We cannot always place the blame on parents. But the structure within the family household could determine the extent of delinquency manifested by a juvenile. Family relationships, duties, responsibilities and privileges, and the amount of control exercised over children all play roles in forming character and influencing behavior. The attitudes and actions of parents can create an important influence in the lives of children. Families in crisis will most likely affect the behavior of juveniles. If one member of a family becomes sick, schizophrenic, or alcoholic, a child may react based on the family’s structural problems. Psychologist Eric Berman gives a cogent description of a family in crisis and the effect on a child.7 In an article adapted from his book, Scapegoat, Berman tells how an eight-year-old boy’s personal problems and subsequent behavior resulted from an effort to repress the family’s basic problem:
During the year, Roscoe’s father had been sick with a
heart condition and now was on the brink of death.
Open heart surgery was his only hope, and the doctors
Gave him a few months to live.
Despite the tragic implications of these circumstances and the fact that the child’s father could die at any time, the family never talked about his condition or their own future. When crisis occurs in a family, children have no power or choice other than to suffer the consequences. But when they do try to fight back, it is likely to land them in the courts or in a setting for emotionally disturbed children.
The family is, therefore, an important factor in the forces that determine delinquency. The family determines a child’s class, structure, and development, and the nourishing process is vital to formation of a child’s development. Family exerts the most influence on a human being. Any severe disturbance in one or both parents can produce a devastating negative impact on a juvenile.
The family influence on roles and norms which juveniles follow comes through the socialization process that the individual experiences as part of the family culture. We could assume that children or juveniles would conform strictly to the rules taught in the family setting. However, that does not always work out. Adolescentsand even adultsdeviate from rules. The single parent family setting could still prepare the child for family roles, but it was less effective in preparing children for their adult roles in society and the community. In most cases, a one-parent family, whether the result of divorce, desertion or death, consists of a mother and children living together. The mother often finds it difficult to provide sustenance and guidance, and the absence of a father leaves the male children without an adult male role model. Absence of family as a unit could affect childhood and how children socialize. Where the family fails, other socializing agencies will take on an increasing role in a child’s life.
Sometimes families have a tendency to contribute to delinquent behavior. Conflict between parents who are demonstrating opposing ideas or a parental pattern of “Don’t do as I do; but do as I say,” may indirectly teach lessons that were completely opposite those intended. This form of indirect learning by observing negative parental role models is a factor that causes delinquency. Several studies explain the considerable impact of a negative parental role.
1. Robins (1966) did a follow-up study of white children referred to a psychiatric clinic for “anti-social behavior.” The percentages of fathers displaying a variety of problem behaviors thought to be associated with criminality included: excessive drinking36%; poor work habits21%; non-support or neglect26%; physical cruelty20%. In addition, 48% of the mothers and 23% of the fathers were psychologically disturbed or mentally handicapped.
2. Robins, West, and Herjanic (1975) studied black children. They found that convicted parents tended to have convicted children and, as juveniles, to have had similar rates and types of offenses. They cited the example of Nathaniel Abrahams, a young black boy who has experienced many disappointments from his parents. Nathaniel rebelled and began to commit crimes at the age of eleven. He killed, robbed and flashed guns to intimidate. He was later arrested and charged with adult crime.
Children are exposed to neighborhood modeling influences, at times favorable to criminal attitudes and behaviors. It is also impossible to separate out bad genes from either parental examples of criminal behavior or inadequate parenting which is likely to connect with childhood delinquency. But when a child rebels for his/her own personal reason or feeling, which may be unknown, that could become a mystery.