What social or environmental factors influence the type and extent of juvenile delinquency in New York State?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Many theories have been developed to explain juvenile delinquency, and those theories will hold true no matter what specific location you are analyzing. One major theory concerns family structure. While it has been said that parents can't be blamed for everything, evidence has also shown that family structure plays a significant role in the development of a child's character. Research points out that by the early 1960s, "one of every four black families was headed by a woman who was divorced, separated from her husband, or abandoned"; this was especially the case with low-income families (Wickliffe, "Why Juveniles Commit Crimes"). More importantly, today's middle class families all resemble the low-income family structure that developed in the early 1960s. As a result, many children are left home alone, which "creates an emotional vacuum" in which the child grows up "without any values or goals" (Wickliffe). Researchers point out that how much control parents have over the children, what responsibilities children are given, or what privileges children are given all work to shape a child's character and help dictate how the child will behave. Even more, parents' own "attitudes and actions" will also naturally influence their children's attitudes and actions (Wickliffe). Hence, if a child grows up in a broken home or in a home in which the child does not receive enough parental attention and support, that child will more than likely become a juvenile delinquent.

Studies conducted on children put in psychiatric clinics for displaying anti-social behavior have found that a high percentage of their fathers also displayed behavioral problems. For example, 36% of their fathers were alcoholics; 21% had "poor work habits"; 26% were guilty of neglect; 20% were guilty of abuse; and 23% were deemed "psychologically disturbed or mentally handicapped", while 48% of their mothers were also deemed "psychologically disturbed or mentally handicapped" (Wickliffe). Hence, we see clearly from such studies that the behavior and problems of parents will directly influence children, leading to delinquent behavior. A second study that focused on African American children showed that parents who were convicted of crimes also had children convicted of crimes. What's more, the children were often convicted at a similar rate as their parents and convicted of similar crimes, showing us that family structure and parental influence will always be a primary cause of juvenile delinquency.

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