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Peer Pressure And Juvenile Delinquency

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INTRODUCTION: A Definition of Juvenile Delinquency 

            Juvenile delinquency, as defined by Regoli and Hewitt (2006), refers to the criminal acts and status offenses performed by juveniles, or those that are not of legal age. Since they are still minors, most legal systems require specific procedures (such as the provision of special detention centers) in dealing with the juveniles.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† In the United States of America, a juvenile delinquent, aside from a person not having reached the legal age, is also a person whose behavior has been labeled ‚Äúdelinquent‚ÄĚ by a court. According to Regoli and Hewitt, (2006), the requirements differ from one state to another. However, the federal government came up with a legislation to ensure that the handling of juvenile delinquents is the same for all the cases in all states. This legislation is known as the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Act of 1975.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The following are the factors which more often than not, push teenagers to perform delinquent acts, as cited by the article Juvenile Delinquency ‚Äď Prevention ‚Äď Care and Cure (n.d.):

  1. abandonment
  2. social institutions
  3. peer pressure
  4. physical abuse
  5. sexual abuse
  6. psychological abuse

            This paper shall look into juvenile delinquency as a social problem, the sociological theories that explain its causes and finally, the relationship between juvenile delinquency and peer pressure.

Juvenile Delinquency as a Social Problem and the Theories that Explain its Causes

            In the mid 1990s, juvenile delinquency and teenage suicide increased at an alarming rate. It is because of this, that majority of the people are now accusing young people as a source of social problem. Recently, many people perceive young people as a group of easily-agitated gangsters, equipped with the potential ability and desire to disrupt the present social order (Young People as A Social Problem, 2002).

            With the aforementioned situations, the article entitled Young People as a Social Problem (2002) asks the question on whether it is right in blaming the youth for the atrocities they commit that in one way or another cause the degradation of the society? Or are they just victims of the social disorder which cause them to perform delinquent acts? The statistics on juvenile delinquency mentions that most of the delinquents say that peer pressure and loneliness are usually the reasons why they commit offenses to the society. More often than not, those who engage in these acts are those youth who have been suffering from unresolved emotional disturbances (Youth as a Social Problem, 2002).

            This paper would prove that the lack of parental care, caused by the business of parents contributes so much to the prevalence of juvenile delinquency. The lack of attention received from the latter would only prove that their children could not communicate properly with them. Instead, they teenagers would turn to their friends to fill in the care that they have wanted to receive from their parents. At the same time, the parents also fail to acknowledge the needs of their children.

            As this situation continues on, the parent and the child begin to doubt each other and the gap between them widens. Conflicts could easily arise between them and as a result, causes the teenager to rebel against the grownups (Youth as a Social Problem, 2002) which is seen to be the youth’s revolt against the social order that has been created for them.

            Aside from this, according to the article entitled Youth as a Social Problem (2002), their vulnerability to peer pressure is considered as another factor in the perception of many that they teenagers are indeed, a social problem. They would usually turn to their friends when they could no longer find the senses of security and conformity inside their homes or in school. More often than not, these peer groups do not just provide mutual emotional and academic support to one another. Instead, they had been infiltrated by misbehaved youth that use these groups to enjoin others to participate in delinquent acts (such as the taking of drugs).

            The problem of juvenile delinquency is one of the social problems that the United States of America is currently experiencing. According to Zappen (n.d.), there are various factors which contribute to the understanding of why someone engages in delinquent behavior. Although biological and psychological factors contribute so much to the understanding of this problem, social factors could best describe and explain the prevalence of juvenile delinquency in the society.

            In explaining juvenile delinquency, one must consider the difference between crime and delinquency. Crime is usually an act that breaks the criminal code which is created by the society through written law. On the other hand, delinquency often involves act or acts that only break the so-called cultural laws and norms. Likewise, it is often related with breaking of laws as a result of the absence of positive social ties or bonds (Zappen, n.d.). The following paragraphs would discuss the different theories that explain the causes of juvenile delinquency as perceived by sociologists and criminologists.

Rational Choice Theory

            The Rational Choice theory is supported by those who view that juvenile delinquency from a perspective that is individual based. Calhoun, Light and Keller (1989) mentions that psychologists who support the rational theory believe that juvenile delinquency is committed by the people who do not know what they are doing. In fact, deviance is usually a product of high rational calculation of risk and awards. More often than not, they consider the chances of getting caught before they engage in an action (Calhoun, Light & Keller, 1989).

            In spite of this, however, these juveniles do not choose the actions that are rational. The values of juveniles, according to Zappen (n.d.) are usually different from that of the adults as the former are known to act without thinking. Their actions usually result from acting against an authority or rebelling against the cultural norms and goals.


            According to Robert K. Merton, as cited in Tomovic (1979), the first step in the logic of functional approach… is to establish certain functional requirements of the organisms or (social systems)… requirements which must be satisfied if the organism (or social system) is to survive, or to operate with some degree of effectiveness. Relating functionalism to juvenile delinquency, the supporters of this theory sees crime and delinquency as a function or creation of a society that serves a purpose (Zappen, n.d.).

            Generally, functionalists argue that crimes and other delinquencies lead to social change as not all deviances negatively affect the society. There are certain events considered as deviance to the social norms at a certain time in history which have actually affected the society in a good way. An example of which is the revolutionary wars in Great Britain and the United States of America. Although they were considered as acts of treason, these events lead to the period in the history of mankind which is of great importance and influence to the modern times, the Enlightenment, as mentioned by Zappen (n.d.).

            As a result, the structure of the society could also contribute so much to the prevalence of delinquency on their society. At the same time, it could also result from a conflict in the society, as the Conflict Theory suggests.

Social Learning Theory or the Differential Association Theory

            This particular theory states that crime is learned behavior. According to Leighninger (1996), people learn criminal behavior through the groups with which they associate. If a person associates with more groups that define criminal behavior as acceptable than groups that define criminal behavior as unacceptable, the person will probably engage in criminal behavior. On the other hand, Calhoun, Light and Keller (1989), describes juvenile delinquency as a product of socialization in the same way as their conformance to the norms are also produced by socialization. This just goes to show that a deviant behavior of a certain juvenile is usually leaned from the people around him or her, such as the members of his/her family, peers, schoolmates or any other person that this juvenile interacts with. As a result, the family members and the peers are considered to be one of the most powerful agents in socialization. Therefore, if a certain minor grew around delinquent peers, one can also learn the activities of their peers and be much more prone to engaging in criminal activity (Zappen, n.d.).

Social Factors that Play very Important Roles in Influencing Juvenile Delinquency

Zappen (n.d.) and Shader (n.d.) cite the following societal factors or units within the society that are applicable within the theories that were mentioned. In relation with the discussion on the Social Learning theory, families, peers, schools and socioeconomic status are the social factors that should be considered in examining the social problem being discussed by this paper.

  1. Family Structure

            Poor parenting skills, family size, home discord, the maltreatment of children and parents who are antisocial are the family characteristics that Zappen (n.d.) and Shader (n.d.) associate with juvenile delinquency. Shader (n.d.) cites the study conducted by McCord (1979) as an example. The study included 250 boys. Of the respondents, 10 were involved in violent offenses as influenced by the following factors: poor parental supervision, parental conflict, and parental aggression, which include harsh and punitive discipline. In the same manner, the study of McCord, Widom and Crowell (2001) as also stated by Shader (n.d.), mentions that the children being raised by single parents are most likely to be delinquents. At the same time, socioeconomic conditions and the number of children are also factors that contribute to the prevalence of juvenile delinquency cases.

  1. Peer Influences

            Shader (n.d.) and Zappen (n.d.) also mentions that there are many studies which examine the relationship between the involvement of a person in a delinquent peer group and delinquent behavior. According to another study mentioned by Shader (n.d.), that conducted by Lipsey and Derzon (1998), one of the variables that contribute so much to juvenile delinquency is the presence of their antisocial friends. On the other hand, McCord, et. al (2001), as once again cited in Shader (n.d.), mentions that: factors such  as peer delinquent behavior, peer approval of delinquent behavior, attachment or allegiance to peers, time spent with peers and peer pressure for deviance have all been associated with adolescent antisocial behavior.  

Maladaptive behaviours, according to Naqvi (2006), are mostly learned under peer pressure. It is from his or her peers that a child aquires a vocabulary of abusive language. His or her behavior in class are usually supported or encouraged by his peer groups as well.  These behavior are not usually present when a child is not with his peer group as he would never engage himself into these kinds of misbehaviors when he is alone.

Furthermore, the time spent with peers who disapprove behavior that are delinquent may prevent teenagers from committing behavior that are considered delinquent. Shader (n.d.) also cites the results of the study conducted by Steinberg in 1987: The influence of peers and their acceptance of delinquent behavior are significant, and this relationship is magnified when youth have little interaction with their parents.

            The Social Learning Theory of the Differential Association Theory is considered the best theory in explaining the relationship between peer pressure and juvenile delinquency as it explains the role of the people around a delinquent in influencing him or her to act in a certain way.

            Some people have seen peer pressure as a blessing because of the fact the socialization is not possible unless a child is interacting with Mesosystem of his environment (Naqvi, 2006). The author knows that the development of children in isolation is unhealthy. The development of a child in isolation would not just impair his or her ability to interact effectively with other but at the same time, affect her mental abilities as well.

            Naqvi (2006) also sees peer pressure as an important aspect which contributes to the self-awareness of a person. It is through the pressure that he or she experiences from his or her peers that his or her awareness of his or her own individuality is made known. The child then begins to understand and know him or herself together with the perception of the society regarding these behaviors.


            Juvenile delinquency, adventures, and law breaking acts according to Naqvi (2006 are more commonly performed in the presence of peer groups rather than when a teenager is alone. According to Naqvi (2006), the teenagers perform these delinquent acts for the sake of adventure, planning them after getting inspired with supense stories or thriller movies.  In such cases one biologically delinquent individual incite four non-delinquents and make them real threat for the peace of society. Psychologically when one is supported by some others his capability to take risk begets double and he can do miracles that can never be expected when he was alone, Naqvi (2006) states. 

            Without a doubt, the group of friends to which one person belongs to plays a very important role in influencing their lives. As a matter of fact, their want to belong and fit in the group becomes necessary for them to let themselves be influenced or pressured by their friends. This contributes so much to the susceptibility of teenagers to peer pressure. However, Mullens (2004) suggests another factor which contributes to the vulnerability of teenagers to peer pressure.

Juvenile Delinquency, according to Mullens (2004) and as established by the previous sections of this paper is affected by the family structure of a certain teenager. An intact home, or those that are being run by two parents (one male, one female) is one of the most influential institutions on children. The loss of one parent, either through death, divorce, separation or desertion, causes it to be classified as broken (Mullens, 2004). Generally, a complete family also serves as a natural support system and a barrier against outside forces attempting to negatively influence children, as mentioned by Stern, et al. (1984) Thus, an intact family structure has found to influence a child’s susceptibility to peer pressure, contribute the development of these children to the development and adaptation in the society and finally, reduce the tendency of the children to get involved with delinquency issues. Mullens (2004) also suggests that the susceptibility to negative peer pressure leads a teenager to commit acts of delinquency which is once again, a result of a broken family.

            Although intact, the failure of the parents to watch over their children contributes so much to the involvement of the latter in delinquent activities. It is advisable that parents watch over their children and become well acquainted with the latter’s friends and at the same time, know what they are up to every time they go out together. For teenagers do things in groups that they will not do individually. This is of course, very true in the case of teens in groups where peer pressure and the feeling of wanting to belong becomes very strong. Thus, parent supervision becomes very important. They should also be able to set guidelines for children and check them once in awhile to ensure that they do not get involved in activities which are illegal. Usually teenagers tell their parents that they will stay over at a friend’s house when they would actually spend the night somewhere else. This is what usually happens, as cited by the Logan County’s article on Juvenile Delinquency. As the parents do not know that their teenagers are involved in activities that are considered delinquent, they are usually surprised when they learn about this.

            Thus, in order to prevent juvenile delinquency, parents are enjoined to look after their teenagers, especially the activities that they share with their group of friends. It is in doing this that they would be assured that their children are not up to something illegal. In the same manner, they should also set guidelines for their children to follow so as to prevent them from commiting delinquent acts.

            The rejection one felt from his or her peers could also cause a teenager to get engaged in deviant acts. Usually, the rejected child associates himself or himself with deviant peer groups and gangs. According to Loeber, Farrington and Petechuk (2003), gang membership provides a ready source of co-offenders for juvenile delinquency and reflects the greatest degree of deviant peer influence on offending.

Matza (2004) does not agree with the act that subcultures of delinquency maintain and independent set of values and beliefs than the moral culture. These delinquents do consider the values and the goals of their society but they do not want to share these with their peers in fear of being frowned upon. Matza (1964) says that these feelings remain unconscious, or subterranean, because delinquents fear expressing such beliefs to their peers.

            Naqvi (2006) also states that the data obtained from the United States of America regarding aggression, assault and delinquency are often results of peer pressure. Friends are usually the ones who are supportive off one another with regard to expressing wrath, sexual activities, etc. According to Naqvi (2006), the US data for theft and pick-pocketers also reveal that they started such acts because the members of their peer groups are also doing it.


            Gilber (1993) claims that personality type often determines the response of a certain person to peer pressure as shown by the results obtained from a study of 300 institutionalized delinquent boys. The respondents of the study were trained in schools which make use of positive peer culture programs which make use of peer pressure (sometimes as a negative force) to generate positive group and individual behavior (Gilbert, 1993). However, the researchers from the University of Nebraska who were involved with this study said that not all boys responded to peer pressure equally.

            According to the study that has been mentioned in the article of Gilber (1993), the delinquents who were characterized as secure, outgoing and likeable were the ones who responded best to peer pressure. They were the ones who responded very well to the autonomy and responsibility that the researchers gave them. In contrast, those who were insecure, anxious and depressed were the ones who responded to counselors and teachers who were more friendly and caring.

            According to the researchers who were involved in this study, one of the biggest problem that they have encountered in this study is the perception of the respondents that everyone else were as violent, frightening, committed to delinquent acts than they were. As a result, the boys being studied felt obligated to have the same image as the other ones.

CONCLUSION: The Effects of Peer Pressure on Juvenile Delinquency           

The delinquent commit acts for two important reasons as Matza (1964) states. One is from the so-called sounding from members of his peer group. Sounding is often perceived as an insult, or an imputation of negative characteristics, as defined by Ryan (1999). Offense usually happens when the one on the receiving side takes it seriously. However, sounding is not always negative. It could also mean a person is bad or down with it, as once again defined by Matza (1964). Nonetheless, sounding pushes a juvenile to get engaged in delinquent acts.

            A juvenile delinquent is said to have a hard time in controlling the circumstances that surround their acts and the evident outcome of such. However, he or she may still choose to engage in these acts, as Matza (1964) makes clear. In spite of this, the delinquent may still choose to engage in these acts which lead them to violate the social norms. The juvenile then seeks support from his or her own peers but will not be able to find it, only seeing pressure to commit the act despite the perceived negative results. More often than not, the delinquent commits these acts because of his or her want to enter another stage of his life, adulthood.

            Generally, teenagers commit delinquent because they would want to please their peers and at the same time, prevent rejection. More often than not, it is related with the want and need to belong although there are times, as stated by Matza (1964) and Ryan (1999), committing such acts allows a person to go on to the next stage of his or her life, adulthood.

            Peer pressure always has two kinds of effects: negative and positive. There are times when it allows for the discovery of his or her identity through the discovery of what behavior is generally acceptable or unacceptable based on their interaction with their peers. However, these interactions could also push them in committing delinquent acts to prevent rejection and to feel the sense of conformity and security that they do not often find at home.

            Teenagers turn to their friends and peer groups due to the fact that their families are no longer intact, that they could not communicate with their parents anymore and that they could no longer receive support from them. Their peer groups now become the basis of their identity which then leads them to committing delinquent acts when they allow themselves to be influenced in a negative way.


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