How do Juveniles Become Delinquent?

Who are juvenile delinquents? What are their common characteristics or surrounding environments? What are the most common characteristics of juvenile victimization? This post covers the correlating factors and patterns of all these questions.

Origins of Juvenile Delinquency

Ever wonder what factors might lead to a child committing a crime? Would it surprise you that delinquency can begin before children are even born?

There is some evidence indicating that prenatal nutrition, mothers that smoke, or complications at birth are factors contributing to delinquency. Now of course, not all children in these circumstances become juvenile offenders, but it’s important to weigh these factors when they do.

Considering juvenile delinquency can begin early in a child’s life, let’s looks at the characteristics of children engaged in this type of delinquency.

Who Are They?

Picture Tom, a 17 year old, white teen, living in a high crime, poverty-ridden area of town. He’s just been arrested for theft. This is the picture of the most commonly arrested juvenile offender.

Recent arrest statistics for juvenile delinquency indicates offenders are typically between the ages of 13 and 17, with 17 being the most common. Most are males, though the number of female offenders is on the rise.

Most juvenile offenders arrested are white, however, black juveniles are arrested at higher rates than other races for violent crimes.

Now that you know the characteristics of juvenile offenders, you may ask yourself what causes them to offend.

The Correlates of Juvenile Delinquency

There are specific risk factors that correlate to the onset of juvenile delinquency. A consensus of research has consistently pointed towards the following:

Individual risk factors are those that are explicitly tied to an individual’s development and personality. More often than not, juvenile offenders exhibit aggression, hyperactivity, antisocial behavior, low IQ, low language IQ, attention problems, and impulsivity. These risk factors are most likely associated with substance abuse, risk-taking behaviors, and poor school performance.

Family risk factors are exclusive to parent-child dynamics and interactions within the home. These can include child maltreatment, poor parenting/supervision, home discord, parental conflict, antisocial parents, harsh discipline, aggressive parents, broken homes, and large family sizes.

Community-based risk factors are those occurring within the environment of the juvenile, like gangs, delinquent peers, severe school punishment, disorganized communities, and high crime areas.

However, there’s some hope. The majority of juvenile offenders that exhibit these traits or are exposed to many of these risk factors desist in late adolescence and early adulthood.

Chronic Juvenile Offenders

There is a small minority of offenders, however, that are considered chronic offenders. Chronic offendersare those that repeatedly commit serious or violent crimes such as theft, burglary, robbery, drug involvement, assault, rape, and murder.

Happily, as of 2015, juvenile arrests for violent crime are lower than they have been in 30 years. Perhaps it is partly because of our growing knowledge of the factors involved.

Children that display poor temperaments in early years are linked to chronic offending. Chronic juvenile offenders typically display three critical features early and often. In order of significance they are:

  1. Serious conduct disorders – in other words, antisocial behaviors.
  2. Poor personality/behavioral issues – poor learning skills, impulsivity, risk taking, aggression, a lack of empathy, poor attachments.
  3. Antisocial beliefs – negative attitudes towards police, teachers, or other authority figures; negative perceptions and distorted information processing.

There is also an established link between juvenile offending and child victimization. Child maltreatment is the most significant factor in this link.

This can include abuses of physical, sexual, or emotional natures, but also neglect. For example, if Mary allows her 7 year old son Jimmy to cross 5 miles of the city of Chicago by himself to get to school, this is an example of physical neglect. Mary has disregarded the physical safety of her child.

Or, as another example, perhaps Gary doesn’t pay attention to where his daughter Sarah is during the day, and consequently Sarah misses several days of school a week. This is an example of educational neglect.

Lesson Summary

Juvenile delinquency can depend on a number of factors, even those present before birth like in prenatal nutrition or complications. Other risk factors are categorized as

  • Individual risk factors – represented by aggression, impulsivity, and antisocial behaviors and attitudes
  • Family risk factors – takes the forms of maltreatment, poor, harsh, and anti-social parents.
  • Community based risk factors – represented by gang involvement, delinquent peers, and poverty.

Most juvenile delinquents desist upon reaching adulthood, but some become chronic offenders that repeatedly commit serious or violent crimes. These individuals tend to have poor temperaments including antisocial behaviors, behavioral issues, and negative attitudes towards authority figures.

There is also an established link between juvenile offending and child victimization. Child maltreatment is the most significant factor in this link.

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