Family Structure Leading Juvenile Delinquency


Family structure provides a background in understanding juvenile delinquency. Youths from different households exhibit variations to delinquent behavior due to the different family processes and socialization factors that influence their lives as they grow (Bernard& Vold, 2010). The family provides the best environment where youths are encouraged to conform to acceptable norms through the close parent-child relationship and discipline standards. Parents monitor behavior of their children for the purpose of developing their character into responsible adults. Effective disciplinary strategies are employed in correcting misdeeds. When children are brought up by both parents, behavior is reinforced through sustained and concerted supervision, monitoring and disciplinary strategies as compare to single parent family. Tendency to exhibit delinquent behavior is increased in children brought up by a single parent due to the weaker social bond that exists between the parent and the children.

According to Hirschi’s social control theory, children engage in delinquent behavior due to poor association in the family structure. A strong relationship between parent and child acts as a deterrent to delinquent behavior (Ball, Cullen& Lilly, 2007). The quality of the relationship between parent and child matters when reinforcing acceptable behavior. Children who are closely attached to their parent are expected to exhibit less delinquency than their colleagues from weaker unions. As such, children who share a strong social bond with their single parents become less susceptible to delinquency than those with both parents but lacking an intimate relationship. Individuals who participate in delinquency lack a solid bond with their parents as far as conformity and belief to established norms is concerned

Single parenthood and juvenile delinquency

The process of developing a strong attachment between parent and child is favored when both parents exist in the family. The single parent encounters impediments when developing social bonds with children due to the absence of the other parent. The single parent household is deficient of the contribution from the missing partner which complicates the parental attachment with children when exercising supervision, control and socialization (Glueck, 2007). The composition of the family is therefore important in shaping children’s behavior towards acceptable norms. Two parents are privileged to have more opportunities to guide and counsel their children than the single parent counterparts. Single parents may be concerned about the welfare and behavior of their children but are restricted by time. They have to prioritize between the task of attending to their children and other life demands such as their jobs and careers. The single parent thus lacks enough time to offer support, affection and guidance to their children.

Consequently, children in single parent households tend to experiment with delinquency due to lack of experience and parental supervision. The absence of the other parent in single parent households creates loopholes for children to engage in deviant behavior because they are not effectively monitored and counseled. According to the family crisis model, circumstances that lead to parents separating contribute exclusively to juvenile delinquency (Senna& Siegel, 2007). The likelihood of children brought up in a previous dual-parent household to engage in delinquency as a result of parents separating is high. When families are disrupted by divorce, death or sickness, children suffer from stress, emotional resentment and fear. As such, family crisis propels children to participate in anti-social behavior coupled to the weakened family bond with their separated parents.

Divorce presents a favorable environment for delinquent behavior to develop among children. Children living with a divorced parent harbor feelings of resentment and betrayal towards their parents. Death of a parent leaves children traumatized, anxious and depressed. However, the social bond between children and their deceased parent remains firm in solidarity of the prevailing circumstances surrounding the death. Children actually express sympathy with one another and their remaining parent. On the other hand, divorce frustrates the confidence that children have on their parents. Differences that exist between parents that could lead to divorce are not legitimate concerns to their children who may be too young to comprehend them.

As such, juvenile delinquency is more likely to occur in a family structure with features of divorce and separation than in dual parent units or parents who have never married (Eisner, 2008). Family attachment is stronger in a family structure with both parents and in single parent units where the parent has never married. The economic strain model further proposes a close relationship between deviant behaviors and disrupted family structure. Youths rendered disadvantaged by a family crisis such as divorce also face economic and financial hardships. Family disruption leads to loss of finances creating economic gaps on the income of the subsequent single parent families. Children find it difficult to adjust with the new economic situation in the family coupled to the resultant social stigma that accompanies divorce and separation.

Single parents also strain financially as a result of the loss of family treasures. As such, single parents may not afford to offer their children extracurricular recreational facilities that could occupy their free time away from the temptations of delinquency. Family disruptions may also compel the single-parent families to relocate to lower-income estates where they can afford to pay rent. The disadvantage of living in lower-income informal settlements lies in the risk of exposing children to delinquent behavior through the influence of criminal gangs. Children become easily enticed by cheap alternatives to earn a living such as prostitution and drug trafficking. This is because children find solace by interacting with deviant peers where they develop antisocial behavior from their friends. Girls appear more vulnerable than boys when family disruption occurs.

Females respond to the family crisis by internalizing antisocial behavior through depression, suicidal tendencies and substance abuse (Thompson& Bynum, 2006). On the other hand, boys living with their single mothers are likely to externalize deviant behavior through criminal activities. Family disruption weakens important family functions such as communication, parental attachment and supervision that could inhibit juvenile delinquency in a traditional dual-parent set up. The combination of a disrupted family structure and poor household socioeconomic status favors juvenile delinquency.

Female head

Delinquent behavior among youths in disrupted families is more apparent where the single parent is the mother. Generally, mothers express much affection and love to their children as compared to paternal parents. As such, less maternal supervision is witnessed despite of the strong maternal attachment in such single parent households. Maternal supervision and control is stronger in dual-parent households due to the warm relationship that exists between parents (Wood& Geismar, 2006). On the other hand, maternal supervision decreases in divorced households and worsens in single families where the mother has never married. It is apparent that children under single-parent families are left on their own since the absence of one parent appears to create loopholes in the family structure and social bonds.

Young parents and juvenile delinquency

When divorce occurred in a family with young children, parental attachment progressively weakened as the children grow up resulting in deviant behavior. The single parent is likely to experience rejection from inquisitive children keen to unravel their family status. If divorce happened when the children had reached adolescence, there is considerable family bond already developed between parents and their children. As such, parental attachment after divorce is determined by the previous relationship that existed in the family. Young parents are also less experienced on behavioral matters especially when delinquency is an issue. The single young mother with less socio-economic status is bound to find cases of delinquency by her children confusing and frustrating to handle.

The problem of juvenile delinquency among children in single households with young mothers is compounded when the mother remarries (Friedman& Pollak, 2009). Children are more likely to engage in cases of indiscipline and delinquency in expressing resentment with their divorced mother and their step father. The step father may not make up for the divorced biological father to children as far as modeling their behavior is concerned. The family bond is also not effectively restored in the new marriage. The step father is actually perceived by the children to be an intruder in the family who has ostensibly taken advantage of their vulnerable mother for exploitation. The situation is even worsened when step father brings on board his children. The process of synchronizing the two families is much more difficult than if they were independent. The task of instilling discipline, exercising control, supervision and monitoring behavior becomes even more enormous.

Step father may not have express rights to discipline children from the mother and vice versa. It is the parents that shall benefit from the relationship as a result of their intimacy while children resort to their peer groups for company and support. Delinquent behavior then develops through the influence of deviant peers because their socialization is enhanced by their mutual concerns on dysfunctional family backgrounds (Bartusch& Burfeind, 2006). Children from the step father and those from the step mother also lead independent lives. Guidance and counseling is therefore necessary in uniting the two families into a working relationship.

Family size

There is greater tendency to misbehavior among larger families than smaller ones. The task of monitoring behavior becomes enormous upon parents having more children than their counterparts with fewer. The level of socio-economic status in a larger family is much lesser than smaller families due to the higher number of dependants. Delinquent behavior is more likely to occur among children in families with lower socio-economic status and larger family size. However, a single parent with one child is capable of not only providing material support to the family but also monitoring behavior trends of the child. A child is thus exposed to lower social control in a single-parent family than in families with both parents.

Social disorganization, family disruption & juvenile delinquency

Socialization is important for the wellbeing of children (Regoli, Poole& Lotz, 2007). The family provides the right social environment to develop positive behavior among children. Children tend to emulate their parents’ behavior as their immediate role models. Since they are inexperienced in different life issues, children find their parents as the ultimate role models whose behavior, attributes and practices need to be assimilated into their own character. Parents actually influence their children in decision making, problem solving and career development. Children born to adolescent mothers are likely to become criminals especially due to poor parenting as well as wrong modeling. The combination of extreme poverty and poor grooming presents challenging situation to such children who often have to provide for themselves. They are also more likely to abuse drugs to escape from reality than children living with both parents with lucrative jobs to provide for them.

A social setting characterized by broken homes and disrupted families distorts morally acceptable behavior. Youths in such society become disgruntled and deviant in their behavior due to poor social controls in families and society in general. The equilibrium shifts between criminality and morally accepted norms depending on the social groups that are developed around either behaviors (Bernard& Vold, 2010). Each of these behaviors are essentially reinforced or discouraged by the society itself. Reward systems established by the society to promote positive behavior reinforces non-criminal trends while punishment discourages wrong character formation that could lead to criminality. In essence people living within a particular setting are capable of promoting criminal behavior or discouraging it. Peers could encourage one another to adopt positive behavior or degrade each other to criminality through their social interaction groups.

In addition family members have the ability to shun criminal tendencies among their relatives or otherwise promote negative behavior by harboring criminal elements within their set up. Dual-parent households are cherished by the society. This set up is believed to provide the best environment when fighting juvenile delinquency. Both parents provide stewardship and care to their children through affection and sustained supervision of their behavior. Behavior is also developed through modeling whereby members within a social group are capable of adopting a certain behavior through learning from one another (Ball, Cullen& Lilly, 2007). When an elder brother within a family resorts to drinking or robbery, then a younger brother may equally pick up the criminal trait if this behavior is not discouraged at family level. The brothers are likely to become drunkards or robbers by interacting with each other since they are close to one another.

Criminal behavior could therefore be reinforced in favor of typical good behavior depending on the socialization process and reward systems that exist in a structured society. Members of a particular peer group obtain the justifications to engage in criminality when one of them goes unpunished after committing deviant behavior. The social control theory through the Hirschi’s social bond theory states that deviant behavior develops as a result of social disorganization within a society. The theory typically explains that everyone is capable of engaging in a crime. However, people are related to one another through family, friends and other members of the society who expect them to behave in a particular manner. The structure of the family therefore serves as the basis for developing ethical and morals for its members (Glueck, 2007).

As such typical members of a society deviate from criminal behavior from the background that they are afraid of the manner in which their close relations will judge their reputation. When social bonds get broken for instance after a divorce in a family, individual members of that family emerge with peculiar characters which may include criminality. This theory therefore seeks to clarify that the associations which exist between people and not just their cultures define their individual mannerisms. People are attached through their friends, family and other members of the society at workplace, schools and even churches who determine their character development.

From this social structure, people develop their governing principles and norms. As a result, individual members of the society learn to adhere to their own rules and regulations as well as those in authority. However, criminality is occasioned by the disintegration of these social structures either through war, divorce or general riots. Parents enduring an abusive marriage characterized by domestic violence and substance abuse could disintegrate into single units leaving children at the center of the confusion. Deviant behavior among children may develop around habits of either parent in both single and dual-parent households.

Commitment is the personal conviction and determination of the individual groups and members of a society to fulfill their obligations in relation to the expectations of the society (Senna& Siegel, 2007). When there is no commitment towards achieving a common purpose and vision by any of the members of a society, criminal behavior emerges. People who are committed to genuine means to accomplish their goals in life encourage their colleagues to follow suit. A stable family structure is characterized by the members’ commitment to acceptable norms and legitimate means to earn a living. Whether the family is composed of one or both parents does not matter but the inherent solid bond/attachment that exists between family members.

Involvement is characterized by the different activities that community members engage in for the purpose of strengthening their bonds in the society. These activities are also meant to discourage deviation to criminal behavior by uniting society members towards a common goal in life. A typical family structure is strengthened through their involvement in communal activities such family-get-together, birthday parties, outings and recreational activities. Families where both parents guide their children through practical activities are more socially inclined to acceptable norms than disrupted families without the motivation and support to model each other’s behavior (Eisner, 2008).

A family structure with both parents is economically favored to support bonding initiatives such as sports and parties that improve the process of socialization between their members. Single parents may find it exorbitant to take children to extracurricular entertainment joints. This is because the single parent is alone in budgeting family finances in addition to the task of parenting. Children being raised by the single parent therefore seek for external peers for friends and recreation. Deviant peers with enough pocket money to hang out in social joints bring on board their buddies from poor backgrounds in order to have fun. Eventually, deviant behavior is learned and acquired in the process of interaction and socialization between naïve children without resources and their rich deviant comrades.

Members of a particular society also share a common belief system that distinguishes them from the others. Youths who resort to engage in crime do not have a close attachment to their guardians or parents. As such, they succumb to pressure from criminal gangs of which they associate with to commit crimes. Children who have been raised up by both parents adopt a definite character typical of their background and their community beliefs. The relationships that exist between criminals are the driving factor for their specific behavior since they commit crimes with the backing of their gang. Social interactions therefore establish social order within the society by eliminating deviant behavior which does comply with the norms of the society (Thompson& Bynum, 2006).

Breakdown of social bonds forms the platform for anti-social behavior characterized by criminality. Higher incidences of single families weaken informal social controls in the society for monitoring behavior of children. Peer groups are therefore left unsupervised due to absence of responsible adults in the neighborhoods to guide them on proper behavior. Family disruption is therefore one of the prime factors mediating social disorganization and juvenile delinquency. Consequently, the society comprised of many single parents lacks role models that can monitor behavior within the family as well as the neighborhood. Single families headed by female parents are also prone to high cases of juvenile delinquency. Female parents find it difficult to control behavior of their children because they tend to be emotionally overwhelmed by complex situations such as juvenile delinquency. The absence of the other male parent to reinforce disciplinary interventions weakens supervision of behavior in the family. The female parent is also likely to be overwhelmed physically by her stronger and masculine sons when administering discipline.

Paternal head of single-parent family

Single households made up of the male parent alone are bound to experience serious cases of juvenile delinquency. The male parent is bound to exert a patriarchal control over children which could lead to discomfort especially among girls (Wood& Geismar, 2006). The absence of the compassionate love from the mother could lead to deviant behavior characterized by hard-line positions. Some male parents could apply harsh disciplinary methods which damage emotional and psychological development of their children. Children who are emotionally disturbed could resort to drunkard ness and other antisocial behavior in order to run away from their painful feelings and emptiness. The situation in such patriarchal single household becomes worse when the father remarries. Children find it difficult to forgive their father for divorcing their mother. They may also be constrained from interacting fully with their step mother due to the previous attachment with their divorced mother.

Juvenile delinquency therefore results when children living with their remarried father express resentment over the divorce/separation and the subsequent “social injustice” of bringing a “strange woman” to replace their mother into the family (Friedman& Pollak, 2009). Cases of children taking sides with either parent after divorce are likely to establish the foundation for future criminal tendencies and juvenile delinquency. It is equally difficult to reconcile the children with their step mother in order to establish proper environment for shaping their behavior. The situation is compounded when the other mother brings on board her own children. Both parents with no direct biological bond with either child are bound to suffer resentment which could transcend to juvenile delinquency and serious criminal behavior.


Family structure presents different relationships to juvenile delinquency with family disruption as the lowest common denominator. The type of social bond that exists between parents and their children is important when monitoring behavior, exercising control and administering discipline. Single parent households face more challenges as far as supervision and control of their children behavior is concerned. A typical family structure composed of both parents serves as the best set up for modeling acceptable in children in addition to alleviating juvenile delinquency. The socio-economic status of the family is also very crucial in understanding the contributing factors to deviant behavior. The level of social organization in a society provides insight on the values that parents and children should uphold in their socialization process (Bartusch& Burfeind, 2006). Modeling and control of behavior is based on the socially acceptable norms.

Reference list

Ball, R. A., Cullen, F. T. & Lilly, J. R. (2007). Criminological theory: context and consequences. London: SAGE Publications.

Bartusch, D. J. & Burfeind, J. W. (2006). Juvenile delinquency: an integrated approach Criminal justice illuminated. New York: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Bernard, T. J. & Vold, G. B. (2010).Theoretical criminology. Michigan: Oxford University Press.

Eisner, V. (2008).The delinquency label: the epidemiology of Juvenile delinquency. California: Random House.

Friedman, A. S. & Pollak, O. (2009). Family dynamics and female sexual delinquency Science and behavior books. Washington: Science and Behavior Books.

Glueck, S. (2007).The problem of delinquency. California: Houghton Mifflin.

Regoli, R. M., & Poole, E. D. & Lotz, R. (2007). Juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice. Michigan: Random House.

Senna, J. J. & Siegel, L. J. (2007). Juvenile delinquency: theory, practice, and law. Michigan: West Publication Company.

Thompson, W. E. & Bynum, J. E. (2006).Juvenile delinquency: a sociological approach. London: Allyn and Bacon.

Wood, K. M. & Geismar, L. L. (2006). Family and delinquency: resocializing the young offender. New York: Human Sciences Press.

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