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Analytical Review of Main Strain Theories to Explain the Youth Violence

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Lim Jeong-yeo (2017) reported there was serious school violence in Busan, the Republic of Korea, in 2017 called Busan Teen Girl Attack. Four assailants, who aged 14 to 15 years old girls, hit a 14 years girl with steel pipe, chair, and glass bottles for one and a half hours. The victim was bloody over her body and had two deep cuts on her head. They testified to the police for what they have done as the perpetrators already knew ‘protection cases’ of Juvenile Act, which usually give less serious punishment to youth criminals. So, they got lesser than two years sentence in a juvenile reformatory, but it led to second violence. Korean Statistical Information Service (2016) represented the recent data on the number of all youth violence, including school violence in South Korea, which was 28,310 in 2013. Violence nowadays in England and Wales are serious. According to the Youth justice statistics (Ministry of Justice, 2020), the percentage of ‘Violence against the person’ in 2019 has increased the most for a decade, compared with other types of juvenile crimes. Violence is to harm someone physically or mentally or could be both ways and is globally viewed as breaking the law and social norms. Thus, juvenile assailants who committed violence could be classified as a deviance group. Therefore, it will discuss how and why violent teenagers are identified as a deviant group through reflecting two theories, and it will also explore what effects do they have on society, and how society responds to these groups.

Psychologists and Sociologists have different standards to identify deviance, but two aspects can explain why violent students are classified as deviant by their theories. A research paper (Nalah et al, 2013, P. 1) argued that human nature and criminal tendencies, such as mental illnesses and psychological trauma e.g PTSD, determine deviant behaviours, which is a psychological point of view. On the other hand, sociologists consider a violation of social norms and rules, which is not just considering as individual acts but also the social context, in terms of defining deviant behaviours. Social rules and orders have been changed over time, and they are socially established by some organisation, such as policies, courts, and legislature (Hawkins et al, 2019). Social rules could be built by the results of deviant behaviours as well (Nalah et al, 2013, P.1). Social norms vary from different countries since people who live in other countries have various cultures and environments. Hence it leads to a number of diverse social norms and rules. For example, smoking on the street is normal in the UK whereas it is deviant behaviour in South Korea. Consequently, sociologists can take strain theories, and psychologists can take conduct disorder in order to explain the reason why juvenile violence is deviant.

There are four main strain theories when it comes to explaining the youth violence, which are anomie theory, institutional anomie theory, general strain theory and relative deprivation theory (Ministry of Children, Community and Social Service, 2016). Anomie theory and general strain theory will use for explanations of a violent adolescent group. To briefly mention Merton’s anomie theory, it has five possible responses to anomie, which are conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Conformity is the most common response in society as it accepts the cultural goals of becoming wealthy, using legitimate means. Innovation uses illegal means and targets the cultural goals. Ritualism takes the socially approved means but rejects the goals. Retreatism rejects both the cultural goals and lawful means. Rebellion seems the same with retreatism, but it pursues new goals and means (Inderbitizin et al, 2017, P. 134-135). The four responses, except for conformity, are deviant since they do not seek either the goals of being the rich or legitimate means for the goals or maybe both of them. People may think that anomie strain theory is unable to correlate a juvenile violent group with abnormality even the theory contains explanations of deviant behaviours because the theory does not directly show that young violent groups are deviant. However, Merton’s strain theory could actually prove that the young violent population is deviant as this youth group could be classified as either innovation or retreatism. It will be discussed later by using a case study. Agnew (2012) said that the larger the gap of anomie, the more negative emotions such as anger it creates, and it could lead to committing a crime. He also proved that adolescent crime rates are the highest among other age groups in which Merton’s anomie strain theory could not prove. Agnew’s research (2012) showed that youth groups want to get peer status, instead of social status in Merton’s strain theory, from their similar age groups but if they are mistreated or get mistreatment by family or teacher they would illegally escape from such treatments, for example, they could run away from home or continue truancy to reduce aversive treatments. Therefore, as juvenile groups are impulsive and immature to control their emotions and behaviours, the violence rates created by strain peaks during adolescence.

Staff and Kreager’s study (2008) provided evidence of two statements mentioned above. One is that violent peers used ways of innovation retreatism when they faced strain, and another is that as adolescents are relatively immature compared to adults and lack the ability to control their behaviours, it leads them to commit violence easily. One of the hypotheses of this study is some male students want to gain peer status through violence not through academic achievement, which is verified by Cohen, and Willis’s case studies (1955, 1977; cited by Staff and Kreager, 2008. P.10-11). So, the minority students commit violence to get peers status, and it is innovation when it comes to the responses of anomie as they use socially unapproved means to gain the social status that could be the cultural goal. Furthermore, Staff and Kreager (2008) discovered a correlation between violent youth groups and the increasing rate of dropping out the secondary school. The result showed that 30% of violent students tend to drop out of secondary school, so it can interpret that they give up their high academic level as well as their future success, and it indicates features of retreatism of Merton’s theory.

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Conduct disorder can often be used to interpret psychological and biological theory of deviance. Youth with conduct disorder have antisocial behaviours such as being cruel to people and animals, arson, or shoplifting. People are diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV to know whether they have conduct disorder or not (Nalah et al, 2013. P.6). According to research (H. Russell Searight et al, 2001), there are 15 criteria of DSM-IV to diagnose conduct disorder by examining the degree of people’s aggressive, destructive, and deceitful behaviours. If a person has at least the following three characteristics of DSM-IV over one year, a psychiatrist will diagnose the person as conduct disorder. The first question part is ‘Aggression to people and/or animals’, and it determines whether a violent child is a deviant person or not as all criteria of the test paper are related to violation of social norms and law. ‘Have you often initiates physical fights’ or ‘have you been physically cruel to people’ are the examples of DMS-IV test paper. People could think that conduct disorder is a sociological explanation of the deviant group because of the results of the DMS-IV test. However, considering some underlying causes of conduct disorder, the theory of conduct disorder is more appropriate for biological and psychological analysis. As mentioned above, even though a person has more than three characteristics of the following criteria of DSM-IV, the person must last these symptoms for at least one year so as to diagnose a conduct disorder. Breaking law and social norms for twelve months are never easy for normal people, so people who diagnosed with conduct disorder may have a high level of negative emotion and low level of fear in their life. In addition, they may have problems with moral awareness and deficits in cognitive processing. These causes of conduct disorder are related to a psychological viewpoint of deviance. On the other hand, researchers at University of Birmingham (2019) researched biological analysis of conduct disorder. They studied causes of conduct disorder by investigating around 300 youth group, who aged from 9 to 18, of the area of the corpus callosum, the largest pathway towards two hemispheres of the brain, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The research found that children with behaviour disorder have a different structure of corpus callosum compared to young people without conduct disorder. This abnormality of the brain results in difficulties regulating behaviour, impulse control, and emotion. People would recognise that biological perspectives of conduct disorder are relevant to psychological one through these findings. Dr. Graeme Fairchild in the department of Psychology at the University of Bath, who joined this research project, has a prediction in which psychological theory can be improved by this scientific discovery (University of Birmingham, 2019). The South Korea Ministry of Education investigated actual conditions of school violence in 2019. Some reasons for the violence of the survey correlate with proving practical evidence of conduct disorder’s theory as some perpetrators assaulted people for reasons such as ‘just for fun’, ‘they do not like a person(s) without any excuses’ or ‘uncontrollable of their anger and stress’ (yangsook, 2019).

Deviance can have both negative and positive effects on individuals, society, and country (Nalah et al, 2013. P.2). An example of positive influence is that deviant actions can make the rules and order of society stricter, whereas victims and their families could be suffered from a result of abnormal behaviours physically or mentally. Youth violent groups have more negative results than positive ones in terms of deviance. For instance, as violent children are disruptive influence in class, they could interrupt classmates’ study when they cause any disturbance. If they do not get mental treatment or care but become an adult, they could cause more serious violent crime. World Health Organisation (2016) illustrated a serious increasing homicide rate as a fatal result of youth violence, which is the most extreme effect. However, this kind of report could flag up the severity of youth violence and create an opportunity for governments and certain organisation mentioned above to review and amend the law for social safety.

The Guardian (2019) wrote that many representatives in the UK discussed the seriousness and prevention of juvenile violence. Boris Johnson also realised the seriousness of youth violence and created a new policy such as hiring 20,000 police officers, pushing a home secretary to make the practical vision, and improving prevention and intervention services. Korean citizens submitted a petition to the Blue House against the current Juvenile Act after the incident of Busan Teen Girl Attach. This because they wanted to make Juvenile Act harsher to increase the sentence period of serious juvenile delinquency and lower the age limit for imprisonment. The number of people who agreed to this petition reached 392,848 in 30 days, so the Blue house reviewed the Juvenile Act (Korea Joongang Daily, 2017).

Strain theory and conduct disorder explain deviant behaviours related to violent children through sociological and psychological perspectives, so youth violent population is classified as a deviant group. Due to the fact that the rates of juvenile violence have increased in South Korea and England and Wales, people should pay more attention to this deviant group, and the government should create more specific and realistic countermeasures for protecting further violence.


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Analytical Review of Main Strain Theories to Explain the Youth Violence. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
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