Labeling Theory and Its Specific Term Paper

  • Length: 16 pages
  • Sources: 20
  • Subject: Children
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #73190981

Excerpt from Term Paper :

This in turn more often than not leads the stigmatized to acquire more and more deviant and possibly criminal identities (Lanier & Henry, 1998).

There can, of course, be other antecedents prior to labeling that can enhance the process of delinquency in juveniles. Mental and/or psychological impairments must also be considered as a contributing factor. Certain of these attributes can also contribute to highly suggestible levels in regards to behavior and allow socially sensitive entities to be easily swayed by stigma and stereotype.

Such deficits in neuropsychological functioning, such as self-control (especially impulse control), may serve to maintain antisocial behaviour throughout life. In contrast... antisocial behaviour that emerges during adolescence is, on this account, the result of an individual reaching biological maturity prior to reaching social maturity (where he or she has legal access to such liberties to consume alcohol, and operate a motor vehicle). (Carroll, Hemingway, Bower, Ashman, Houghton & Durkin, 2006)

To those that are waking a razor's edge of sanity, what may be considered healthy daydreams and fantasies that alleviate tension may be the precursors of adverse reactions to stigmatization and create the acting out of criminal scenarios. "What is cleansing to a healthy mind may overwhelm a less balanced psyche" (Robertz, 2007, p. 58). These seem to be the possible reactions associated with the current seemingly accelerated levels of violence taking place in schools.

One study purports three neuropsycholoigcal factors that can contribute to the increased stigmatization of labeling in juveniles. This is called this PEN-model (Van Dam, De Bruyn & Janssens, 2007) and it shows the following three factors that are linked to criminality in juveniles:

1. Psychoticism (P): impulsive, egocentric, cold, aggressive, unempathic, and tough minded

2. Extraversion (E): sociable, active, lively, sensation-seeking, carefree, dominant, surgent, assertive, and venturesome.

3. Neuroticism (N): anxious, depressed, moody, shy, tense, irrational, guilt feeling, low self-esteem, and emotional.

According to this study most juvenile delinquents score high on all three dimensions. It must be pointed out that these traits are independent and biologically-based rather that sociologically adapted. These factors also tend to create a personality that is often much less sensitive to punishment by caregivers or the justice system. This can ultimately result in poor conscience development and sociopathic tendencies.

That being said, while PEN may be a predictor of a tendency to evaluate a juvenile's environment in a more negative fashion, the adding of labeling and the stigmatization of stereotyping youthful offenders would certainly add to the overall profile of a blooming career criminal. There are, of course, opposing ideas to this framework. Some believe that labeling theorist are missing a larger piece of the puzzle when they attribute overwhelming importance to the stigma imposed by society and the labeling framework. The initial incentive for rule breaking may be caused by many sources, but labeling theorists have a tendency to believe that ongoing rule breaking is the conceptualizing of a poor self-image from labeling bias. Taylor, Walton and Young believe this in an error and that the, "labeling model fails to seriously consider the possibility that deviant behavior may be persisted in even when the rule-breaker has every opportunity to return to the status of non-deviant because of a positive attachment to rule-breaking" (1988, p. 154). However, labeling theory can certainly explain a great deal of this behavior, not only from a self-concept point-of-view, but also in regards to the view that the criminal justice system imposes upon labeling juvenile offender, more on this particular aspect in a later section of this report.

There are many theories as to why children and adolescents succumb to criminal behavior and in general there are three predictors as regards their environment. These are family, peer, and attitudinal variables (Hoge, Andrews & Leschied, 1994). It must be recognized that wide ranges of personal and situational factors are involved in juvenile delinquency. These factors often interact in complicated ways and a one theory fits all attitude may not apply. But certainly labeling, and the consequent stigma it presents in the juvenile, is a strong predictor and perpetuator of ongoing criminal personas.

Although the role of the family on child behavior is an important one, the contribution of the child's cognitive and social behavior cannot be underestimated...Both overall social skills and extreme levels of child problem behavior fit well within the framework of existing literature. Social skills problems such as difficulty developing pro-social interpersonal relationships, difficulty with peers and teachers, and an inability to interact well with adults, including police officers and other authority figures, have been associated with later delinquency (Mann & Reynolds, 2006)

This is a crucial concept in labeling. Once the juvenile has been labeled (even the word juvenile has negative connotations) as exhibiting criminal behavior, no matter how minor the infraction, the stigma begins and is often perpetuated by the adults in authority an in a power position over the youth. This then lends a jaundiced eye to the attitudes of authority when dealing with the offender and certainly may influence the scales regarding the depth of the punishment involved. The cycle begins, the youth sees it as a "me against them" campaign and begins to expect the same treatment and usually is not disappointed (Tittle & Grasmick, 1997). This can also apply to groups as well as individuals. Some groups can be more stigmatized than others, much as an individual can be and it is important to remember this when looking at particular cases (Link & Phelan, 2001).

The juvenile's self-concept of the situation is that there is no need to bother to even try to obey the laws since they expect me to fail, and he or she often does not disappoint this expectation.

Etiological statements of labeling theory focus on the negative consequences of labeling an individual as delinquent (Lemert 1951, 1972; Tannenbaum 1938). The response of the community -- initially parents, peers, and teachers, and later, members of the juvenile justice system -- to initial acts of primary deviance is to label the youth as "bad" or "delinquent." (Bartusch & Matsueda, 1996, p. 148)

Bartush and Matdueda in their article, Gender, Reflected Appraisals, and Labeling: A Cross-Group Test of an Interactionist Theory of Delinquency, go on to point out that for the most part these labels are by no means random or haphazard. They are more likely than not to be applied to the disenfranchised in the community. Labels and stereotypes are more easily placed on the poor, the powerless and disadvantaged by authority figures who claim that anyone should be able to lift themselves up by their own bootstrap and that there must be something wrong with them if they cannot. In this case juveniles who have actually committed criminal offenses and are labeled delinquents may be looked at in the same way that the justice and authority systems look at the disadvantaged and poor. Constituting, as the authors put it, "The falsely accused" (Bartusch & Matsueda, 1996, p. 148).

Since the labeling argument is concerned mainly with individual ability to resist sanctions imposed by authorities, it suggests that those youth of lower socioeconomic status, minority racial or ethnic status, and from non-intact homes will more likely be severely sanctioned regardless of strictly legal considerations such as the seriousness of the offense. This is so because such youth are presumably disadvantaged in marshalling resources on their own behalves. (Curran, 1988, p. 29)

According to labeling theory males are more likely to be victims of labeling than females. This is a two-part dilemma in that the data bears out that males are more likely to engage in rule breaking behavior than females. However, this may be caused in part because the common view of delinquency is portrayed as a very male oriented phenomenon. Interestingly, even though the incidence for labeling is lower for females, this stigmatization is seen to affect females more strongly. Generalizing that females are often more relationship oriented than males, they may be more vulnerable or more aware of the consequences of both positive and negative labeling (Bartusch & Matsueda, 1996).

The attitudes and acceptance or rejection by peers through labeling is also a strong predictor of criminal outcomes in youth. Early educational experiences, the negative impact by teachers and peers in school, have been sited as having direct connections to later criminal and rule-breaking behavior. "Some studies have identified a peer effect on delinquency, where the peer group influences individual participation in delinquent behavior, which influences the later onset of delinquency" (Mann & Reynolds, 2006).

While doing poorly in school may have many variables associated with the child, certainly the reaction of others and the discouragement or encouragement by those in authority has a direct impact on the way the student perceives him or herself. This has been found to have not only societal but far reaching career goal impact as well. Conversely, positive labeling at an early age and continued positive encouragement by peers and caregivers and other authority figures has a tremendous influence in the further prevention…

Online Sources Used in Document:

Cite This Term Paper:

"Labeling Theory And Its Specific" (2008, February 01) Retrieved February 8, 2017, from

"Labeling Theory And Its Specific" 01 February 2008. Web.8 February. 2017. <>

"Labeling Theory And Its Specific", 01 February 2008, Accessed.8 February. 2017,