It can be said that no single period of time during childhood or adolescence is any more critical than another for preventing delinquency.  What is one theory that supports this claim?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The social development model (SDM) is one theory that most clearly shows the entire period of childhood development, both in childhood and in adolescence, directly connects to the prevention of juvenile delinquency, as opposed to any specific time period. The SDM was developed in 1996 by Richard Catalano, Rick Kosterman, and J. David Hawkins in their study titled "Modeling the Etiology of Adolescent Substance Use: A Test of the Social Development Model," published in J Drug Issues.

The SDM theory posits that the "social unit" to which a child is "most firmly bonded" is directly responsible for influencing the ways in which the child acts and the beliefs held by the child (as cited in Cohen, "The Social Development Model," Research Starters: Academic Topic Overviews, East China Normal University). A social unit can be considered a family, a group of peers, or even a neighborhood. Since social units influence a child's behavior, behavior can be influenced at any point in time, regardless of age. And, if the social unit should change in any way, behavior will also change.

The SDM theory asserts that the more social interactions a child has, the more the child will develop social skills; and, the more these skills are reinforced, the more the child will use these skills. As the child socially interacts with those around him/her, that child forms an emotional bond with those people. Once the bond is formed, the bond will influence the child's behavior because the child will want to conform to the behavior exhibited by the social unit. Catalano further argued that a child will develop social skills throughout four periods of development: (1) while being raised at home or while in preschool; (2) while in elementary school; (3) while in middle school; and (4) while in high school. Also, the social unit to which the child feels bonded to will change as the child develops. For example, the child will feel a bond to the family unit during the early years of development but will feel more closely bonded to his/her peers during the school-aged years (Cohen). As the child develops, the child will learn "either prosocial or antisocial behavioral patterns" depending on if the behavior exhibited by the social unit to which he/she feels bonded exhibits either prosocial or antisocial behavior (Cohen).