What are the Social Development Theories in Juvenile Delinquency?


Social theories are tools used by social scientists to study and describe societal occurrences. There are many different social theories created to describe social phenomena, and there are a few that relate to juvenile delinquency. While no one theory can explain the cause of juvenile delinquency, these theories, when combined, can give social scientists, educators and parents insight into the problem.

What is Juvenile Delinquency?

  • Juvenile delinquency is when a juvenile fails to do what the law or duty requires and engages in delinquent acts, such as substance abuse, crime, truancy, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school and acts of violence. Delinquents usually have poor relationships with family, peers, schoolteachers and other members of authority. Unfortunately, statistics show that minorities, lower class juveniles and those from broken homes are more likely to commit delinquent acts.

Conflict Theory

  • Drawing from Marxist theories, conflict theorists believe that crime is the cause of social and economic forces within a society. They believe the the rich and powerful run the criminal justice system, while courts and jails are full of the poor and powerless. Morality and laws are placed upon the disadvantaged by the powerful, with no say from the disadvantaged groups. Conflict theorists see some crimes as revolt rather delinquency. Some students may have protests, sit-ins, steal from the "rich" or steal merely to survive poverty and a low socioeconomic status. The focus of this theory is to stop victimizing criminals, focus on crimes committed by the rich and powerful classes and stopping crimes before they happen.

Social Learning Theory

  • This theory posits that juveniles engage in crime the same way they conform to other behaviors -- by watching and modeling others' behavior. The social learning theory is based of Albert Bandura's social development theories. A juvenile's family and peer group are the most important models of behavior and they teach him how he should interact with the world. Association with delinquent friends is the biggest predictor of future delinquency in juveniles. Other indicators of juvenile delinquency include the reinforcement of criminal behavior by infrequent punishment. If crime is more reinforced than other positive, alternative behaviors, it will continue.

Social Disorganization Theory

  • The social disorganization theory refers to the failure of social institutions or social organizations, such as schools, businesses and police stations, in communities or neighborhoods. Shaw and McKay posit that the following concepts are a part of the social disorganization theory. Crime and delinquency are caused by social factors. Components of the society are unstable and thereby cause disorganization and conflict. Instability and its effect is worse for those in lower classes. Finally, human nature is basically good but vulnerable to temptation. Juveniles in lower classes have no other opportunities than to join in the chaos and disorganization offered to them.


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