Juvenile delinquency is an urgent social issue that plagues numerous families. Although children are not old enough to be subjected to full-scale criminal persecution, the damage done to society necessitates the delivery of proper justice. Even though crimes and offenses are committed by children and adolescents, attention is always given to their parents. Families are the first social environment in which children learn to interact with other people. Therefore, the way parents guide them will inevitably influence how they communicate with the larger society. Even if parents cannot be held responsible for every wrongful action their children do, their ability to affect younger family members accentuates their role in education. Overall, the relationship between parental influence and juvenile delinquency has four dimensions – historical, economic, social, and control.
Family Crime History
First, the crime records of parents have a direct impact on the behavior of children. Statistics show that families that have a habit of breaking the law are likely to have children that are willing to perpetrate as well (Taylor & Fritsch, 2020, p. 65). Regardless of the connotation of the relationship between parents and children, the latter is inevitably influenced by the former’s behavior. Besemer et al. (2017) attribute this phenomenon to social learning theory. Whether consciously or not, children are extremely aware of their surroundings. Any observations of the behaviors of other people and especially family members are subsequently transformed into their own modus operandi.
The most surprising notion is that children may actually be averse to the idea of their parents breaking the law. Yet, in the future life, they may themselves reach the same conclusions as their parents did. It is not specific to criminal intent, as other activities such as drug and alcohol consumption may be attempted by children. It should be noted that there is no scientific consensus on why a parental crime record increases the probability of juvenile delinquency. Besemer et al. (2017) label this phenomenon as intergenerational transmission of criminal behavior, but they do admit that “little is known about the causal effects of parental crime on children’s behavior” (p. 177). In essence, its existence has been proven statistically, but the causative relationships remain unclear.
Another aspect that is suspected of precipitating juvenile delinquency is an organization of families. Legal and social circumstances may complicate the definition of families. For the purpose of clarification, Piang et al. (2017) define them as “a long-term group of two or more people related through biological, legal or equivalent ties and who enact those ties through on-going interaction” (p. 171). It should be evident that this definition prioritizes parents as the most influential family members, excluding younger siblings. Family structures are diverse, yet the general consensus is that a fully intact family consists of biological parents who live with their children (Piang et al., 2017). Subsequently, any other type of family organization is seen as dysfunctional.
The reason why the type of family structure is important lies in statistical correlations. Numerous studies have found that “adolescents in intact or two biological-parent families committed the fewest kinds of antisocial behavior” (Piang et al., 2017, p. 171). Families that have one of the parents missing are dysfunctional due to the pressure on one adult that is not shared with a partner. For instance, a single mother experiences financial problems and lacks emotional support that is not provided due to the absence of the partner. Unable to control every aspect of the child’s life, the remaining parent is more susceptible to mistakes and flaws in education.
Since it is the case with intergenerational transmission of criminal behavior, there is no agreement on why family structure causes delinquency. Furthermore, some researchers believe that the statistics do not really prove the existence of such a correlation. For example, Piang et al. (2017) conducted a study which ascertained that the majority of adolescents without a criminal record are indeed from full intact families. However, the same research has also showcased that the same demographic has also produced a substantial proportion of delinquents. Therefore, growing up in a classic family structure does not protect children from criminal intent. Instead, the focus should be put on the quality of relationships inside the family.
The quality of relationships in the family is determined by several factors. One such factor that has an important influence is parental supervision. Even if there are two married parents, neither of whom has a history of divorce, there is still a chance that their child might engage in unlawful conduct. In this case, the lack of control over the activities of one’s offspring may cause them to perpetuate. For the purpose of clarification, the two most common parental styles can be identified.
The first one is authoritative parenting, which presupposes strict control over children’s activities. This style requires parents to constantly intervene in the lives of their children. The freedom to conduct any activity is limited by the parental view of the appropriateness of certain behaviors. Even though such a style may seem overly strict, statistically, it is more likely to deter children from perpetrating (Xiong & Xia, 2020). On the other side of the spectrum is the less controlling parental style, which allows children to engage in their preferred activities. Once again, statistics prove that such an approach is a risk factor for juvenile delinquency (Besemer et al., 2017). However, there is an explanation for why insufficient control over children precipitates criminal intent. Immaturity prevents children from limiting communication with other delinquents and makes them vulnerable to peer pressure. In essence, parental absence allows children to interact with delinquents, which causes them to perpetuate themselves.
One of the most important facets of parent-children relationships is the use of violence. It is an umbrella term encompassing various forms of punishment. Manzoni & Schwarzenegger (2019) reference four forms of violence that can precipitate juvenile delinquency – physical, psychological, sexual, and neglect. Physical violent actions are related to the infliction of pain felt in the body, such as burning or being hit. Sexual violence refers to the involvement of children in involuntary sexual activities. Psychological violence can take the form of a deliberate intention to frighten a person or intimidate them. Neglect is the most subtle form since it may not cause immediate feelings of pain or discomfort. Nevertheless, they can also be extremely damaging, as examples include “an insufficient supply of food, clothes, living space or medical care for children” (Manzoni & Schwarzenegger, 2019, p. 226). The presence of any of these forms of child maltreatment is the risk factor for juvenile delinquency.
This correlation is proven by statistical data from juvenile criminal records. The study by Manzoni and Schwarzenegger (2019) has ascertained that “juveniles reporting maltreatment in their lives were about three times (OR of 2.8) more likely to use violence compared to juveniles without maltreatment history” (p. 235). Once again, social learning theory provides the explanation that children unconsciously learn from their environment and use their observations in practice in later life.
The income status of the family is also a potential risk factor. Parental financial resources are directly related to the children’s upbringing. After all, parents have to provide children with food, clothes, and living. However, as the economic situation worsens, the likelihood of negative development increases. The research by Moitra et al. (2018) has found that “economically distressed parents are more likely to show less affection while disciplining their children” (p. 339). However, the deficit of food may also cause people to steal and use other illegal means of obtaining resources, which is immediately observed by children.
Altogether, it should be evident that the relationship between parental influence and juvenile delinquency is multifaceted. Most of the assumptions are based on statistical correlations that may or may not prove a causative relationship. First, children of criminal parents are more likely to offend than those whose parents have no crime record. Second, growing up in a dysfunctional family makes children more-crime prone. Third, the lack of parental control may lead to children perpetrating due to unrestricted peer pressure. Fourth, the low economic status of families is also a risk factor, as parents are less interested in controlling their children. Nevertheless, all these explanations are primarily based on statistics and are not universal, as there are children who do not perpetrate despite the presence of several risk factors.
Besemer, S., Ahmad, S. I., Hinshaw, S. P., & Farrington, D. P. (2017). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the intergenerational transmission of criminal behavior. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 37, 161-178.
Manzoni, P., & Schwarzenegger, C. (2019). The influence of earlier parental violence on juvenile delinquency: The role of social bonds, self-control, delinquent peer association and moral values as mediators. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 25(3), 225-239.
Moitra, T., Mukherjee, I., & Chatterjee, G. (2018). Parenting behavior and juvenile delinquency among low-income families. Victims & Offenders, 13(3), 336-348.
Piang, T. B., Osman, Z. J., & Mahadir, N. B. (2017). Structure or relationship? Rethinking family influences on juvenile delinquency in Malaysia. Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, 17(2), 171-184.
Taylor, R. W., & Fritsch, E. J. (2020). Juvenile justice: Policies, programs, and practices (5th ed.). London, United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill Education.
Xiong, R., Li, S. D., & Xia, Y. (2020). A longitudinal study of authoritative parenting, juvenile delinquency and crime victimization among Chinese adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(4), 1405.