A few days ago a boy aged 15 studying in the tenth standard of a High School in the Indian state of Kerala cold-bloodedly murdered one of his classmates by first stunning the victim with a stone-blow and then cutting the throat with a knife. The murderer led the victim to the toilet of the school by telling him to show a secret object. The murderer-boy admitted to the police that he murdered his classmate in vengeance to the defeat he met in the altercation which took place between him and the victim some months back.
Psychologically the act of the boy is juvenile delinquency or in simple terms youth crime. By legal definition it is participation in illegal behavior by minors under 18 years.According to Laurence Steinberg, department of psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, in recent years the average for first arrest has dropped significantly, and younger boys and girls are committing crimes. Between 60 and 80 percent of adolescents engage in some form of juvenile offense. These can range from status offenses such as underage smoking to property crimes such as theft, robbery and violent crimes. The number of teens who offend is so high that it would seem to be a cause for worry. But Laurence Steinberg considers juvenile offending as normative adolescent behavior. This is because most teens tend to do offend by committing non-violent crimes, only once or a few times, and these offenses are confined to adolescence. When the adolescents offend repeatedly or violently their offending is likely to continue beyond adolescence. In such cases offenses become increasingly violent. According to psychologist Terrie Moffitt it is likely that such individuals begin offending and displaying antisocial behavior even before reaching adolescence.
Evolution of a delinquent mind
Adolescence is a transition phase from childhood to adulthood. In the early periods of industrialization and in the ages before industrial era there was no transition phase. A child spontaneously develop into an adult and start working and living adult life. According to Laurence Steinberg, who wrote the noted book The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, the new drawn out transition from childhood to adulthood, that is now common in western and developing words, has left many adolescents in a limbo where they must seek to define their identity and place in the world. Sometimes delinquency may provide a way to get an identity.
Contrary to popular belief it is highly rare for teenagers to become spontaneously aggressive, antisocial or violent simply with the onset of adolescence. Only about 5 to 10 per cent commit violent crimes. In the United States, according to criminologist Alex R. Piquero, one third of all of suspects arrested for violent crimes are under eighteen. (Piquero et al. (2003):The Criminal Career Paradigm: Background and Recent Developments)
Different types of juvenile delinquents
Lifelong studies of offenders conducted by psychologist Terrie Moffitt have established that there are two different types of offenders that emerge in adolescence. One is the repeat offender, referred to as the life-course-persistent offender who begins showing antisocial and aggressive behavior in late childhood and continues into adulthood. The second category of offenders are age specific referred to as the adolescence-limited offender. In this category delinquency begins and ends during their adolescence. Therefore a careful childhood history of the juvenile delinquents is essential to determine whether they will be lifelong persistent offenders, or just adolescent-limited offenders. Although most of the adolescent-limited delinquents drop all criminal activities once they enter adulthood, psychological studies have established that they still show more mental health problems, substance abuse, and finance problems, both in adolescence and adulthood, than those who were never delinquent.
Masculinity and delinquency
It is a fact that more young men commit offenses than young women. One suggestion is that the ideas of masculinity may make young men more likely to offend. Being tough, powerful, aggressive, daring and competitive becomes a way for young men to assert and express their masculinity. Acting out these ideals may make young men more likely to engage in antisocial and criminal behavior. Also, the way young men are treated by others, because of their masculinity, may reinforce aggressive traits and behaviors, and make them more susceptible to offending.
Alternatively, young men may actually be naturally more aggressive, daring and prone to risk-taking. According to a study led by Florida State University criminologist Kevin M. Beaver, adolescent males who possess a certain type of variation in a specific gene are more likely to group together with delinquent peers. The study, which appears in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Genetic Psychology, is the first to establish a statistically significant association between an affinity for antisocial peer groups and a genetic factor.
Two important risk factors that lead to juvenile delinquency are parenting style and peer group association. Following parenting styles are undoubtedly at fault causing juvenile delinquency:
"Permissive" parenting is characterized by a lack of discipline. It encompasses the following subtypes:
§ "neglectful" parenting, characterized by a lack of monitoring and thus of knowledge of the child's activities,
§ "indulgent" parenting, characterized by enablement of misbehavior,
§ "authoritarian" parenting, characterized by harsh discipline and refusal to justify discipline on any basis other than "because I said so".
Peer group association with antisocial peer groups is also very important causative factor of juvenile delinquency. This occurs as a result of faulty parenting where the child is left unsupervised.
Other factors that may mislead a teenager into juvenile delinquency include low socio-economic status, poor school performance and failures, peer rejection and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with low intelligence and those suffering from ADHD are more likely to do badly in school. This may increase the chances of offending. Low educational attainment, low attachment to school, and low educational aspirations are all risk factors for offending in themselves. Most of these tend to be influenced by a mix of both genetic and environmental factors.
Criticism of risk factor researches
Two UK academics, Stephen Case and Kevin Haines, among others, criticized risk factor research in their academic papers and a comprehensive polemic text, Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice. The validity of risk factor research is criticized for:
Reductionism - over-simplifying complex experiences and circumstances by converting them to simple quantities, relying on a psychosocial focus whilst neglecting potential socio-structural and political influences;
Determinism - characterizing young people as passive victims of risk experiences with no ability to construct negotiates or resist risk;
Imputation - assuming that risk factors and definitions of offending are homogenous across countries and cultures and assuming that statistical correlations between risk factors and offending actually represent causal relationships.