Juvenile delinquency is when a person below the age of eighteen years commits unlawful acts known as crimes. There are individual and sociological theories that try to explain the juvenile’s actions. In the individual theories, there are anomie, subculture, and differential opportunity theories that best explain juvenile delinquency, while in the sociological theories, there are control, social learning, and strain theories. Both individual and sociological theories have similarities and differences. In general, they differ in the reasons juveniles are delinquent.
There is anomie theory which was first written in the 1940s by Robert Merton. The theory tried to explain that juvenile delinquency happens because the juveniles lack the means to make themselves happy (Bernburg, 2019). Since their goals cannot be attained through legal means, they find their ways of attaining their goals. For example, there could be a juvenile whose dream is to get a job and purchase a nice car. The juvenile cannot afford the car since he can’t find a job and the only way out is to steal a car or the money to purchase a car.
The other theory that explains juvenile delinquency is the subculture theory. Albert Cohen developed it in 1955, and it is a culmination of several of his theories. This theory suggests that juveniles that fail to meet the social standards seek validation from a subculture. This subculture group contains other juveniles who also fail to meet their social standards. The groups, therefore, behave in a way that is unacceptable and rebel against the socially acceptable standards. Cohen says that juvenile delinquency is a product of society. The juveniles commit crimes like stealing just to fit in with their subculture.
Differential Opportunity Theory
The cohen’s theory is not fully supported by the differential opportunity theory that juveniles become delinquent when they fail to meet society’s standards. This theory was developed by Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin in 1960. They believed that opportunity plays a role in juvenile delinquency. According to Cloward and Ohlin, if these juveniles had more opportunities out there to prosper, they would less likely turn to subculture groups for validation. Again, this theory believes that other circumstances besides social factors lead to a juvenile’s delinquency.
The two believe that the juvenile may do well during their school years but fail to gain employment. That inability to get good employment can lead to juvenile delinquency and not social factors. The subculture and differential opportunity theories differ because there are reasons more than just social factors that lead to juvenile delinquency. If a juvenile is presented with more opportunities or choices in life, they wouldn’t join the subculture groups but rather be willing to succeed.
There are three major sociological theories of crime and delinquency. They include control, social learning, and strain theories (Kratcoski, Kratcoski & Kratcoski, 2019). In control theory, Hirschi argues that delinquent behavior Is rather inversely related to the controls’ presence. The controls accumulate, which leads to conformity. According to the control theory, when a person becomes more committed or attached or involved in somet5hing, they greatly bond with society. Commitment and conformity are some of the types of controls which operate. They involve being part of the school and other commitments and attachments within friends, family, and school. There is also the belief in different types of principles and values.
According to Hirschi, four elements of our bond with society prevent individuals from violating the law and behaving in deviant ways. The bonds include commitment, attachment, belief, and involvement. However, these four elements are connected to all theories of juvenile delinquency. Strain and social learning mainly focus on factors that lead individuals to commit a crime, while control theory focuses on factors that restrain juveniles from taking part in criminal activities. Control theory argues that people are different in various levels of control or the restraints faced by crime.
Social learning theory
In social learning, juveniles learn to be part of crime in the same way they learn to conform to behavior. That is through associating or being exposed to others. The biggest impact is experienced when family and peer groups get in contact with the juveniles, and it influences what they learn (Schepers, 2017). Getting associated with delinquent friends is the best predictor of delinquency. Most social learning usually involves three mechanisms described by which people learn on engaging in crime from the others, which are beliefs, differential reinforcement, and modeling.
Strain theory is based on the idea that delinquency is caused by people being unable to achieve their goals through legitimate channels. In such a case, people may turn to illegitimate goal achievement channels or strike out due to anger or frustrations. The theory states that certain strains or stressors increase the likelihood of crime. The strains lead to negative emotions, like anger and frustration, leading to the creation of pressure for corrective action, and crime is normally the one possible response.
The main difference between individual and sociological theories is that in individual theories of juvenile delinquency, the juvenile’s behavior depends on their lack of self-control. The theories explain how individuals put themselves in that situation or how individuals find themselves committing crimes by being pushed by circumstances. Sociological theories explain how social factors influence juveniles’ behavior, making them turn to crimes (Ardi & Sisin, 2018). In other words, sociological theories explain how external factors affect a juvenile, while individual theories explain how non-sociological factors or internal factors affect juvenile delinquency.
In conclusion, the theories described explaining crime personally and the social environment that includes school, community, family, peer group, and society. The theories differ from one another in various ways since they focus on different features of the social environment. They give different accounts of how and why the social environment causes crime. Others focus on explaining differences in individuals found to have committed crime while the rest try explaining group differences in crime, for example, why some communities have higher crime rates than the others.
There are values or beliefs which play a role in causing juvenile delinquency. The presence of success values or goals without obtaining them can lead to deviant behavior, and so does the absence of goals or these values that lead to a successful lifestyle. In the theories described above, values do influence a lot the mindset of a juvenile. Without values or means to obtain them, there could be repercussions in the end since that can lead to deviant behavior. It is essential to emphasize these values, the role of family, school, and the society at large in transmitting them. That is basically what ties all the structural-functional theories together.
Kratcoski, P. C., Kratcoski, L. D., & Kratcoski, P. C. (2019). Juvenile delinquency: Theory, research, and the juvenile justice process. Springer Nature.
Bernburg, J. G. (2019). Anomie theory. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Schepers, D. (2017). Causes of the causes of juvenile delinquency: Social disadvantages in the context of Situational Action Theory. European journal of criminology, 14(2), 143-159.
Ardi, Z., & Sisin, M. (2018). The contribution of assertive technique behavioral counseling to minimize the juvenile delinquency behavior. Jurnal Konseling dan Pendidikan, 6(2), 67- 77.