Juvenile delinquency has become a pressing social problem that has seen the lives of many young people ruined. Juvenile delinquency is the practice of participating in illegal activities by the minors. Now, much attention is devoted to the young people in an effort to bring the practice to an end. According to Schroeder, Osgood, and Oghia (2010), the minors participating in the juvenile delinquency are usually between the ages of 10 and 18. The illegal acts committed by juvenile delinquents are usually termed as delinquent acts rather than crimes. Understanding the reasons behind the existence of juvenile delinquency is significant for controlling and bringing it to an end. This can be done first of all by gaining a sociological perspective on the practice through the assessment of social control theories of delinquency. Further, gaining knowledge on the impact of this sociological problem can equally be essential in preventing it. Juvenile delinquency is a social problem that has had a negative impact on the young people and society at large. For this reason, it is imperative to gain an understanding as to the reasons behind its occurrence, its impacts, and means of overcoming it.
Understanding Juvenile Delinquency
It is clear that the issue of juvenile delinquency has become a prevalent issue and the point of concern. Parents, teachers, and the justice system representatives have raised their concern with regards to the impact of juvenile delinquency as asserted by Schroeder, Osgood, and Oghia (2010). In order to gain a complete understanding of juvenile delinquency, the early development of the practice has to be explained. The specific age at which a minor can be regarded as a juvenile is at an age as young as 6 to 12 years (Schroeder, Osgood, & Oghia, 2010). It is during this age range that early problem behaviors leading to juvenile delinquency manifest. Some of these problem behaviors include aggression and chronic violations of rules in schools and at home. As delinquents grow older, their behavior worsens and escalates into criminal offenses, such as rape, theft and robbery, and assault. Moore (2011) opines that in most cases, it is juveniles between the ages of 12 and 17 that are more likely to participate in these kinds of activity. A more in-depth understanding of juvenile delinquency can be achieved through various sociological theories. It is equally significant to note the specific impact of this practice on all parties affected. This knowledge will be essential in developing a solution that will be used to overcome juvenile delinquency and its impacts.
Theories of Juvenile Delinquency
A theoretical perspective on juvenile delinquency is one way of identifying the reasons behind the practice. Structural-functional theories can be used in this case. According to Moore (2011), these theories perceive delinquent behavior as a result of strains and ultimate breakdowns in social processes responsible for conformity. By placing focus on such social institutions as family and school, which are tasked with ensuring that people conform their behavior to societal values, structural-functional theories aim to show that it is the failure of these institutions to accomplish their duty of ensuring conformity that has led to the rise of the concept of juvenile delinquency.
Anomie theory is an example of a structural-functional theory that can be used to explain juvenile delinquency. The anomie theory asserts that there is a faulty relationship between societal goals and the legitimate way of attaining them. This theory explains the concept of juvenile delinquency in terms of the reason why adolescents become delinquents and why some classes are characterized as more likely to become delinquent. In this regard, it is assumed that members of the lower class are more likely to become delinquent because of the disparity between societal goals and the means of attaining them. Moore (2011) explains that in a bid to achieve societal goals, such as living in a good house or dressing in a respectable way, young people turn to wrong means of achieving this, for example theft.
Sub-cultural theory is another structural-functional theory that can be applied in an endeavor to comprehend the development of juvenile delinquency among the youths. Group-based adaptations are a significant concept of the sub-cultural theory that is consequential in the inclination towards juvenile delinquency. This is because group-based adaptations fail to successfully attain goals, which results in a delinquent sub-culture. What this means is that children belonging to the underclass are potential members of the delinquent sub-culture since they experience failure to achieve their goals when they start studying at school. This failure to achieve a particular aim is a result of middle class expectations being used as a measuring rod of success. The consequence of this is failure of the underclass children to reach the expectation of middle class, thus bringing a delinquent sub-culture that acts as an alternative set of values the underclass children can meet.
The differential opportunity theory is another structural-functional theory that explains the reasons behind juvenile delinquency. This theory focuses on illegitimate opportunities available to individuals seeking a way out of the underclass as an explanation of why many of them become delinquent. This implies that in a societal context, people’s ability to solve adjustment problems they are facing depends upon relative access to legitimate systems. Therefore, in a situation when one has little or no access to illegal or criminal means, they cannot adapt to criminal behavior.
The Impact of Juvenile Delinquency
The youth who are the participants of juvenile delinquency, their families, and society are negatively impacted by consequences of the criminal activity. In this regard, the impact of juvenile delinquency is felt in both human and economic ways and is explained by Saminsky (2010).
Loss is a profound impact of juvenile delinquency. This can impact both victims of juvenile delinquent acts and a juvenile delinquent who commits the acts. The first form of loss is loss of life. In some instances, juvenile delinquent acts can result in severe aggression levels by a delinquent that has the potential to bring death whether accidental or intentional. The number of juveniles arrested for murder and non-negligent manslaughter has increased significantly recently. Loss in the form of death can take place when a delinquent murders a victim in rage or when the victim murders the delinquent as they protect themselves from them. Loss may also be in form of property loss. This can be done by the delinquents through such acts as theft, vandalism, arson, or violence. Also, loss can be in form of loss of freedom. When juvenile delinquents are apprehended for their crimes, some of which as serious as murder, they are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.
Besides the juvenile delinquent and direct victim of their offending behavior, family is also impacted by the consequences of juvenile delinquent behavior. In the first place, the emotional trauma and upheaval that is brought as a consequence of a family member being a juvenile delinquent becomes too much to bear for the rest of the members of the family. In this regard, the family is placed in a painful position of having to bear with the difficulties of the delinquents and with large amounts of money needed to repay and meet the cost of the damage the delinquent makes to other people and their property. Further, families have to withstand negative perception from their communities that the delinquent provokes with their deeds.
The community is also impacted by the actions of juvenile delinquents. This is because of the correlation between juvenile delinquency and a number of vices. For instance, there is a strong correlation between juvenile delinquency and vices, such as drug use, gang activities, and inappropriate sexual behavior. These vices are constant issues that are affecting communities by making them unsafe and equally costing them much as public money is used to bring them to an end.
Addressing and Overcoming Juvenile Delinquency
The menace of juvenile delinquency can be eliminated through implementation of various significant plans of actions by societal authorities, such as the justice system, schools, families, and religious institutions. Thus, addressing and preventing juvenile delinquency can be accomplished in the following ways according to Saminsky (2010).
The authority of family in parents is instrumental in addressing juvenile delinquency. This is especially significant given the fact that many delinquents become this way as a consequence of family problems emanating from abuse and neglect. Therefore, parents should always provide attention for their children. This involves assessing any change in behavior and finding the root cause. It can also be accomplished through prevention of some of the issues influencing children to turn to delinquency. That is why parents should protect their children from child abuse and also avoid neglecting them. It is also imperative for parents to be vigilant with regard to what their children are exposed to in the media. This is more so in the current age of the Internet. This should be done through close monitoring of what children are viewing on the Internet and the media.
Establishment of a strong religious foundation is significant in addressing the problem of juvenile delinquency. Religions, despite the distinct differences in many of their ideologies, are equally helpful when it comes to adaptation of positive values. When religious values that encourage children to live positive lives are instilled into them, they are less likely to engage in unlawful acts and adapt to behavior that will result in them becoming delinquents. This should be done from the early age to prevent future problems with failing to do so.
Schools can also play a significant role in the prevention of juvenile delinquency through a number of ways. Saminsky (2010) explains that schools should introduce subject matter counseling that can be used to help children undergoing difficult situations to prevent them from turning to delinquency as a coping method. Schools can also establish model programs that will help parents raise their children in a good way. Some of these model programs can be developed for children to teach them about drug abuse, sex, gangs, and weapons and their negative impacts. This will be effective in providing the youth with an awareness of the fact that their actions have consequences.
The justice system can develop juvenile delinquency prevention programs as a way of addressing this problem. Instead of the justice system profiling youths that enter its system as a potential threat to the society, it is best to develop means through which the justice system can provide intervention assistance to these youths. Thus, in the care of the state through the justice system, youths who have become juvenile delinquents should be able to receive drug rehabilitation assistance, counseling, and even educational opportunities. This way, the justice system, instead of placing focus on punishing delinquent youths, should focus more on preparing them to re-enter the community.
In conclusion, juvenile delinquency remains a social problem that is yet to be fully addressed since it has considerable negative impacts on the delinquents themselves and society. The use of sociological theories is effective in gaining an understanding of the reasons why young people become delinquents. The theories of anomie, sub-cultural and differential opportunity theory are essential in attaining this understanding. It is the role of social authorities, such as family, religious and learning institutions, and the justice system, to bring changes and address the problem of juvenile delinquency in order to save the youth who are the future.