The United Nations describes juvenile delinquency as antisocial behavior that is often a part of the “maturation and growth process and tends to disappear spontaneously in most individuals with the transition to adulthood”. Although it is true that naturally many youths do commit some kind of petty offence during their adolescence, it is also important to recognize that sometimes during this process youths create stable criminal groups that may later engage in more severe crimes. Many people have realized the necessity of preventing juvenile delinquency. Because juvenile groups exist in every local community, community-based prevention programs are ubiquitous. Federal funding for community initiatives has allowed independent groups to tackle the problem in a variety of ways.
There are numerous reasons why juvenile delinquency occurs. Socio-economic instability is often linked to unemployment and low incomes. Thus, youths who grow up in families with poor socio-economic status have an increased likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior. Geographical analysis also suggests that youth delinquency occurs more frequently in highly urbanized places than in rural locations. Youths in rural areas tend to be more dominated by their families and communities whereas urban youths are more subject to outside influences such as the media. In urban settings, the norms for acceptable behavior are broken down when unrealistic standards set by media and popular culture become a reality to many youths—forcing them to behave in ways they would not in traditional societies. Furthermore, available data shows that juvenile delinquency has strong gender associations–the crime rate of male youths is double that of females. This can be explained by the fact that society seems to be less tolerant of deviant behavior in girls than it is in boys. In patriarchal societies, aggression and violence play such important roles in the construction of masculinity that the male perception of violence can be desensitized.
To fight the negative effects of societal influences on the behavior of youths, the importance of family well-being is becoming more recognized. It seems that the most effective way to combat juvenile delinquency is to start assisting children and their families early-on. Educational programs have been developed to inform parents about how to raise successful and healthy children; inform youths on the matters of drugs, gangs, weapons, etc.; and other programs that aim to express to youths the innate worth they and all others have. These programs assist parents with raising their kids and help youths engage in positive self-appraisal.
Recreational activities are also encouraged in the fight against juvenile delinquency. These activities give youths a productive way to occupy their leisure time so they are not forced into criminal behavior. The Department of Education reports that youths are most likely to commit crimes between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., with crime rates peaking at 3 p.m. After school activities appealing to youths should reduce this phenomenon. This many include sports, dancing, music, rock climbing, drama, karate, bowling, art, etc. Community involvement is also highly recommended.
Lastly, it has also been observed that changing an urban environment (literally altering its physical features) can reduce juvenile delinquency. A study conducted in an urban town within the United States revealed that most juvenile delinquency was concentrated around the town’s only park. Thus, the layout of the park was redesigned to create more recreational alternatives to youths.
Because juvenile delinquency stems from societal influences it is important for us to introduce positive influences to combat the negative ones. This includes re-introducing family and traditional values, initiating positive recreational activities within the community, and even redesigning the physical features of the community. By diverting the attention from media and popular culture to family and community involvement, juvenile delinquency can be greatly reduced.
Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology