Chapter 9 –Delinquency and the Family


Learning resources: (1) single-parent statistics; (2) Kids count data center


Note: the statistics that begin this chapter reveal that all is not well within the American family. Note especially that around one-fourth of all homicides involve family members


n  Myths of the Family

n  family as a “haven in a heartless world

n  stable and harmonious family of the past

n  the monolithic family form

n  an undifferentiated family experience

n  family breakdown as the cause of social problems


Family in Contemporary Society


n  Despite talk about the importance of “family values,” recent policies have done more harm than good for families

n  vacation time for workers has been reduced

n  workers put in more hours per year than their European counterparts

n  maternity leave is almost non-existent

n  “contact time” parents have with their children has declined by about 40% since the 1960s

n  Consequently children are less supervised than most other nations

n  All sorts of services reduced (school lunches, food stamps, etc.)



Multiple Marginality


n  Growth of gangs in inner cities directly connected to family problems which in turn stem from increasing inequality

n  Multiple marginality is a term used by James Diego Vigil to describe the context of gangs and their families in LA

n  Consists of multiple stressors, including unemployment, low wages and broken homes


Supervision of children


n  not merely an independent variable that causes delinquency but also as a dependent variable

n  the degree to which children are supervised may vary according to such factors as

n  number of children in the home

n  the number of rooms in the home

n  the type of residence the home is (e.g., government housing project versus single-family residence)

n  family income

n  presence of a father

n  children spend more unsupervised time in the streets with other similarly situated youths



Family Breakdown as a Cause of Delinquency


The Broken Home


n  Two key concepts:

n  Structure of the family (“broken home,” size, income, etc.)

n  nature of relationships within the family (parental conflicts, parent-child relationships, and methods of discipline and supervision)

n  Homes broken by divorce has always been a major issues in delinquency research, dating all the way back to the Glueck’s studies in the 1930s and 40s

n  Delinquents twice as likely as non-delinquents to come from “broken homes”

n  May be because they used official statistics

n  Could be a reflection of a court bias against kids from single-parent families


Single-parent families


n  Especially problematic because most are headed by women who are much more likely to be poor and family income is the strongest predictor of adolescent “outcomes”



Maternal Factors

n  three “maternal factors” associated with the chance of a child living in poverty and a child being in the lower half of his class at school

n  Mother was a teenager when she had child

n  Mother was not married

n  Mother dropped out of high school

n  Note that the probability of being poor and in the bottom half of class at school increased as more variables were present

n  If all 3 factors were present = 79% lived in poverty and 58% in bottom half of class at school

n  If 2 factors present = 48% and 53% respectively

n  If 1 factor present = 26% and 47%

n  If none of these factors were present = 8% and 30%


Family Relationships


n  This refers to interaction, affection, supervision, and discipline on the part of the parents

n  Glueck’s study found the following key variables crucial:

n  Over-strict, erratic, threatening or lax discipline by parents

n  Low parental supervision

n  Parental rejection/lack of affection toward the child;

n  Weak emotional attachment to the parents or the overall cohesiveness of the family.


Models of family functioning


n  neglect model -  child-parent involvement and parental supervision

n  poor supervision and spending little time with children best predict delinquency

n  conflict model - discipline practices and parent-child and child-parent rejection

n  aggressive behavior, poor discipline, a rejecting attitude toward the child rejection best predicts serious forms of delinquency, although inconsistent and overly strict, physical discipline is strongly predictive of delinquency;

n  parental deviance and attitudes model - parental criminality and deviant attitudes

n  parents approve of, ignore, or encourage a child's deviance; parental criminality is one of the strongest predictors of serious delinquency

n  disruption model - marital conflict and the absence of one or both parents

n  conflict is more strongly related to delinquency than a broken home per se

n  If several of these models occur simultaneously (e.g., there could be neglect along with conflict) we have the best predictor of delinquency


The “socializing variables"


n  Affection

n  supervision

n  discipline

n  Families that have the greatest amount of affection toward their children and who have the highest degree of supervision and discipline are often called by researchers “cohesive” families


Parenting Styles


n  Authoritarian style

n  high demands placed upon children with low responsiveness to their needs

n  such parents are very rigid and controlling in their parenting

n  emphasis on using punishment or the threat of punishment to get their children to behave in a certain way

n  authoritative style

n  high expectations, firm enforcement of rules and standards, and open communication with children

n  associated with better psychological development, school grades, greater self-reliance, and lower levels of delinquent behavior among adolescents

n  permissive/indulgent style

n  "laissez faire" attitude where rules are either non-existent or inconsistently enforced

n  methods of discipline are more passive

n  make few demands on their children, giving them too much freedom to do as they please

n  disengaged/indifferent style

n  Unresponsive to their children and only minimally demanding of them. 

n  Children from such families are virtually ignored "except when they make demands, which are usually responded to with hostility and explosions

n  Kids from authoritative families are the least delinquent, while those from authoritarian and permissive families are the most delinquent


The Social Context of the Family


n  Many factors outside the family have an impact

n  Some see the family existing independently of outside forces – this is what is known as the “fallacy of autonomy.”

n  Note the study in England showing the effects of poverty, poor jobs, etc. affect the functioning of the family; also the study that included the cities of Memphis, Boston, Newark, and Phoenix)

n  Also peers are often more important than the family

n  Note the study that found: “At high levels of community poverty (one standard deviation above the mean), the positive effect of family poverty on delinquency more than doubles; when community poverty is two standard deviation units above its mean, this effect more than quadruples.”


Girl Offenders and Their Families


n  Note some of the key themes in these studies – abuse, neglect, conflict, etc.

n  Bottcher’s study found three themes: independence at an early age, extensive free time, and the inadvertence of their crimes


Gang Members and Their Families


n  Note how the families tried their best to discourage their children from joining gangs

n  Note the influence of poverty and single-parent families


Children with Parents in Prison


n  The highest predictor of serious and chronic delinquency

n  Close to 2 million have a parent in prison; 1 out of 15 black children do compared to 1 out of 110 white children

n  Growing number of women has further complicated the situation

n  All sorts of negative effects of having a parent in prison