Statistics show that incidences of juvenile criminal behavior are on the rise in the United States. In the year 2000, for example, over 2.3 million juveniles were arrested for various criminal offenses ranging from petty theft and drug abuse to crimes of violence. This figure alone represents a 64% increase from juvenile delinquency statistics from 1980. More disturbing is the fact that the greatest increases are in the areas of violent crime such as rapes, assaults and even homicide (Everett, Chadwell and Chesney 2002).
This trend did not happen overnight. Experts agree that the seeds of youth delinquency are planted at an early age, and that juvenile crime has complex socio-economic and psychological roots. Furthermore, many crime experts argue that delinquency is also the result of a combined failure of families, schools and the greater community.
This paper argues that many social difficulties, from delinquency in school to the soaring crime rate, have its roots in the lack of strong family ties. Due to a myriad of social factors, many people are unable to fulfill their roles as parents. There are more single-parent families, for example. Economic realities force many parents to work two or more jobs. Others report that media and peer groups are competing influences in the socialization of their children.
This paper thus looks at the variety of parental training programs available for different parental needs and types of families. Such programs are important, because many parents report being overwhelmed by the economic and other allied challenges of being parents. After all, if the family is the basic unit of any society, the effects of a breakdown in the family structure will be felt in society as well.
Summary of Cassel article
Often, children who do not have access to caring family structures begin down the road to at-risk behavior. In the article "Comparing the cognitive dissonance of 116 juvenile delinquent boys with that of 215 typical high school students," Russell Cassel et al. (2003) argue that many youths who engage in delinquent behavior show high levels of "cognitive dissonance," which arises when people's needs are not met by home, family or other social aspects of their lives (Festinger, cited in Cassel et al.). The lack of family support may be due to the fact that parents work. In many single-parent families, the lack of a father figure causes great alienation among adolescent males.
As a result, these youth grow up with "feelings of discontent" or "hurts" that lay deep in their subconscious. When this "cognitive dissonance" is not addressed, at risk youths can then address their discontent through activities like vandalism, theft and drug or alcohol abuse.
The Casell et al. study shows how a lack of intellectual stimulation and emotional attachment could have significant long-term effects on a child's social development. Often, children who do not have access to caring family structures begin down the road to at-risk behavior.
To address this cognitive dissonance, Cassel et al. (2003) suggest that parents take full advantage of existing community projects for support. The best long-term solutions to the issue of youth delinquency are pro-active ones that address the problems before they escalate to criminal behavior. Towards this, community organizations could hold parenting classes to educate young parents about the importance of caring attachments with their young children. This is particularly important for young single mothers, many of whom report great difficulty fulfilling the responsibilities of providing for young children.
Such community programs are beneficial to families, especially those with lower incomes. While their higher-income counterparts can afford daycare and after-school activities and lessons, many lower-income and single parents do not have these alternatives. Training parents about the availability of community projects and the importance of making them available for their children is the first step towards ensuring that children form the necessary attachments, either to their parents or to reliable authority figures.
Such programs are even more vital for single mothers, who often find themselves overwhelmed with the demands of parenting young male teenagers. Many of these young women do not receive support from the fathers of their children and are thus forced to work longer hours to support their babies, a process that unfortunately disrupts the attachment bond. Social workers could thus facilitate programs that both educate these young women about the importance of attachment, as well as providing them with more opportunities for positive interactions with their children.
Since school performance is a great factor in at-risk status, there is a strong need for mentoring programs for youths having difficulty at school. This requires concerted efforts on the part of teachers and other educators, as well as counselors and social workers. Community-based mentoring programs therefore provide a solid supplement to the classroom experience.
Summary of Everett, Cheswell and McChesney
Similarly to Cassel's argument, Everett, Chadwell and McChesney (2002) are concerned with addressing the root problems of at-risk youth. The authors find that numerous socio-economic factors contribute to the growing numbers of at-risk youth. The main factors, however, are their poor performance in school, the lack of caring family structures and the association with peers who are already engaged in at risk behavior.
The authors hypothesize that many students do not benefit from early attachment with their parents, resulting in a flawed "internal working order." As they grow up, these children are furthered traumatized by a lack of "secondary or reparatory objects" within their community, such as teachers or other suitable mentors. These combined failures result in adolescents who are incapable of feeling empathy for others and who are suspicious or hostile to adult authority. This inability to care for others thus forms the basis of future antisocial behavior.
Everett, Chadwell and McChesney (2002) suggest the creation of recreational programs for at-risk youth. These programs are designed to meet the youth's problems with cognitive dissonance in a positive way, encouraging them to form healthy attachments with their peers and mentors. Ideally, the mentors will be parents, close family members, community members such as pastors and teachers.
One such successful project is the "Comin' Up" program in Forth Worth, Texas. Comin' Up is a midnight youth-oriented basketball league that was convened to give gang members an alternative activity to crime and violence. Since the program was initiated, Fort Worth police reported a 39% decrease in juvenile crime (Everett, Chadwell and McChesney 2002).
Again, it is crucial that parents are made aware of the importance of attachment and bonding. This will allow the parents of young children to develop strategies for building on attachment, even within time constraints. Those who have resources could build their work schedules around the needs of their children. Additionally, this knowledge could provide parents with a catalyst for making after-school arrangements with other family members or responsible adults.
For children who are already misbehaving, experts have devised several suggestions to identify the needs and address the problems of at-risk youth. These strategies demand a combined approach from the parents, families, schools and other community organizations like youth and church groups. It is in this respect that the social work profession could help in preventing juvenile delinquency and in the rehabilitation of juvenile criminals.
The success of the "Comin' Up" program in Texas shows how small, relatively easy-to-organize events can have far-reaching results. In this particular case, giving youth an outlet for their energies. When community members like social workers and educators generated much positive effects. When kept busy, children who may have been tempted turned to mischief and criminal activity instead feel more integrated into the community.
It is unfortunate that many lower-income and non-traditional families face greater challenges in the formation of attachment bonds with their children. This in turn leads to a greater chance for delinquent behavior. When the establishment of attachment is difficult, community-based programs become an even more important resource for parents of at-risk youth.
Summary of Neeley article
While some parents struggle with time constraints and others find it difficult to apply parental skills, many others engage in parental practices that inflict harm on their children. Neeley (2000) thus argues that parents need to be educated on what constitutes psychological abuse on children, and how to avoid engaging in practices that could have long-term damaging effects.
Neeley (2000) explains that psychological abuse runs the gamut from neglect to severe mistreatment. Emotional neglect occurs through "subtle or blatant acts of omission or commission," when the adult guardian is somehow unable to provide a child with the nurturing, stimulation and protection (Whiting, qtd in Neeley 2000). This includes the lack of emotional and intellectual stimulation. When this happens, the affected children lose a crucial component needed for their optimal development.
However, while neglect can have reprehensible consequences, it should also be noted that emotional neglect could be caused by well-meaning adults. Many parents, for example, are constrained from attending to their child's emotional needs because of the need to work. Others can simply be overwhelmed, or may not know how to properly stimulate their children.