Risk and Protective Factors of Child Delinquency
The risk factors for child delinquency discussed in this are categorized into four groups: (1) individual, (2) family, (3) peer, and (4) school and community.
A greater understanding of these risk and protective factors could serve as the basis for future social policies designed to prevent and control delinquency.
Childhood Risk Factors for Child Delinquency
The following risk factors are discussed in this :
Individual factors :-
- Early antisocial behavior
- Emotional factors such as high behavioral activation and low behavioral inhibition
- Poor cognitive development
- Low intelligence
Family factors :-
- Family violence
- Parental psychopathology
- Familial antisocial behaviors
- Teenage parenthood
- Family structure
- Large family size
Peer factors :-
- Association with deviant peers
- Peer rejection
School and community factors :-
Individual Risk Factors
- Failure to bond to school
- Poor academic performance
- Low academic aspirations
- Living in a poor family
- Neighborhood disadvantage
- Disorganized neighborhoods
- Concentration of delinquent peer groups
- Access to weapons
Children’s behavior is the result of genetic, social, and environmental factors.
In relation to child delinquency, there defined individual risk and protective factors as an individual’s genetic, emotional, cognitive, physical, and social characteristics. These factors are frequently interrelated, yet the underlying mechanism of how this occurs is not fully understood.
Early antisocial behavior may be the best predictor of later delinquency. Antisocial behaviors generally include various forms of oppositional rule violation and aggression, such as theft, physical fighting, and vandalism. In fact, early aggression appears to be the most significant social behavior characteristic to predict delinquent behavior before age 13.
In contrast, prosocial behavior (such as helping, sharing, and cooperation), as rated by teachers, appeared to be a protective factor, specifically for those who have risk factors for committing violent and property crimes before age 13.
Although early aggressive behavior is the most apparent and best predictor of later delinquency, other individual factors may contribute to later antisocial behaviors. By the end of the third year of life, children can express the entire range of human emotions, including anger, pride, shame, and guilt. Parents, teachers, and even peers affect children’s socialization of emotional expression and help them learn to manage negative emotions constructively. Thus, how children express emotions, especially anger, early in life may contribute to or reduce their risk for delinquency.
Many studies of delinquency have focused on the concepts of behavioral inhibition and behavioral activation. Behavioral inhibition (in response to a new stimulus or punishment) includes fearfulness, anxiety, timidity, and shyness.
Behavioral activation includes novelty and sensation seeking, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and predatory aggression. A study found that high levels of behavioral activation and low levels of behavioral inhibition are risk factors for antisocial behavior. More studies are needed to determine whether emotional characteristics in childhood are causes of or simply correlates of later antisocial behavior.
Emotional and cognitive development appear to be associated with children’s ability to control social behavior within the first 2 years of life. Evidence suggests that these factors play an important role in the development of early delinquency and may affect the learning of social rules. In addition to traditional measures such as IQ, the Study Group considered cognitive development in terms of language development, social cognition, academic achievement, and neuropsychological function.
Poor cognitive development and behavior problems during early childhood could explain the association between academic achievement and delinquency.
Mild neuropsychological deficits present at birth can snowball into serious behavior problems by affecting an infant’s temperament.
These deficits can affect children’s control of behaviors such as language, aggression, oppositional behavior, attention, and hyperactivity. Basic cognitive deficits may also be associated with impaired social cognitive processes, such as failure to attend to appropriate social cues (e.g., adults’ instructions, peers’ social initiations).
Studies have shown that restless, squirmy, and fidgety children are more likely to be involved in later delinquent behavior. Clinical studies of hyperactive children have shown that they also are at high risk of delinquency. For example, motor restlessness (hyperactive or hyperkinetic behavior), as rated by kindergarten teachers, was a better predictor of delinquency between ages 10 and 13 than lack of prosocial behavior and low anxiety. Another study concluded that hyperactivity leads to delinquency only when it occurs with physical aggression or oppositional behavior.
Family Risk Factors
Children and their families defy narrow descriptions. Social, environmental, and family risk factors tend to cluster, and any number of them can occur together within the same family. Understanding the role and influence of each of these factors is a difficult task. For example, early child offending may develop through several pathways. For some children, the primary risk factor may be a family risk factor such as lack of parental supervision; for others, it may be an individual risk factor such as a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Studies have shown that inadequate child-rearing practices, home discord, and child maltreatment are associated with early-onset delinquency. In addition, the strongest predictors of early-onset violence include family size and parental antisocial history. Early temperamental difficulties in the child coupled with parental deficiencies that interfere with proactive parenting are also thought to be important in the development of early onset behavior problems.
In looking at the clustering of family risk factors, one goal is to identify which combinations of risk factors promote early misbehavior because, more than likely, early misbehavior is the result of an accumulation of a number of factors.
The number of risk factors and stressors and the length of exposure to them have a strong impact on child behavior.
A number of social adversities in families can affect children’s delinquency. These factors include parenting, maltreatment, family violence, divorce, parental psychopathology, familial antisocial behaviors, teenage parenthood, family structure, and family size.
Inadequate parenting practices are among the most powerful predictors of early antisocial behavior. Compared with families in which the children do not have conduct problems, families of young children with conduct problems have been found to be eight times more likely to engage in conflicts involving discipline, to engage in half as many positive interactions, and, often unintentionally, to reinforce negative child behavior. Three specific parental practices are particularly associated with early conduct problems: (1) a high level of parent-child conflict, (2) poor monitoring, and (3) a low level of positive
Child maltreatment or abuse commonly occurs with other family risk factors associated with early-onset offending. Focusing specifically on the relationship between physical abuse and children’s aggression, one study suggests that 20 percent of abused children become delinquent before reaching adulthood. Clearly, most physically abused children do not go on to become antisocial or violent.
However, one study that compared children without a history of abuse or neglect with children who had been abused or neglected found that the latter group accrued more juvenile and adult arrests by the age of 25. Abused or neglected children also offended
more frequently and began doing so at earlier ages.
Witnessing domestic violence has been linked to increased child behavior problems, especially for boys and younger children. Little is known about the age range in which children may be most vulnerable or how long associations persist. In most families, when the woman is battered, children are also battered. The co-occurrence of child abuse and witnessing domestic violence affects children’s adjustment more than twice as much as witnessing domestic violence alone. Other factors that impose additional risk in violent families include a high incidence of other behavior problems (e.g., alcohol abuse and incarceration) in male batterers. Maternal psychological distress may also expose children to additional indirect risks, such as the mother being emotionally unavailable to the children.
Compared with boys whose parents remained married, boys whose parents divorced have been found to be more likely to have continuing problems with antisocial, coercive, and noncompliant behaviors through age 10. As with many family factors, establishing the exact effects of divorce on children is difficult because of other co-occurring risks, such as the loss of a parent, other related negative life events (e.g., predivorce child behavior
problems, family conflict, decrease in family income), and a parent’s subsequent remarriage. When these related factors are considered, the impact of divorce itself is substantially less.
High rates (as high as 45 percent) of parental antisocial personality disorder have been consistently reported for parents of boys (including preadolescents) referred for conduct problems. Similar rates occurred for parental substance abuse and depression. Depressed
parents show many parenting deficiencies associated with increased antisocial behaviors in children, such as inconsistency, irritability, and lack of supervision. Parental psychopathology has been linked to increased rates of psychiatric disorder among school-aged children. It is found that the association between delinquency and parental anxiety or depression was stronger in younger than in older children.
Familial Antisocial Behaviors
A long history of research demonstrates that aggressive behavior and criminality are more prevalent in some families than in others. Antisocial adults tend to select antisocial
partners. Overall, antisocial parents show increased levels of family conflict, exercise poorer supervision, experience more family breakdown, and direct more hostility toward their children.
In addition, having an antisocial sibling also increases a child’s likelihood of antisocial behaviors. The influences of siblings are stronger when the siblings are close in age.
Being born to a teenage mother has been found to strongly predict offending in adolescence, although much of this effect may stem from the mother’s own antisocial history and involvement with antisocial partners.
Many single parents are able to raise their children very well. However, children from single-mother households are at increased risk for poor behavioral outcome, even controlling for the fact that single-mother households on average have fewer economic resources. Other factors could explain this relationship. Especially as compared with partnered women, single mothers report more mental health problems, have higher levels of residential mobility, and have fewer resources to monitor their children’s activities and whereabouts. Each of these factors on its own contributes to increased levels of early childhood behavior problems.
The more children in a family, the greater the risk of delinquency. A study found that, compared with boys who had fewer siblings, boys who had four or more siblings by the age of 10 were twice as likely to offend, regardless of the parents’ socioeconomic
status. These associations may be related to diminished supervision in larger families.
Peer Risk Factors
Peer influences on child delinquency usually appear developmentally later than do individual and family influences. Many children entering school, for example, already show aggressive and disruptive behaviors. Two major mechanisms associated with peer factors or influences are association with deviant peers and peer rejection.
Association With Deviant Peers
Association with deviant peers is related to increased co-offending and, in a minority of cases, the joining of gangs. The unresolved question is whether deviant peers model and reinforce antisocial behaviors or whether the association with deviant peers is simply another manifestation of a child’s predisposition to delinquency. In other words, do “birds of a feather flock together” or does “bad company corrupt”? The Study Group found that a strong case could be made that deviant peers influence nondelinquent juveniles to become delinquent.
Deviant peers influence juveniles who already have some history of delinquent behavior to increase the severity or frequency of their offending. A few studies of children younger than 14 support this hypothesis.