possibly, and these activities can go on until they end in murder or drug addiction.
Parents teach children to control unacceptable behavior, to delay indulgence, and to respect the rights of others. On the contrary, families can teach children aggressive, antisocial, and violent behavior (Wright & Wright 1994). This statement alone could easily explain how the juvenile may end up becoming a delinquent. Wright and Wright (1994) suggest positive parenting practices during the early years and later in adolescence appear to act as buffers preventing delinquent behavior and assisting adolescents involved in such behavior to desist from delinquency.
Gorman-Smith and Tolan (1998) found that parental conflict and parental aggressiveness predicted violent offending; whereas, lack of maternal affection and paternal criminality predicted involvement in property crimes. Familial characteristics suggesting familial antisocial behavior or values such as family history of criminal behavior, harsh parental discipline, and family conflict have been among the most consistently linked. In another study conducted by Gorman-Smith and her colleagues, data show that children are more likely to resort to violence if there is violence within relationships that they may share with their family (Gorman-Smith, et al. 2001).
In the realm of family functioning there is a theory known as the coercion theory, which suggests that family environment influences an adolescent’s interpersonal style, which in turn influences peer group selection (Cashwell & Vacc 1996). Peers with a more coercive interpersonal style tend to become involved with each other, and this relationship is assumed to increase the likelihood of being involved in delinquent behavior. Thus understanding the nature of relationships within the family, to include family adaptability, cohesion, and satisfaction, provides more information for understanding youth (Cashwell & Vacc 1996). The cohesiveness of the family successfully predicted the frequency of delinquent acts for non-traditional families (Matherne & Thomas 2001). Family behaviors, particularly parental monitoring and disciplining, seems to influence association with deviant peers throughout the adolescent period (Cashwell & Vacc 1994). Among social circumstances which have a hand in determining the future of the individual it is enough for our present purpose to recognize that family is central (Wright & Wright 1994). Juby and Farrington(2001) claim that there are three major classes that explain the relationship between disrupted families and delinquency; trauma theories, life course theories, and selection theories. The trauma theories suggest that the loss of a parent has a damaging effect on children, most commonly because of the effect on attachment to the parent. Life course theories focus on separation as a long drawn out process rather than a discrete event, and on the effects of multiple stressors typically associated with separation. Selections theories argue that disrupted families are associated with delinquency because of pre-existing differences in family income or child rearing methods, for example (Juby & Farrington 2001).
Communication also plays a big role in how the family functions. Clark and Shields (1997) state that the importance of positive communication for optimal family functioning has major implications for delinquent behavior. They also discovered that communication is indeed related to the commission of delinquent behavior and differences are shown within categories of age, sex, and family marital status.
Klein and Forehand (1997) suggest that the prediction of juvenile delinquency in early childhood depends on the type of maternal parenting skills that are imposed upon the child during early adolescence. Muehlenberg (2002) poses the question of how do children from single parent family homes fare educationally compared to children from intact two parent families.
In most cases, delinquents have been viewed as individuals who come from less intact families, often referred to as broken homes. Typically, the term broken home has been structured to mean children residing in single-parent households or any type of household other than a household in which both biological parents are present (Rankin, 1983; Geismar & Wood, 1986). In contrast, an intact family usually refers to a nuclear family arrangement in which both biological parents reside in the household with their biological children (Kierkus & Baer, 2002). Intact family arrangements differ from other modern-day family arrangements including single-parent arrangements, two-parent arrangements involving a stepparent, extended family member arrangements, and the adoptive/foster family arrangement (Wells & Rankin, 1986).
Since 1970, the proportion of American households that have children who live with both parents has declined substantially. In 1970, 64 percent of African American children lived with two parents, compared with 35 percent in 1997; comparable figures for white children are 90 percent and 74 percent, respectively (Lugaila, 1998). According to some estimates, as many as 40 percent of white children and 75 percent of African American children will experience arental separation or divorce before they reach age 16 (Brayand Hetherington, 1993) and many of these children will experience multiple family disruptions over time (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991).
Sometimes the focus is taken off the mother and shifted towards the father. The lack of emphasis on the role of fathering in childhood conduct problems is especially unfortunate given that there are several reasons why fathers can be expected to be particularly significant in the initiation and persistence of offspring offending. For example, fathers are particularly likely to be involved with sons who are at higher risk than daughters of delinquent behavior (Flouri & Buchannan 2002). Popenoe(1997) states that fatherlessness is a major force behind many disturbing US social problems. The institution of marriage acts as culture’s chief vehicle to bind men to their children. The absence of fathers from children’s lives is one of the most important causes related to children’s well being such as increasing rates of juvenile crime, depression and eating disorders, teen suicide, and substance abuse. Two parent households provide increased supervision and surveillance of property, while single parenthood increases likelihood of delinquency and victimization simply by the fact that there is one less person to supervise adolescent behavior (Wright & Wright 1994).
Children, regardless of whether they are a product of a single parent or dual parent household, are more likely to become juvenile delinquents if there is a minimum amount of quality time spent with the guardians. Guardians actually need to be “parents” rather than just provide for the child. “Parents” provide structure which entails rules, encouragement, and any type of consistent adult behavior that a juvenile can use as guidelines throughout his or her own adolescent years. Although a majority of delinquents are from single parent households, delinquency is fostered by a lack of parental/juvenile interaction. Monitoring the child is also a major contribution towards the creation of delinquency. By spending time with a juvenile as a family through family activities, it not only provides that necessary supervision for being aware of the whereabouts of the child, how the child is functioning emotionally, and how he or she is doing as an adolescent, it creates positive interaction with the parents that is needed for a healthy upbringing.