Juvenile delinquent behavior is one of the most important issues we face as a nation in this new millennium. Despite the social awareness, juvenile delinquency is on the rise; case in pointthe tragic killing that occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado. This gives much cause for concern. Juvenile crime is increasingly more sophisticated and its participants are becoming younger. Gun violence has spread out from urban centers into suburbia. Drug and alcohol use among adolescents has reached epidemic proportions.
How can we solve the problem of adolescent delinquent behavior ? Many times the punishment for juvenile delinquency does not fit the crime. The issues surrounding juvenile delinquency today may well hinge on our understanding of how a teenager who commits crime thinks and behaves. How do we recognize criminal behavior in juveniles? It is possible that biological factors play a role in the criminal behavior of a juvenile offender. How can we even defend the theory of pure mind and physical body shape of adolescence to determine the factor that leads to delinquent behavior? How can we analyze the cause that relates to the delinquent act? It is likely, but no empirical data supports the belief that juveniles have biological inheritance that causes their delinquency. However, one may argue the fact that as adolescents go through stages of development, their physical shape tends to resemble that of other juvenile delinquents who, perhaps, have similar physical characteristics, and who might have been committing juvenile crimes. As a result, we tend to assume the probability that the next juvenile with the same physical shape will also be a juvenile delinquent. Although this is a possibility, it is an unlikely one. The quotation from Julius Caesar embodies a very old belief:
Let me have men about me that are fat; sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’nights. Yond’ Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much; Such men are dangerous.
Act 1, Scene II
This quotation antedates Shakespeare by at least 3,500 years. It is found in Egyptian writings, in Homer’s epics, in the Hippocratic and Galenic doctrines of medicine, and in the bible.
@1H:What is a juvenile delinquent?
As I began to examine adolescent criminal behavior, I found that there was no formal definition of adolescent behavior, in part because the word “delinquent” was derived from a legal term to associate bad behavior being conducted by juveniles. In the real legal meaning, a delinquent is an adolescent who is being officially processed by the juvenile court and judged by the court to be a delinquent. A delinquent is anyone who has broken a criminal law, while a status offender is a juvenile who has violated a law applicable to juveniles only. However, whether it is a status or a criminal law violation, juveniles are subject to juvenile court jurisdiction once they break the laws applied to the status (kinds, degrees) of their offenses.
The legal definition for status offender is for those under the age of 18 years. California, for example, has a statute that falls under what is called the “Welfare and Institution Code.” Sections 601 and 602 of this code summarize the state’s legal definitions of juveniles and delinquents to be:
Any person under the age of 18 years who persistently or habitually refuses to obey the reasonable and proper orders or directions. Any person who is a habitual truant from school within the meaning of the law of the state.
Although the interpretations differ from state to state, the premise is the same. There is no uniform definition, and it is easier for juveniles to be arrested and be labeled a delinquent. The court considers juveniles to be dangerous when their behavior patterns violate the law within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
Sociologists have had a tendency to base their findings on statistics without a concern for how the label “delinquency” gets applied to those children in trouble. Sociologist Paul W. Tappan believes that juvenile delinquents can be recognized by analyzing their behaviors. He identified juvenile behaviors by looking into their norms and why they change and become delinquent
Despite the statistical data on juvenile behavior, there seems to be serious shortcomings in the validity of the analysis and understanding of juvenile crime. There are limitations in the “unknown relationship” between the number of crimes actually committed, the number of those reported to the police, and the number of those so reported actually recorded and reported by the police.
Defining who is a delinquent and who is not is a matter of norms and culture of the society in which we live. What may be deemed a delinquent act in Africa may well be acceptable behavior in another part of the world. Juveniles acquire culture and behavior through relationships with other people and conform strictly to the rules by listening, observing, and imitating. In the course of socialization, the child (juvenile) learns rules and what to expect and accepts those behaviors as standard rules in order to function. Knowing the rules allows a child to determine what he/she will do in a given situation. Knowing the norms makes a child select a right way to do things or the wrong way, if he/she chooses to. Juvenile delinquents deviate from some of the rules to such a degree that society takes action against them. We do not have universal conformity for how we behave. There are differences in values, attitudes, and life experiences. Family, school, peer groupeach has its own values, born of its own experiences.
Erikson states that there are eight stages of development in the life of every individual, and if handled well, will produce:
Trust instead of mistrust. A child who has comfort and warmth of being held closely and securely will learn to trust the world, others and self. This would be a healthy personality that is not delinquency prone.2
An important aspect of the socialization process and an insulator to delinquency is the quality and process of interaction between parent and child. If communication breaks down at any point, it could lead toward delinquent behavior.