Need a perfect paper? Place your first order and save 5% with this code:   SAVE5NOW

The Theories of Juvenile Delinquency and Its Causes

The Meaning Of Theories and Why They are Important To Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

The theories in juvenile delinquency are concepts that experts form to help explain why children or adolescents behave in a particular way. The theories also help people understand what might contribute to certain behaviors of young people in society (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). Many theories are in place which can help one to understand juvenile delinquency. Some of the major theories include symbolic interactionism, conflict theory, and structural functionalism theory. Some other theories include; rational choice theory, psychological theories, social control theories, social reaction theory, social conflict theory, trajectory theory, propensity theories, life-course theory, social learning theory, social process theories, strain theory, cultural deviance theory, social disorganization theory, and social structure theories. All the theories mentioned work together to help explain the behavior of different individuals in different places (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). Theories help experts understand why a particular young individual will react to something in an environment differently from another young individual.

Structural-functional theories view delinquent behavior of young individuals as a consequence of breakdowns or strains in the social processes. The theories under the category major on institutions like school and family, which act as major shapers to an individuals’ character (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). In this theory, majorly from the anomie theory, individuals or students from a lower social class are more likely to get involved in delinquent behavior than other students from high-class backgrounds. The subcultural theory under structural-functional theories sheds light on how groups of young individuals might form groups based on their cultural background and class and act delinquently. The theory also states that if the young individuals perceive their culture as less superior, they will act delinquently in school (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). In the subcultural theory, a delinquent subculture will show contempt for a middle-class lifestyle.

From the control theory, delinquent behavior is associated with the control that comes in various forms from institutions. Students who are not under control tend to embrace more delinquent behaviors. Control in schools comes in the form of the involvement of students in activities and tasks (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). The students who are not involved in various activities in schools like sports or academic contests are more likely to fall prey to delinquent behavior. According to the theory, when a young individual has strong ties with friends and family members, the young individual will not have the time to engage in delinquent behavior. Symbolic interactionism is another major theory that individuals can use to understand juvenile delinquency better. The theories of symbolic interactionism are concerned with how social definitions and meanings rather than values produce delinquent behavior (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). From the theory of differential association under symbolic-interactionism, young individuals tend to tolerate delinquent behavior once they see other peers and even adults engaging in delinquent activities. When young people see older adults engage in delinquent activities, they will perceive the behaviors as normal, leading them to engage without much effort.

The differential association theory does not just focus on the relationship of young individuals with other individuals of the same or older age but also association in ideas. Most young individuals engage in delinquent behavior once they discuss or learn what others think about delinquent behavior (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). Once the young individuals trust older adults that they look up to entertain delinquent ideas, the individuals will most probably put the ideas to action. The neutralization theory describes that individuals engage in delinquent behavior when most people the person interacts with support the behavior. Labeling theory is an important theory in understanding juvenile delinquency. Labeling theory points out that teenagers have branded some characters as the right of passages to adulthood. Teenagers have marked some behaviors in the streets as important in shaping a teenager’s life during their young age (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). The teenagers who don’t take part in such activities are considered by their peers as naive.

Conflict theory is another major theory essential in understanding juvenile delinquency because it shows the aftermath of conflicts arising from the difference in economic stability and power relations. Because the theory involves a conflict, juvenile delinquency is mostly referred to as a “minority group” (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). The “minority group,” who are often in the lower class, oppose the held values that the “majority group” hold, which gives room for delinquent behavior. Power control theory explains that when a superior individual has a close bond with a younger individual, they are likely to compromise some things leading to delinquent behavior because they will feel covered. For example, mothers tend to become closer to their daughters and fathers to sons (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). Through these behaviors, the sons and daughters are more likely to compromise and engage in delinquent behavior because of the sense of power from their guardians.

What I have Learned About Juvenile Delinquency From Various Theories Discussed in Class and How Theories are Useful In Understanding Complex Social Problems Like Juvenile Delinquency

From the various theories discussed in class, I have learned that juvenile delinquency is affected more by external factors than internal factors. Juvenile delinquency occurs in young people, and at a tender age, most young individuals do not have the power to resist what is wrong and stand for what is right; hence, they fall prey to what society presents to them (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). The theories are essential to understanding complex social problems like juvenile delinquency since they are concepts developed from practical examples. For example, the conflict theories help understand why there are disparities in society’s people of different social classes (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). The complex social problems get their answers from the theories that touch on what causes delinquency from the interaction of young individuals with other people.

The Link Between Theories and Gangs in Chapter 4 and The Explanations Offered By Criminologists On Why Youth Join Gangs and Actively Participate In Illegal Activity

Cultural deviance theory incorporates the social disorganization theory and the strain theory, where societal segregation and strain theory lead individuals to form gangs that have a main agenda of superiority and terrorize those against them. Theories like differential association show that individuals learn criminal activities in social contexts. When individuals interact with different individuals, they learn moral and immoral acts (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). As the individuals interact, they find individuals of the same mind and form groups to conduct criminal activities. The gangs formed through the theory of differential association often feel that they are unstoppable because all the members in the gang are immoral and tolerate delinquent behavior (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). Criminologists explain that youths join gangs majorly because of financial strain, social and cultural forces. The major reason why youths join gangs, according to criminologists, is the need for the youths to attain financial freedom. If the youths cannot get financial freedom through legal means, they resort to forming gangs to cater to their personal needs and even more needs in the future (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). The criminologists state that youths always want to live a superior nature, acquiring anything they desire. Most of them feel that they can achieve this goal by getting quicker money that will help them buy whatever they need. The ambition leads the youths to form gangs to get what they want in a quicker way.

When youth feels that they are left out socially and are not accommodated in society, they will often try to find a way to get to the top of the social pyramid. Most youths resort to forming a gang as the way to achieve a stronger and superior social status. Some cultural forces also contribute to youths forming gangs (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). When the cultural background of individuals leads them to hold some values like they are entitled to some things even without working for them, they will form gangs to acquire whatever they want.

What It Means By Saying Delinquency and Crime are Both “Taught and Learned” According To Social Learning Theory In Terms Of The Socialization Process, Family Life, Friend, Selection, etc

When one says that delinquency and crime are both “taught and learned,” according to the social learning theory of the socialization processes, youth can choose what to consume concerning their family life and acquire lessons from close individuals. According to the socialization process like family life and friends, many young youths follow what their closest counterparts do. For example, from the word “taught,” when a youth has a father who does not value morality, the father will indirectly teach delinquent behaviors through his characters and behaviors (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). Youths can learn crime and delinquent behaviors through the socialization process of selection, whereby they choose what they engage in even if other individuals do not influence it.

How Poverty Causes Juvenile Delinquency and What The Theories Discussed In Class Tell Me About The Relationship Between Social Structure and Social Process, and Delinquency

Poverty leads is a motivation to acquire a stable financial life. When youths living in poverty cannot acquire a stable financial life through legal means, they resort to delinquent behaviors that focus on acquiring money illegally to satisfy their financial desires. Again poverty is often associated with a low social class that youths tend to remedy by engaging in delinquent behaviors to feel superior (Siegel & Welsh, 2014). From the theories discussed in class, I understood that social structure, social process, and delinquency are related to a young individual’s values and norms related to other people that may lead to delinquent behavior. The way youths apply their social structures to the social process will determine their decision to either embrace delinquent behavior or pull through the youthful stage of life upholding solid moral standards.


Siegel, L. J., & Welsh, B. C. (2014). Juvenile delinquency: Theory, practice, and law. Cengage Learning.


Don't have time to write this essay on your own?
Use our essay writing service and save your time. We guarantee high quality, on-time delivery and 100% confidentiality. All our papers are written from scratch according to your instructions and are plagiarism free.
Place an order

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Need a plagiarism free essay written by an educator?
Order it today

Popular Essay Topics