Juvenile delinquency is concerned with criminal behavior by individuals regarded by law as minors. In recent times, the United States has witnessed higher levels of delinquent behavior by its youth, prompting criminologists to probe its causes and effects. In the United States, juvenile delinquency is caused by rational choice, differential association, strain theory, social disorganization and labeling, and leads to problems such as teenage pregnancies, school dropouts and ill-health.
There are several documented theoretical causes of criminal behavior in juveniles. One of these is rational choice, which asserts that delinquent behavior among youngsters emanates from the offender, as opposed to influences by the external environment. This theory emphasizes that the youth are motivated by the desire to fulfill their self-interests and any antisocial and criminal acts that they commit are the results of free will (Eadie and Morley 552).
Another cause of juvenile delinquency has been identified to be differential association. This theory looks at the youth in the context of groups and tries to explain the influence that peer pressure and the reality of the existence of gangs has on children or youths in general. This theory explains that the youth’s main motivation to juvenile delinquency is peer pressure and that young people are taught criminal skills by the peers they associate with. There exists very strong evidence to collaborate this as it has been observed that children who associate with criminal peers tend to indulge in more criminal activities than those that have non-criminal friends.
The strain theory, associated with the work of Robert Merton, is another common theory that explains the causes of juvenile delinquency (Burfeind and Bartusch 230). According to Merton, crime is a consequence of the hurdles that poor people face in their quest to satisfy their needs and accomplish valued objectives through legally accepted channels (Eadie and Morley 552). Therefore, in an attempt to accomplish their targeted goals, the youth turn to crime.
Yet another identified cause of juvenile delinquency is social disorganization. This theory stresses that crime observed among the youth is a direct result of the breakdown of social structures and institutions such as the family and communal relationships, which placed a lot of emphasis on cooperation and helping one another in the society.
Labeling also explains the cause of juvenile delinquency. Once a youngster has been labeled criminal and antisocial, he or she accepts that label, and seeks associations with others with similar labels (Eddie and Morley 552).
One of the effects of juvenile delinquency is increased rates of teenage pregnancies (Eddie and Morley 556). Delinquent girls, or those associating with delinquent boys, are more likely to develop early and unplanned pregnancies than girls with no criminal records or associations.
Juvenile delinquency also leads to high school dropout rates (Eddie and Morley 555). Among children engaging in delinquent behaviors such as drug abuse, the school dropout rates are significantly higher than non-delinquent youngsters (Eddie and Morley 555). The overall performance of delinquent children in school is also lower.
Yet another major effect of delinquency in youth is a reduction in physical, social and psychological health. Delinquent children are highly likely to indulge in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, consequently leading to high transmission rates of STIs that affect the health of these children (Eddie and Morley 556). Abuse of drugs also leads to difficulties in social interactions as well as physical deformities and psychological problems.
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Burfeind, James, and Dawn Bartusch. Juvenile delinquency: An Integrated Approach. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2010. Print.
Eadie, T., and Morley R. Crime, Justice and Punishment: Social Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.