Labeling Theory on Impact on “At-Risk” Youth


Young people from racial minority groups are often at risk of joining criminal gangs, which destroys the future of these adolescents and makes the city unsafe. Undoubtedly, local authorities do their best to prevent the youth from engaging in gang activities, but more advanced and theory-based measures are required. In this memo, I will outline some prosocial alternatives to these ‘at-risk’ young people with the hope of preventing participation in gangs. The program will be based on Labeling Theory and provide a positive impact on the city’s youth.


First of all, I would like to explain the main components of the selected theory to use them to shape the proposal. According to Bernburg (2019), labeling theory states that “once individuals are labeled as deviants, especially if they are labeled by criminal justice agents,” they are more likely to face new issues. Their own perception of themselves alters, so research shows that “criminal justice labeling tends to increase, as opposed to decrease, future criminal behavior” (Bernburg, 2019, p. 179). Consequently, criminal labeling spurs a deviant self-concept’s development, undermines opportunities, and weakens social bonds. As a result, it is possible to suggest that precisely the concept of ‘labeling’ should be removed from the responsible figures’ communication with adolescents from low-income households and other minority and ‘at risk’ groups.


Overall, the program will aim at two components related to Labeling theory, including the elimination of negative labels and usage of positive ones. In addition, the target audience of the program is not only the ‘at risk’ teenagers but also their families and educators, as well as criminal justice agents.

Elimination of negative labels

Terms like ‘criminals,’ ‘delinquents,’ ‘hopeless,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘weak,’ ‘dangerous,’ ‘sociopathic,’ ‘antisocial,’ and other similar labels should be excluded from the lexicon of family members, teachers and other school workers, and criminal justice agents. Consequently, the first stage of the proposed program will be to educate the listed groups and inform them of their own negative impact on the youth. They should be aware that what they say and how they call adolescents has a direct effect on their self-perception. According to Carey and McAnany (1984), the aforementioned labels improve “a juvenile’s sense of alienation from normative society, thus fueling deviant behaviors” (para. 2). When adolescents stop being referred to as criminals and persons dangerous to society, they will also not want to identify themselves with such antisocial members. Informative brochures can be spread among low-income and minority families, schools, and social services.

Using the right labels

The next step will be to encourage the aforementioned three groups to use positive, inspiring, and supportive labels. After all, the theory says that if a teenager is called a criminal, their chances of becoming one rise. Therefore, one may suggest that labeling an adolescent as smart, talented, successful, and able to improve the world can actually inspire them (Abrah, 2019). Thus, this step’s purpose is to allow the youth to know that they are not abandoned and society still believes in them.

Applying the new concept and raising the youth’s potential

Finally, the last stage is to run engaging, interesting, informative, and useful extra activity groups. They will be free of charge and include various hobbies and spheres such as guitar playing, reading club, courses for young doctors, and other groups. In them, teenagers will be labeled as talented and smart. What is more, these activities will take their free time and deprive the youth of the opportunity and need to join criminal gangs.


To conclude, it is possible to say that this program will bring positive results and allow the city to reduce the rates of criminal gang activity.


Abrah, P. B. (2019). Labeling theory and life stories of juvenile delinquents transitioning into adulthood. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 63(2), 179-197.

Bernburg, J. G. (2019). Labeling theory. In Krohn, M., Hendrix, N., Penly Hall, G., & Lizotte, A. (eds.), Handbook on crime and deviance (pp. 179-196). Springer.

Carey, J. T., & McAnany, P. D. (1984). Labeling and conflict approaches to delinquency. U.S. Department of Justice.

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LawBirdie. (2023) 'Labeling Theory on Impact on "At-Risk" Youth'. 1 November.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Labeling Theory on Impact on "At-Risk" Youth." November 1, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Labeling Theory on Impact on "At-Risk" Youth." November 1, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Labeling Theory on Impact on "At-Risk" Youth." November 1, 2023.