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In fact, this theory does well to explain the prevalence of modern youth gangs. First, gang members oftentimes engage in behavior that is absolutely contrary to the norms and rules that they have learned at home, but, because of a lack of belief in society, at large, they allow themselves to discard those norms. Therefore, delinquents are "free to engage in virtually any opportunity for deviant behavior that presents itself." (Simon, Simon, & Wallace, 2004, p. 22). In addition, social control theory does not suggest that being friends with a delinquent leads to delinquency; on the contrary, it suggests that people seek out the companionship of similar people, so that delinquents will frequently seek out the company of other delinquents. Therefore, delinquents will flock together and will be willing to commit a wide-range of delinquent behaviors. Moreover, they may become bonded to the gang in a way that they were unable to bond to straight society, with relationships, commitment to gang-oriented goals, involvement in gang-related activities, and a belief in the gang way of life. Therefore, one can see how a gang can quickly come to influence a child's behavior even more than the child's family.
However, it still seems logical that a child's family would have a tremendous influence on behavior. Gerald Patterson's coercion model demonstrates how mutual training between a parent and a child can lead to juvenile delinquency. They believe that delinquency and crime have their root in an irritable, explosive parent who engages in verbally abusive behavior towards a child, even when the child is exhibiting neutral behavior. The child responds to the verbal abuse in an angry and defiant manner, which creates a spiral of negative behavior. The parent's response escalates the child's antisocial behavior, while the child's response escalates the inept parenting. At least half of the time, the parent capitulates, which teaches the child that he can get his way if he is nasty enough. This teaches the child to be oppositional and defiant, and they carry this behavior into interactions with others. Moreover, this behavior works, because most people give in to hostility and bullying, which only further reinforces the child's antisocial tendencies. "Although the behavior of the antisocial child often leads to immediate or short-term rewards, the long-term effect is usually quite different. Conventional youth do not want to play with someone who uses aggression and defiance to get his way. Thus the long-term consequence of the antisocial child's aversive behavior is rejection by conventional peers." (Simon, Simon, & Wallace, 2004, p. 51). The result is that antisocial children form peer groups, and are tolerant of each other's antisocial behavior, which gives these kids the context to experiment with deviant behaviors.
It is difficult to determine which theory is more applicable to the development of delinquency, and that difficulty may be due to the fact that there is no single cause of delinquent behavior. It is unrealistic to suggest that an urban minority child from a disadvantaged socio-economic group would have the same experience as a suburban white child from an advantaged socio-economic group. However, members of both groups do become delinquents. In addition, not all delinquents come from families with parenting problems or attachment issues, which makes it difficult to believe in a theory of social control or the coercion model. However, the social control model seems more intuitive, because it emphasizes the importance of society, as a whole, on the development of the child. This makes sense in the context of increasing rates of juvenile delinquency, because, while many families are dysfunctional, the rates of actual dysfunction are probably not greater than the rates in past generations. On the contrary, society has remained isolating and unwelcoming for many children, even those many would consider privileged, which leads to a lack of bonding. It makes sense that these children, who may not feel that they have anything positive to contribute to the world, end up choosing to be a negative force.
Simon, R., Simon, L., & L. Wallace. (2004). Families, Delinquency and Crime: Linking…[continue]
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