These investments can reduce the risk that normal adolescent tendencies will lead to drug or alcohol problems, serious delinquency, or other harmful behaviors. The committee does not think it necessary to summarize the voluminous literature on early child development and the etiology and prevention of delinquency for purposes of this report.
Instead, we focus on factors that bear most directly on adolescent involvement in criminal activity and on the optimal design and operation of the juvenile justice system. With this limited purpose in mind, we focus on the social context of adolescent development, including the influence of families, peers, schools, and organized community activities. This knowledge sheds light on why some youth get involved in crime and others do not and why most desist but a few become career criminals , and it also has important implications for designing interventions for offenders that will reduce delinquency and facilitate successful transitions to adulthood.
Research on the particular influences that promote desistance from criminal activity in adolescents who continue to offend is less well developed. A range of relevant studies point to the importance of such factors as positive romantic relationships, successful work experiences, psychosocial development, and the achievement of adult roles Laub and Sampson, ; Mulvey et al. However, considerable work still needs to be done in this area regarding the mapping of the desistance process and identification of relevant behavioral and psychological factors.
See Chapter 6 for a discussion of the implications of desistance for sanctions and intervention. The scientific literature shows that three conditions are critically important to healthy psychological development in adolescence Steinberg, Chung, and Little, The first is the presence of a parent or parent figure who is involved with the adolescent and concerned about his or her successful development.
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This adult relates to the adolescent with a combination of warmth, firmness, and encouragement of individuation—what is known as authoritative parenting. The impact of parents and other adults during adolescence can be powerful and positive. A positive relationship with a prosocial adult during this period is known to act as a protective factor against exposure to external risks and the adverse impact of that exposure.
Laird and colleagues a, b found that a positive parent-adolescent relationship in high school, as reflected by parent and adolescent reports of how much they enjoy being with each other, predicted declines in ado-. Second, healthy development is promoted by inclusion in a peer group that values and models prosocial behavior and academic success Brown et al. An antisocial peer group, in contrast, can undermine healthy development; thus, weakening the influence of a delinquent peer group is a major challenge for juvenile justice interventions.
Third, activities that contribute to autonomous decision making and critical thinking contribute to healthy development. Schools, extracurricular activities, and work settings can provide opportunities for adolescents to learn to think for themselves, develop self-reliance and self-efficacy, and improve reasoning skills. The absence of these opportunities in these settings will undermine developmental progress. First, adolescents acquire basic educational and vocational skills that allow them to function in the workplace.
Second, they acquire social skills that are the basis of intimate relationships and cooperation in groups. Finally, through normal developmental processes, adolescents begin to set personal goals and to make responsible choices without external supervision.
The process of maturation is one of reciprocal interaction between the individual and a social context that provides opportunity structures facilitating normative development. There is a vast literature on parental and other family influences on child and adolescent development. For purposes of this report, the most important aspect of parental influence relates to parental behavior that can be modified or relied on, as appropriate, in connection with juvenile justice interventions.
Parental behavior can affect the occurrence of delinquent behavior in three main ways: hostile and coercive family processes, parent-. These family factors are not exhaustive of the broad array of family influences that have been implicated in the prediction of adolescent risk taking. One of the most replicated findings in developmental research is that early physical maltreatment predicts a range of difficulties for adolescents, including increased risk for delinquent and dysregulated behavior Smith and Thornberry, ; Swanston et al.
Maltreatment is associated with earlier initiation of delinquent behaviors Rivera and Widom, , more violent offenses Lansford et al.
Numerous mechanisms account for the consistent link between early harsh parental behavior and adolescent delinquency. The developmental model of antisocial behavior of Patterson posits that behavioral undercontrol and high negative affectivity of a vulnerable child underlie oppositional behavior. This behavior, in turn, incites negative affective responses and restrictions from parents, producing increasingly aversive parent-child exchanges Patterson, ; Patterson, Reid, and Dishion, Adolescent delinquency is strongly influenced by the type of caregiving that youth receive prior to and during adolescence.
Adolescents who are raised in homes characterized by authoritative parenting i. Disengaged parenting raises the risk for adolescent problem behavior due to the absence of emotional bonding or attachment to parents and a lack of supervision and consistent behavioral control. Disengaged parents fail to provide a clear communication of parental values and also undermine motivation for adolescents to attend and comply, thus weakening their internalization of parental values and socialization Baumrind, ; Grusec and Goodnow, Consistent with this view, recent research has shown.
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Evidence suggests that the parenting context begins to shape pathways to adolescent risk taking very early in development. Keenan and Shaw explain development of antisocial behavior as the result of both individual deficits in the capacity to regulate emotions and behaviors and a caregiving environment that exacerbates these deficits by not providing the appropriate level of developmental guidance in important socialization processes.
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Contingent and sensitive responding in infancy and early childhood provides a foundation for caregivers to facilitate development of self-regulatory skills Martin, Maccoby, and Jacklin, ; Shaw, Keenan, and Vondra, ; Calkins and Johnson, ; Shaw et al. In mid- to late adolescence, parents have much less direct influence on peer group affiliation.
However, they still exert control by monitoring the whereabouts of an adolescent and ensuring that the adolescent does not spend time in unsupervised settings in which exposure to deviant peers and opportunities for delinquent behavior abound. One of the controversies in the field is whether troublesome adolescents make it difficult for their parents to monitor them—in which case parental monitoring has little causal impact on an adolescent who is destined to engage in delinquent behavior Kerr and Stattin, —or parental supervision actually controls behavior.
Longitudinal studies provide compelling evidence that parental supervision indeed matters a great deal Fletcher et al. The family context also provides socialization specific to deviant behaviors through modeling e. The onset of puberty and other biologically based changes lead early adolescents to direct greater attention toward the peer group; 85 percent of American adolescents report being a member of a peer crowd Brown, Not only do peers hold high value and exert strong influence over individual youth during adolescence, but they also spend a great deal of time with each other.
Gradually, as adolescents move into adulthood, self-regulatory skills improve and peer conformity declines.
General skill in making independent decisions and resisting peer influence increases steadily across the adolescent years Steinberg and Monahan, , so that the older adolescent becomes cognitively and socially more able to make independent decisions. However, both peers and families continue to exert influence as adolescents mature, and a key developmental task of emerging adulthood becomes balancing peer and family influences through self-regulation Arnett, Although peers are typically cast as solely negative agents in adolescent development, the fact is that the peer group as a context and specific peers as relationship partners exert mostly positive influence on adolescent development Brown et al.
Peers provide normative regulation Eder, Evans, and Parker, that defines, clarifies, maintains, and enforces norms for behavior in dyadic and group settings. For example, peers provide feedback about family rules, curfews, and privileges that help an adolescent understand when his or her behavior has gone beyond normative practice and when parents are acting normatively. Peers also provide a staging ground for the practice of social behaviors, leading to social cognitive competence and experimentation with roles, leading to identity development. Peer friendships offer an adolescent the opportunity to explore intimacy, and groups offer opportunities for leadership, competition, conformity, and rebellion.
Peers provide feedback so the adolescent can experience the consequences of trial behaviors and develop a comfortable, stable identity. Prolonged exposure to peers during adolescence without authoritative adult supervision can also have negative effects on development and behavior. The impact of the peer-centered social context on deviance has been studied in a variety of settings.
Unstructured Settings. When the peer context is unstructured and attracted to risk taking and deviance, the result can be a dramatic increase in offending. High levels of informal contact with peers without adult supervision.
The interrelation between peer influence and parental influence suggests, however, that the progression toward deviance often starts even earlier. Dishion and colleagues found that ineffective parental monitoring and supervision predicted which adolescents would gravitate toward deviant peer groups. Thus, it appears that unsupervised contact with deviant peers is the catalyst for deviant behavior, but the process starts earlier with a lack of parental supervision.
Structured Interventions. Peer influences operate not only in naturally occurring peer groups but also in groups that are assembled by adults for purposes of intervention. Aggregation of deviant adolescents with other deviant adolescents is the single most common public policy response to deviant behavior in education, juvenile justice, and mental health Dodge, Lansford, and Dishion, In juvenile justice, it occurs in detention centers, training schools, boot camps, and wilderness camps.
Over the past decade, evidence has emerged that these well-intentioned interventions have adverse effects on participants under some, but not all, conditions. Deviancy training in intervention groups is relatively likely to occur when 1 participants are of early adolescent age; 2 participants have begun a trajectory toward deviance but are not extremely deviant; 3 participants are exposed to slightly older, slightly more deviant peers; and 4 the setting is unstructured and allows for free interaction without well-trained adult supervision Dishion, Dodge, and Lansford, ; Gottfredson, This subject is explored further in Chapter 6.
Participation in a gang is perhaps the most striking case of exposure to deviant peer influences. Longitudinal studies have revealed convincingly that entering a gang is associated with increases in deviant behavior and exiting a gang is associated with subsequent decreases in deviant behavior Battin et al. These processes contribute to criminal activity during gang membership. Numerous studies have examined peer effects in neighborhood settings. Chase-Lansdale and colleagues found that once family factors are controlled, neighborhood peer effects on behavioral and academic outcomes persist but are modest.
Experimental evidence on the impact of peer group exposure in neighborhoods comes from the Moving to Opportunity study, in which economically disadvantaged families were randomly assigned to move to new neighborhoods through housing vouchers Kling and Liebman, ; Sanbonmatsu et al. As hypothesized by peer influence models, shortly after being assigned to move to less deviant neighborhoods, boys displayed fewer violent and other problem behaviors relative to control boys who stayed in neighborhoods of origin Katz, Kling, and Liebman, The long-term findings are perplexing, however.
As expected, girls who had been assigned to live in neighborhoods in which they were exposed to fewer deviant peers experienced fewer arrests for violent, property, and other crimes and improvements in well-being on several measures Kling and Liebman, However, boys who moved to less deviant neighborhoods experienced more arrests and worse behavior than control boys Kling, Ludwig, and Katz, The most persuasive finding and parsimonious explanation of this pattern but admittedly post hoc by the authors is one that is consistent with the deviant peer influence hypothesis: girls in less deviant neighborhoods participated more in team sports and structured after-school organizations, whereas boys in less deviant neighborhoods returned to interact with peers from their old neighborhoods and spent time with new peers who used drugs Orr et al.
After-school youth development programs bring together peers for ostensibly positive purposes, but they also may expose children to deviant peers Lansford, Because a disproportionate number of children who enroll in these programs come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have histories of deviant behavior, these programs offer a test of the hypothesis of deviant peer influences. Evaluation of a randomized controlled trial involving 18 centers called Community Learning Centers for elementary school children revealed that program children reported safer after-school.
Among middle school students in Community Learning Centers, experimental evidence is lacking, but analyses with statistical controls indicated that participants in these programs later had higher rates of substance use, drug dealing, and property destruction James-Burdumy et al. Mahoney and colleagues , , have reached similar conclusions following analyses of publicly funded after-school programs that aggregate deviant youth: participation in unstructured after-school programs increases antisocial behavior, and the most likely cause is exposure to deviant peer influences.
It is misleading to characterize all peer group activities as harmful, however.
Mahoney and Stattin reported that participation in highly structured activities with peers that are led by an adult and that meet regularly such as sports, music, scouts, church is associated with a lower level of antisocial outcomes, although selection effects account for these outcomes as well as participation. But a randomized controlled trial of participation in Boys and Girls Clubs which meet regularly with trained adult leaders who follow structured curricula in addition to affording structured fun activities found that participants showed higher levels of social competence than controls St.
Pierre et al.