Juvenile Delinquency has been an ongoing phenomenon for years and will unfortunately continue in future years to come. Biosocial theory, social structure theory, and Hirschi’s social bond theory are just a few of many theories that help to explain how and why juveniles engage in delinquent behavior. These theories go in depth on factors that can and cannot be changed once it affects a child’s life and body. Juveniles are still so young and have the chance to change and grow from their mistakes, it’s just a matter of if they’re willing to put in the effort. Unfortunately for most juvenile, they will have lived through at least one the factors and elements listed if not all.
Factors Affecting Juvenile Delinquency
The biosocial theory holds that instead of viewing criminal behavior as controlled by conditions at birth, biochemists believe other factors such as environmental, physical, and social conditions work together to produce human behavior. Some trait theorists believe that biochemicals acquired through diet and environment, and those that are genetically predetermined influence antisocial behaviors. Exposure to harmful chemicals and poor diet while in utero and beyond can cause long lasting effects on offspring over their whole life course. Biochemical factors related to criminality include exposure to smoking and drinking, exposure to chemicals and minerals, diet, sugar intake, glucose metabolism/hypoglycemia, and hormones.
Maternal alcohol abuse and/or smoking consumption during pregnancy have been linked to prenatal damage and antisocial behaviors in adolescents for many years. “Exposure to smoke has been associated with increased psychopathology in offspring, and that exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke during pregnancy predicts later conduct disorder” (Siegel, 2018, p. 144). Smoking parents have a greater effect on behavior compared to other influences. These factors include low birth rate, prematurity, and poor parenting practices. Research has shown people who start drinking by the age of fourteen are more likely to become alcoholics than those who hold off until the age of twenty-one. There is a good possibility that early brain exposure to alcohol may short-circuit brain cells causing destruction towards learning and memory processes that protect from addiction. Adolescent drinking has a major harmful influence on behavior.
Research shows than an over or under supply of certain chemicals can lead to depression, mania, memory loss, cognitive problems, and abnormal sexual activity. These chemicals include sodium, mercury, potassium, calcium, amino acids, peptides, and monoamines. Commonly used medications such as Viagra have detrimental side effects such as aggression and violent behavior. Excessive intake of certain chemicals such as mercury, iron, and manganese may have a link to neurological dysfunctional problems such as intellectual impairment and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These neurological conditions are believed to be an influence on delinquent and criminal behaviors.
Biocriminologists believe there is a link between poor nutrition and aggressive, violent, and amoral people. They have a belief that violence would be reduced if diets would be improved. Research shows that excessive amount of harmful substances such as caffeine, food dyes, and artificial flavors increase chances of hostile and antisocial behaviors. “…the basic problem in the offender is more than likely to be a malfunctioning brain, which is aggravated by influences such as lack of nutrients, elements in their diet, toxins in the environment or studying difficulties” (Williamson & Meyer).
An experiment had been conducted where children’s diets were altered so sweet drinks and table sugar were replaced with fruit juices, honey, and molasses. The resulted indicated that sugar intake is associated with aggression. However, a recent study by Nathan DeWall and his associates found that some sugar intake may help to reduce aggression. “They found that people who drank a glass of lemonade sweetened with sugar acted less aggressively a few minutes later than did people who consumed lemonade with a sugar substitute” (Siegel, 2018, p. 145). The sugary drink provided short-term energy rather than the energy to lash out at people. People who have trouble metabolizing and/or using glucose in their body show more evidence of aggression.
“Hypoglycemia is a condition caused by a very low level of blood sugar (glucose), your body’s main energy source” (Mayo Clinic, 2019). The brain is the only organ that obtains energy from carbohydrates. When the brain is deprived of blood sugar, it has no other food supply to rely on. This then causes the brain metabolism to slow down and the brain starts to malfunction. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, and confusion. Research studies have linked hypoglycemia to outburst of antisocial and violent behaviors.
Criminologist James Q. Wilson claims that hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters may be the key to human behavior and the differences between genders and crime rates. He stated that males are biologically and naturally more aggressive than females who are more nurturing due to the fact that they are the ones who bear children and raise them. Levels of testosterone decline the life cycle and may help to explain why violence rates decrease over time. This helps to explain the aging-out process. Theorists are now finding that abnormal levels of the male sex hormones (androgens) produce aggressive behavior. Females who have high levels of testosterone or are exposed to it in utero may become aggressive during adolescence.
The social structure theory is separated into three parts: social disorganization theory, strain theory, and cultural deviance theory. These theories suggest that social and economic forces operating in lower-class disorganized areas are the key to delinquent and criminal behavior patterns. For adolescents, social factors can have a huge effect on how they behave and view social norms. These factors will influence their behavior and have a long-lasting effect on their beliefs and behaviors.
Social disorganization theory focuses in on urban environmental conditions that affect crime rates. Certain areas are considered disorganized if social control elements such as family, commercial establishments, health care, and schools are broken down and can no longer function expectedly. Indicators of social disorganization include high unemployment rates, school dropout rates, deteriorated housing, large numbers of single-parent households, and low-income levels. Residents living in these areas are more likely to experience conflict. Once these residents become aware of how much their environment is becoming unstable, they want to escape when they get the chance. This leads to everyone no longer caring for their community which can then cause street problems such as littering, crime, and house deterioration. Normal levels of self control such as family, neighbors, school, businesses, church, law enforcement, and social service agencies become weak, disorganized, and ineffective. Resident turnover becomes an issue and weakens economic expectations. Once social institutions and structures become deteriorated, law-violating youth groups and gangs take over the streets and neighborhoods. Boys and girls become detached from good social expectations making them become very vulnerable. This can lead to them joining gangs and becoming members. Crime and violence eventually take over and spread in surrounding areas.
“According to Agnew (1992) “Strain theory is distinguished from social control and social learning theory in its specification of (1) the type of social relationship that leads to delinquency and (2) the motivation for delinquency” (Friel, 2019). Individuals who live in lower-class settings are more likely to experience strain through feeling anger, frustration, and resentment because they are unable to achieve success. This type of behavior can cause individuals to go two ways. They either find the motive to move out of the environment they live in and into a better one and strive to become successful, or they stay in their toxic environment and find their way of achievement through criminal acts such as robbery, violence, and trafficking. Criminals who choose this pathway may find crime to be their escape route making them feel proud and as if committing crimes is successful to them.
Cultural deviance theory combines the elements of both social disorganization and strain. It suggests that cultural norms of lower-class societies are likely to cause crime and cause an interference with social norms. Criminal actions are generally the norm for these lower-class individuals and it continues to be passed down from each generation. In the early 1900s, researchers Clifford Shaw and Henry Mckay studied crime patterns in Chicago. During this time, they found that crime rates were at their worst in the middle of the city. Crime rates gradually decreased from the city as one moved further out into the suburbs where wealthier individuals were located. They were able to connect the fact that new and poor immigrants were the main cause of crime in the city. They concluded that race and ethnicity correlates to socioeconomic status and results to a higher crime rate.
Hirschi connects criminality to the weaknesses of individual ties that bind people to society. He believes that every single individual can be a law-violator, it is just the matter of how much they are kept under control and their beliefs. “Hirschi argues that the social bond a person maintains with society is divided into four main elements: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief” (Siegel, 2018, p. 250).
Attachment is an individual’s way to become interested in one another and form sensitivity. Psychologists believe that without a sense of attachment, individuals are ore likely to become psychopaths and lose the ability to connect physically and emotionally with other individuals. The development of social bonding and social norms depend on attachment and the caring of other human beings. When attached to another human being, individuals learn to be inconsiderate, loving, and receive the same behavior in return. This helps individuals understand social behaviors that prevent self-focus and self-interest. Once attached to other people, individuals specialize certain values and learn not to jeopardize any relationship. Hirschi claims parents, peers, and schools are the most important social institutions in one’s life, especially parents. “Age of the participants moderated the link between attachment and delinquency: larger effect sizes were found in younger than in older participants” (Hoeve, Stams, van der Put, Dubas, van der Laan & Gerris, 2012).
Commitment means putting in the time in effort into a certain action. This includes going to work and/or school every day, saving money, and maintaining a good flow to a certain schedule. If individuals are able to build a strong commitment to society, they will be less likely to engage in criminal behavior and/or anything that has a chance of jeopardizing their hard-earned accomplishments. For example, kids who drink and engage in any deviant behavior are more likely to drop out of school and not be as committed.
Involvement in any activity or event leaves for no time to commit crimes and be involved in any deviant behaviors. “When people become involved in school, recreation, and family, Hirschi believes, it insulates them from the potential lure of criminal behavior, whereas idleness enhances it” (Siegel, 2018, p. 251).
People living in the same social settings are more likely to have the same moral beliefs. Sharing beliefs means valuing each other, finding trust, and admiring one another. If these beliefs are absent at all, individuals are more likely to disconnect from everyone and become antisocial from the rest of society.
When reading about biosocial theory, social structure theory, and Hirschi’s social bond theory, the theory that stuck out to me the most relating to juvenile delinquency was Hirschi’s social bond theory. I agree with him that any human has the potential to become a criminal if the four elements of the theory; attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief are not met properly. Going along with juvenile delinquency, it is very important for children to understand and meet the standards for these four elements. If not, they are most likely going to become antisocial and take action in delinquent behaviors. However, children should not be the only ones responsible for meeting these goals. Parents play a huge role in making sure their children are behaving properly and they should be making sure both them and their children are meeting each of the four elements in a strong way. I think the social bond theory helps support juvenile delinquency because of how the four elements have a life time lasting effect from an early age.
With biosocial theory, although a few of these factors are unchangeable, medication can help to reduce some of these factors. Social structure theory gives a strong point on how children can be very vulnerable in lower-class settings but they always have the potential and chance of moving away and living in a better environment with a new start, it’s just a matter of if they’re able to reach that goal. With social bond theory however, these factors can not be changed much once they set in at an early age. Every human being is able to change the way they are and act but certain factors can never be changed. Once children become deprived of these important factors, there is no going back. They will be affected for the rest of their life.
- Siegel, L. J. (2018). Criminology: theories, patterns and typologies. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
- Williamson, Meyer, G. D. J. (n.d.). The Link Between Diet and Crime. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/35b1/b03ae97f462d67b2305ef91523fe72d658b4.pdf.
- Hypoglycemia. (2018, September 7). Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc 20373685.
- Friel, J. D. (2019). An Examination of Robert Agnew’s General Strain Theory. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://faculty.wcu.edu/studentanthology/writing-across western/criminology-and-criminal-justice/47-2/.
- Libretexts. (2019, July 2). 7.3: Theoretical Perspectives on Deviance. Retrieved from https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Book:_Introductory_Sociology_( penStax)/07:_Deviance,_Crime,_and_Social_Control/7.03:_Theoretical_Perspectives_o _Deviance.
- Hoeve, M., Stams, G. J. J. M., van der Put, C. E., Dubas, J. S., van der Laan, P. H., & Gerris, J. R. M. (2012, July). A meta-analysis of attachment to parents and delinquency. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3375078/.
- Ministry of Children and Youth Services, Communications and Marketing Branch. (2016, January 5). Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/professionals/oyap/roots/volume5/chapter 1_biosocial_theory.aspx.