An Analysis of Adolescent Crime
More and more, scientific research is showing just how rapidly the brains of young children and adolescents are developing. Studies are now showing how immature the adolescent mind is and how poor the decision making of youth can be.
Therefore, an unstable and/or unhealthy environment is extremely detrimental to a child’s cognitive development. In one study, the risk taking behaviors of adolescents were measured by comparing driving habits of one youth who is alone and the driving habits of a youth who is driving with his or her peers. The results showed a stark contrast in the two scenarios. Basically, “If you put a kid [in a car] with three of his buddies..
.what happens is risky behaviors begin to increase dramatically” (Laub). Adolescents are also still trying to find their place in society and often learn to behave through trial and error. Though this behavior is considered psychologically normative, it can have very negative effects for the adolescent down the road. It is agreed that the youth should be punished accordingly for his or her actions, but youth specialists and juvenile justice experts emphasize that this punishment should not permanently harm the adolescent’s ability to succeed in the future. In fact, because risk taking seems to be such a prevalent characteristic among youth, a relatively new idea has emerged that says all adolescents should be expected to commit crimes at some point in their young life.
“If young people are developing normally, they can be expected to take risks and succumb to peer pressure and to be impulsive and do all the things that are psychologically normative for them and yet sometimes cross over into illegal activity” (Cohen). Even under the best circumstances, adolescents commit crimes, so in unstable, tumultuous environments, it is even more likely that youth will break the law as these environments are conducive to illegal activity. Possibly the most influential factor in the growth of a child is the care provided by parents. If a child grows up without the love and support of his or her parents, it can be extremely difficult for him or her to love a life free of crime. According to University of Maryland professor John Laub, “Some research.
..shows kids who become involved in crime have poor or little attachment to their parents and what I mean by that is emotional attachment” (Laub). Abuse or neglect by parents deprives a child of the love and support they require to be successful in the community. Abusive parenting can also lead to difficulty in school and problem with drug abuse, and this is devastating to a child as well. Adolescents who end up in juvenile detention centers are more likely to have learning disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse problems (Juvenile Justice).
The most crucial time period, from a mental health standpoint, of a child is during pregnancy, when drug abuse by the mother can set a child up for immediate school failure. Youth who seem to be the most likely to commit a crime in the future have had unhealthy prenatal experiences. A youth is determined at risk if they have violence in the family, fetal substance exposure, or prenatal difficulties (Saminsky). Judging from all this evidence, there is no question of the importance of the role the family plays in raising a healthy child. By many expert accounts, it is the single most important factor in ensuring the child does not resort to crime (Laub).
However, there is no one factor that directly causes a youth to commit a crime. That is why the problem of adolescent crime is so difficult, but what is known is that teens are vulnerable, heavily influenced by their parents, and should not be incarcerated for mistakes made in adolescence.