Criminology | THE EFFECT OF FAMILY STRUCTURE ON RATES OF VIOLENT JUVENILE DELINQUENCY

THE EFFECT OF FAMILY STRUCTURE ON RATES OF VIOLENT JUVENILE DELINQUENCY

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ABSTRACT

Obviously, something is going on in today’s society if more and more children are committing delinquent crimes.  Sometimes a researcher has to get to what he or she thinks is the root of the problem to figure out what spawns a certain issue.  What provokes a child to become delinquent and what makes the child gravitate so easily towards this lifestyle?  This study explores how family life influences juvenile delinquency in Lagos state. It is focused primarily on Lagos State, which is one of the most populous cities in Nigeria and is the commercial nerve centre of the country. Juveniles are more likely to become juvenile delinquents if there is little structure provided for them in their families.

Although there are several influential variables, three main categories on which I will be focusing encompass all of these variables.  These categories are family functioning, impact of family disruption, and two-parent versus single parent households.  Aspects of family are very crucial to the upbringing of a child and could ultimately lead to delinquent behaviors if the family is not functioning “properly.” Properly is defined as a two parent, violence free and openly communicating household.

According to Wright and Wright (1994), the family is the foundation of human society.  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.  Immarigeon (1996) says it best when he states that justice can be better served and young people steered on the right path by involving families in juvenile crime cases.   If anything would play a large part in delinquency, it would be a family.  Understanding how the family and how the juvenile within the family works get to the core of delinquency. 

Studies show that family structure is an important factor in explaining delinquency among Adolescents (Price & Kunz, 2003). There is a lack of research, however, pertaining to

Cohabitation. The main goals of this study are to determine if there are variations in delinquency between cohabitating and other family types, and to examine the extent to which parental social control measures account for the variation in delinquency by family structure. Data from the boys remand home Oregon, Lagos state are used for the purposes of this Study (n = 4,389). While there are no significant differences in violent delinquency between cohabitating families and other family types, results indicate that adolescents from cohabitating families have a greater odds of engaging in nonviolent delinquency compared to those from 2biological-parent families, although reaching only marginal significance. This difference, however, is explained once parental social control factors are accounted for in the models.

CHAPTER ONE

1.1 INTRODUCTION :

 Juvenile delinquency is becoming very prevalent in today’s society. In 2008 there were 6,318 arrests for every 100,000 youths age 10 to 17 in the resident population (Law Enforcement and Juvenile Crime, 2008). In 2009 The Boys Remand Home Oregun ,lagos state handled an estimated 20,000 cases that involved juveniles charged with criminal law violations (Law Enforcement and Juvenile Crime, 2008). Moreover, delinquency is more prevalent today than in

the past, as juvenile courts handled 30% more cases in 2009 than in 1985 (Knoll & Sickmund, 2012). While it may be that adolescents are being processed through the system more today rather than actually committing more forms of crime and delinquency (Puzzanchera, Adams, & Sickmund, 2010), adolescents are nonetheless experiencing increased involvement with the criminal justice system creating problems for parents, schools, communities, and other children

who are in the presence of juvenile delinquents. In 1960 approximately 1,100 delinquency cases were processed daily. In 2007 juvenile courts handled about 4,600 delinquency cases per day (Puzzanchera et al., 2010). 

Two of the main factors influencing juvenile delinquency are the family structure that a child is exposed to (Apel & Kaukinen, 2008; Price & Kunz, 2003) and the relationships adolescents have with parents (Leiber, Mack, & Featherstone, 2009; Petts, 2009). As with patterns of juvenile delinquency, family structure in the United States has also changed dramatically over the last century, becoming very diverse in today’s society (Kierkus, Johnson,

& Hewitt, 2010). Adolescents of all ages are living in many various types of homes, such as with single, married, and cohabiting parents. The families that children grow up in and the social environment in which they live can have major effects on their well-being (Wallman, 2010). In

6  general, children living in non-traditional households are at a greater risk for a wide variety of negative outcomes including involvement in delinquency (Price & Kunz, 2003) compared to those from married households (Demuth & Brown, 2004). Children in different family structures also experience many forms of monitoring, supervision, involvement, and attachment they receive from their parents (Hoeve, 2009). These factors may also play a role in determining why

adolescents turn to juvenile delinquency. This study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to examine if there is a difference in delinquency by family structure. It also assesses if monitoring, supervision, involvement, and attachment account for differences in delinquency by family structure. While previous research has examined how family processes may explain differences in the relationship between family structure and delinquency (Demuth & Brown, 2004; Price & Kunz, 2003), a major contribution of this study is the exploration of the extent to which cohabitating families differ from two-biological-parent and other family types.

Families are one of the strongest socializing forces in life.  They teach children to control unacceptable behavior, to delay gratification, and to respect the rights of others.  Conversely, 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. 

Adolescence is a time of expanding vulnerabilities and opportunities that accompany the widening social and geographic exposure to life beyond school or family, but it starts with the family.  Research indicates that various exposures to violence are important sources of early adolescent role exits, which means that not only can a juvenile witness violence within the family but on the outside as well (Hagan & Foster 2001).  If violence encompasses all emotionally environmental aspects of the juvenile’s life, he or she is more likely to engage in delinquent activities. 

A substantial number of children engage in delinquency.  Antisocial and/or aggressive behaviors may begin as early as preschool or in the first few grades of elementary school.  Such childhood misconduct tends to be resistant to change; for example, the parents disciplining more harshly, often predicts continuing problems during adolescence, as well as adult criminality (Prochnow& DeFronzo 1997).

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, seem 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).

Referring back to the issue of monitoring, a lack of monitoring is reflected in the parent often not knowing where the child is, whom the child is with, what the child is doing or when the child will be home.  Monitoring becomes increasingly important as children move into adolescence and spend less time under the direct supervision of parents or other adults and more time with peers.  Previous research found that coercive parenting and lack of parental monitoring contributes not only directly to boys’ antisocial behaviors, but also indirectly as seen in the contribution to their increased opportunity to associate with deviant peers, which is predictive of higher levels of delinquent acts (Kim, et al. 1999).

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.

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)

For family disruption and delinquency, 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 discord 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). 

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).

The third major area within juvenile delinquency and families is single parent households versus two parent households.  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?

A number of studies have been undertaken which show a very real connection between delinquent and /or criminal behavior, and single parent families. Wright and Wright’s (1994) research shows that single parent families, and in particular mother-only families, produce more delinquent children than two parent families.  Indeed the very absence of intact families makes gang membership more appealing (Muehlenberg 2002).

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).

Which one of these three major factors contributes to juvenile delinquency the most? They all seem to play a very big role in the life of the child.  Family is very important in creating a law-abiding child.  Separating the influence of these three main categories is a challenge

1.2 LIMITATION OF STUDY: A final limitation is that the survey is school-based. Those who are most delinquent may have dropped out of school and some of the most important participants may be missing. This could account for there not being any significance pertaining to violent delinquency.  Policy Implications

This study shows that when social control variables are employed in the models,

differences in delinquency rates by family structure are reduced. This research indicates that policies aimed to reduce crime by focusing on keeping families intact may be better served to strive to improve parenting practices, especially attachment, monitoring, and involvement. One way to do this would be to have parenting workshops aimed to improve relationships with their 38  children or workshops on how to better monitor and supervise children. Another way would be to hold conferences or retreats for parents and children to attend that are geared at encouraging

parents and children alike to become involved in each other’s lives. This would also help parents monitor their children better. These are just a few policies that could be implemented to help parents better monitor and supervise their children and be more involved in their lives.    

1.3 DEFINITION OF TERMS:

For the ease of comprehension of the study,it is necessary for the following

JUVENILE:    A juvenile is an individual that has not yet reached its adult form, sexual maturity or size. Juveniles sometimes look very different from the adult form.

FAMILY STRUCTURE: The family structure is considered a family support system involving two married individuals providing care and stability for their biological offspring. However, this two-parent, nuclear family has become less prevalent, and alternative family forms have become more common.The family is created at birth and establishes ties across generations. Those generations, the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, can hold significant emotional and economic roles for the nuclear family.

1.4 SCOPE OF THE STUDY: This article attempts to explain the effect of family structure on juvenile delinquency. The least amount of communication and structure the family provides, the more likely the child will engage in delinquent activities.  Data for this research were collected from a junior secondary  schoolin a predominantly low-income area of Lagos state.  Research was conducted through the use of surveys.  Findings suggest that family structure does indeed both negatively and positively play a role in the production of juvenile delinquency.

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