One respondent remembered with mild embarrassment a time when he was caught shoplifting a candy bar. He was 7 years old and was in a convenience mart with his mother. He asked her if she would buy him a Snickers Bar and she refused. She told him she didn't have the money for it right then. Therefore, when she turned her back, he grabbed a Snickers Bar and stuffed it into his pocket. He looked around nervously but didn't think anybody saw him. As they approached the register, a clerk approached the boy and asked him sternly if he had anything he wanted to confess. The boy was immediately overcome with guilt and turned over the candy bar. Of course, his mother was furious, apologized to the clerk and grounded him from playing for a week.
Clearly, this experience would reflect Gottfredson and Hirschi's low self-control theory. The respondent was at the developmental stage where his impulse control failed him. He failed to think of the consequences and in that moment was driven only by the thought that he wanted that candy bar. Naturally, this would be a tremendous learning experience for the boy, who reported during the interview that he never stole another thing, remaining highly conscious of the consequences. This denotes that his development experiences have taught him the self-control that eventually solidifies around consideration of the consequences of one's actions in non-criminal adults.
Another interesting story came from a young man who remembered that when he was in 5th and 6th grade, it was considered a badge of honor to climb on to the roof of the school. It was a one-story elementary school that could be scaled by climbing up onto a window-unit air condition. The roof, the respondent said, was filled with tennis balls, Frisbees and other objects lost during recess. Essentially, he said this was an 'all the cool kids are doing it' sort of thing. Though he would never do it now, he said that it was considered a cultural norm to climb on the roof during the weekends and play, though it was also done knowing full well that police officers might arrive at any minute to put an end to this fun.
The respondent's experience corresponds with the Differential Association Theory, in which Sutherland argues that individual actors will be inclined by their cultural and social associations. In his case, the respondent indicated that for the boys especially, there was a normative pressure to show that you were not afraid to climb on the roof of the school. Moreover, there was a sense that this action was somehow justified because everybody had done it. The notion that 'everybody' engages in this deviant behavior proceeds from a differential association such that the limited social context from which this association is drawn produces the impression that the activity is actually normal and universal.
With respect to the third respondent, this young woman would report to sneaking into R-Rated movies with her friends in junior high. In fact, she told the story of going to the theatre to see a violent action film with her two best friends and having the usher actually walk down the aisle, find them, and eject them from a theatre in the middle of the movie. From her perspective, there was no harm in seeing R-Rated movies, and it was her view that everybody did this. Again, this reflects the implications of the Differential Association Theory. Within the context of her generation, age group and culture, sneaking into R-Rated movies was an accepted and sensible act. She would also state that the only harm was in potentially getting caught, and indicated that she never really thought of that until after it happened. In this respect, there is also some degree of the Self-Control Theory invoked, suggesting that the respondent may not have developed the type of impulse control to prevent her from engaging in socially deviant activities such as this as an adult.
Gottfredson, M.R. & Hirschi, T. (1990). A General Theory of Crime. Stanford University Press.
Mork, B. (2006). Differential Association Theory. University of Minnesota, Duluth.
Wrights, B. (2008). Gottfredson and Hirschi's Low Self-Control Theory;…