Comprehensive discussion of juvenile delinquency and crimes is a difficult task that researchers encounter in their day-to-day studies. Several factors may contribute towards children’s deviant behaviors. Biological, psychological, and social factors contribute heavily towards the development of theories of juvenile deliquescent. The social causes of crimes committed by children constitute the various theories, which are established by sociologists and criminologists. These theorists view juvenile delinquency as a function of the society in which children offenders live while others see the crimes as functions of the individual traits of children.
Sociologists define deviance as “any behavior that members of a social group define as violating their norms” (Carrington & Fitzgerald, 2011, p.449). This definition applies equally to all criminal acts together with non-criminal acts done by children. These acts oppose ethical and moral anticipations established by a society. Delinquencies are acts that deviate from the prescribed legal and cultural norms. Therefore, it is important to offer a distinction of crime and delinquency. A crime refers to acts that breach criminal codes of conduct. Delinquency not only includes crimes that breach the criminal codes, but also acts that break cultural codes. Sociologists argue that deviance that amounts to delinquency is acquired from the environment. They relate delinquency to social factors such as families, peer pressure, and demographic factors of the environment in which children are brought up. This research paper evaluates whether violent video games truly influence violent criminal acts committed by juvenile offenders in comparison with other factors such as family structure, peer pressure, and environmental influences.
Overview and Description of Research Problem
Several cases have been registered in schools where teens turn violent to the extent of killing their fellow students and teachers. For instance, in 1999, on 20th April, Dylan Kelbold and his friend Eric Harris staged an assault in a Columbine school that is based in Colorado. In the assault, 13 people were killed while 23 others were critically injured. They later fired bullets against themselves. It is perhaps impossible to establish what caused this attack or even other recently established crimes against people executed by children. However, in the case of Dylan Kelbold and his friend Eric Harris, a possible cause of the violent attacks was their persistent watching of video games that had violent themes and characters. Studies on the video games played by the two kids revealed that they enjoyed playing Em-up, which was a doom video game used by the US military in training soldiers how to kill effectively.
Simon Wiesenthal is a center, which engages in tracking various internet-based hate groups. It discovered that Dylan Kelbold and his friend Eric Harris had customized a doom video version. In that game, two shooters possessed unlimited ammunitions together with extra weapons. The shooters targeted opponents who were unarmed and could not respond to attacks. In a class projects, Dylan Kelbold and his ally Eric Harris made a similar video tape. They carried guns, which they used to kill innocent and unarmed school athletes. A year later, after the project, the students acted out their video tape in a live audience. Pooley described them as “playing out their game in God mode” (1999, p.32). The major problem is whether exposure to violent video games, as illustrated in the case of Dylan Kelbold and his companion Eric Harris, can wholly explain the increasing incidences of deviance and juvenile delinquency or whether other issues such as family structure, peer pressure, and environmental influences play roles in codification and normalization of certain violent acts done by children.
The act of children engaging in acts that violate the law and social norms has been a puzzle to many psychologists and sociologists. These concerns have resulted in the emergence of a large scholarly body of knowledge that aims at establishing the risk factors for juvenile delinquency. Van Dorn and Williams (2003) studied the contribution of attitude, environmental exposure, and family with an increase in incarcerated youth violence (p.523). Drawing data from 50 respondents, the study indicated that domestic violence in homes of the respondents and victimization for non-violent behavior was a significant indicator of subsequent engagement in violent behavior among youths in the Midwestern US (Van Dorn & Williams, 2003, p.529). Daley and Onwuegbuzie (2004) deployed 82 respondents who were mainly juvenile offenders to conduct a research on crimes of male juveniles with a particular focus on the mechanism of arriving at the juveniles’ attributions in incarcerated settings. The study revealed that 53 % of juvenile offenders made attribution errors. The number of previous arrests combined with the rest of the offenders predicted this number of errors. The research identified seven main causes of the juvenile offenders’ attributions: “self-control, violation of rights, provocation, irresponsibility, poor judgment, fate, and conflict resolution” (Daley and Onwuegbuzie, 2004, p.552). Some of the aspects were predicted by age, number of previous arrests, and ethnicity of the offender.
Several factors act as risk factors for engagement of children in any deviant behavior. These factors are family (Carrington, 2013), peer group interactions, environmental experiences such as exposure to crimes associated with leaving in communities with high violence and crime prevalence rates (Corrado & Peters, 2013), and exposure to violent media such as video (Craig & Dill, 2000). Exposure to violent video games has a direct relationship with aggression and delinquency (Craig & Dill, 2000). The researchers also found the relationship stronger in case of individuals who are naturally aggressive. It was also stronger for men relative to women. Catalano and Hemphill et al. (2009) also found crime prevalence rates higher among the male Victorian and Washington juveniles in relation to females. Craig and Dill (2000) suggested that one of the ample mechanisms of dealing with delinquency associated with aggression that is instigated by playing video games is the reduction of the amount of time spent in playing the games by the most-at-risk groups. In this extent, they found a negative correlation between education achievement and the amount of time spent by children in playing video games, whether violent or non-violent games (Craig & Dill, 2000, p.783). Catalano and Hemphill’s et al. (2009) study identified past arrests, suspension in schools, family related conflicts, past engagements in violent behaviors, disorganization of communities, living with violent peers, and normalization of certain acts that favor the consumption of drugs and drug abuse as critical risk factors to engagement in juvenile delinquency. A potential protective factor to engagement in juvenile delinquency is emotional control (Catalano & Hemphill et al., 2009, p.305).
Risk and protective factors form one of the most pragmatic ways of studying the process of development of deviant behaviors. They correlate with juvenile delinquency. Risk factors encompass all potential predictors of the probability that a given person or a group would engage in behavior that would have negative consequences (Catalan & Hemphill et al., 2009). Protective factors include aspects, which reduce the threshold of the likelihood of engaging in deviant or antisocial behaviors. They help in the moderation of the risks factors. Studying the development of deviant behaviors in children from the perspectives of the risk factors and protective aspects constitutes the social development model (SDM). The model “organizes risk and protective factors according to their influence in different developmental settings including communities, families, schools, peer groups, and within individuals” (Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992, p.65). It integrates various theories of social learning, social development, social control with delinquency, and various crimes committed by children. The SDM model suggests that juvenile delinquency emanates from antisocial behaviors, including the violent behaviors rooted in the normalization of unclear standards, negative beliefs, and the bonds established between peers, neighbors, and family members already possessing deviant behaviors (Catalan & Hemphill et al., 2009).
Mechanisms through which societies respond to problems related to bad behaviors of children such as suspensions in schools influence the likelihood of engagement of youths in violence (Esbensen, Freng, Peterson & Taylor, 2009). Kennedy, Edmonds, Dann, and Burnett (2010) amplify this assertion by claiming that young people learn about the inappropriateness of certain behaviors when the society moves in strategically to prescribe the consequences to certain antisocial behaviors. This discourages them from repeating such behaviors. Studies conducted on the impacts of bad behaviors show that suspension is associately directly with crime and delinquency, engaging in drugs and substance abuse, poor academic performance, and dropping out of school (Coll et al., 2009). This suggests that depending on whether the society justifies or rebukes certain punishments such as suspensions, the punishments may either increase or reduce any engagement in antisocial behaviors with a future likelihood of engagement in juvenile crimes and delinquency.
General offenses are the most powerful risk factors leading to violence among youths from age 15 to 18 and substance abuse for 12-year olds (McGloin & Piquero, 2009). General offenses refer to serious crimes, but not entailing crimes committed with violence such as convictions for felony, burglary, and exertions. Children caught committing general offenses are brought to the attention of the juvenile systems and police force (Cohen et al., 2010). This exposure is a potential risk factor to engagement in violent crimes later in life (Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992). Prevalence of experimentation in abuse of drugs including tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs is mostly important for children under the age 12 and above, but not for 18-year olds (McGloin & Piquero, 2009). Use of drugs is not only prohibited under social norms and ethical codes of conduct, but also by illegal systems. Consequently, the use of drugs and drugs experimentation signal the emergence of antisocial behavior at an early age together with delinquent lifestyles. These lifestyles mature to include violent conducts at the onset of adolescent (Klein & Forehand, 2000).
Adolescents value peer groups. Peer pressure is an important risk factor for the adoption of antisocial behavior among them. Students who do not take active roles in school activities have poor social ties. Hawkins, Catalano, and Miller (1992) argue that such students have high probabilities of becoming violent, similar to adolescents who socialize with antisocial and delinquent peers. Students rejected by their peer groups with good social behaviors and/or are unpopular within conventional peers have a high likelihood of being accepted within peer groups that engage in antisocial behaviors and delinquency (Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992). However, being socially isolated by the conventional peers or persons with antisocial behaviors is not a risk factor for engagement in violent activities. The biggest risk factor for development of violent behavior is the possession of gang membership.
Study by Thornberry (1998) indicates that belonging to a gang increases the threshold of risks for violence than even engaging in delinquent peer groups. This suggests that youths forming gangs engage in crimes without any probability of doubt. This claim has led to the emergence of a body of research seeking to identify the possible factors, which may make youths join gangs. Hill et al. (1999) claim that risk factors that translate into one’s membership into violent peer groups are similar to the risks factors that prompt youths to join gangs (p.311). The researchers demystify the argument that gangs emanate from inadequate or even lack of close family ties since the notion is not backed by experimental data. However, they maintain that gangs offer feelings of self-belonging by raising members’ self-esteem, thus acting as indicators of freedom of the members from their parental influences and dependence (Hill et al., 1999). In the bid to maintain these aspects that define the gang membership, people joining the gang must comply with the norms of the gang including engagement in violence and other antisocial behaviors to boost self-ego and the ego of the group.
Prevalence of Violence among Juvenile Offenders in Modern Times
Youth violence is a global challenge. Increasing the rate of engagement of youths in crimes across the globe increases the degrees of risks to property and people. According to Anderson and Escobar-Chaves, “twelve to twenty-year olds perpetrated 28 percent of the single-offender and 41 percent of multiple-offender violent crimes in the United States in 2005” (2008, p.147). On the global platforms, juvenile crimes and delinquency initiate as minor cases of crimes such as truancy, defying curfews, drunkenness, and minor non-violent robberies before progressing to rape and murder (Snyder, 2001, p.34). Children between 7 and 12 years are vulnerable to being prime offenders in the future. The US Department of Justice (2003) data on juvenile arrests collected between 1988 and 1997 provides evidence for this prevalence rate.
In the US, juvenile crimes involving violence rose by 45 percent (Snyder, 2001) between 1988 and 1997. Amongst these crimes were misuse of weapons, drug abuse, and crimes involving violence. Between 1988 and 1997, about 30 percent of juvenile arrests for children below 13 years in the US were arsonists while 20 percent involved sexual offenses (Department of Justice, 2003, p.5). These prevalence rates indicate that juvenile offending is more likely among children in their early teenage. At this age, trial on substance abuse is also more prevalent. The prevalence and relationship between substance abuse and early adolescent age are evidenced by various studies such as the work by Arnett (2000), which found out that the challenges of substance abuse together with delinquency initiated at mid-adolescent age while stopping abruptly or decreasing sharply at the onset of early adulthood: from the age of 20 years. Through trajectory analysis, Day, Nielsen, and Ward et al. (2012) established the compatibility and prevalence rates of juvenile delinquency and substance abuse. Juvenile crimes are more common between drug and substance abusing children and those living in communities characterized by high crime prevalence rates.
Characteristics and Traits of Juvenile Offenders who commit Violent Acts
Drawing from the discussions developed in the previous sections, the degree of juvenile crimes and delinquency is dependent on a number of behavioral characteristics of the offenders. Substance abuse is one of the important characteristics that are directly correlated with juvenile offenses (Arnett, 2000). Substance abuse places adolescents in social groups and contexts in which crime is most probable. This exposure may resort to indulgence in gangs, a factor that increases the likelihood of engaging in criminal activities during late adolescent. For juvenile crimes involving the use of weapons, exposure and experience in the use of the weapon in the past are major characteristics of a juvenile offender (Arnett, 2000). Exposure to different forms of media and social contexts constitutes another significant trait of juvenile offenders. Violent media genres and living in communities where violence is prevalent lead to codifications of violence as a norm and the way of life.
Juveniles engage in crimes of varying thresholds. Those who indulge in crime persistently have traits of conduct disorders. These disorders may be acquired from peers. Research provides evidence that history of indulgence in antisocial behaviors acts as a good indicator of the probability of engaging in crimes in the future. Behavioral and personality dispositions are critical traits of juvenile offenders. Juveniles caught in serious crimes portray signs of impaired abilities in learning, self-control, and risk taking propensities together with highly aggressive emotions, which often translate into violence (Walsh, 2010, p.23). Antisocial values and attitude are other significant traits for juvenile offenders. Such traits are portrayed via bad perceptions about persons in authority including the police, teachers, and judges among others. The traits possessed by juvenile offenders hardly operate in isolations. They are functions of one another. For instance, aggression may be a function of poor parenting such as growing up in a family characterized by domestic violence and exposure to violent media.
Arguments supporting the Roles of Violent Video Games in influencing Violent Criminal Acts committed by Juvenile Offenders
Exposure to violence may lead to the desire to commit violent activities. Such exposure may arise from the family, community, peers, or even media. Media is an important aspect of the lives of people in terms of profiling and shaping of their behavior. Behaviors that both children and adults perceive as important may be attributed from not only social norms and ethical values, but also from the television, films and video (Craig & Dill, 2000). This suggests that it is not surprising for violent video games to have a direct relationship with aggressive and violent behaviors among children.
Exposure to violent video games may result in increasing aggressive behavior among players within a play time of 20 minutes or even after longer periods of exposure to the games (Walsh, 2010, p.23). The input variables of the games may create arousal of cognitive abilities of an individual to address particular situations in real life with brutality reminiscent to the one involved in the game. When confronted with real life situations that activate the aggression, people seek from their cognitive schemas the most appropriate mechanisms of reaction that will completely eliminate their anger. This will often involve the most brutal act that is reserved within the memory and cognitions of the persons in question. When video games form these cognitions, high probabilities are that people facing situations that call for portrayal of aggression will draw their decision-making processes based on the lesson learnt from applying the video game in the real life actions (Craig & Dill, 2000). This may perhaps explain the incidences in which children have opened fire to their fellow students and teachers in schools when angered in the US. Levermore and Salisbury (2009) support this claim through positive correlation findings between aggression and the extended exposure to different genres of violent media including video games among teenagers (p.33).
The work of Anderson and Escobar-Chaves (2008) establishes that the US’ adolescents use sufficiently high amounts of time interacting with their electronic gadgets. The authors further claim that through the video games played via the gadgets, they found strong evidence that the gadgets increased violence behavior among the youth. Ward (2011) echoes a similar position claiming that all forms of video games contain violent descriptors. Ward (2011) and Anderson and Escobar-Chaves (2008) hold that children who play violent video games are more likely to engage in violent behavior, which is a key contributor to juvenile delinquency. With the ease of the availability of mobile video game gadgets including mobile phones, it implies that almost all children will play violent video games in the future. This only means that juvenile delinquency is likely to increase if appropriate policy frameworks are not developed to address the problem proactively.
Arguments rejecting the Roles of Violent Video Games in influencing Violent Criminal Acts committed by Juvenile Offenders
Although research on the impacts of violent video games on juvenile delinquency is at its infancy stage of development, many researchers contend that violent video games raise aggressive behavior among children. Scholarly findings on the influence of video games on the likelihood of children committing crimes do not reject the findings of the arguments supporting the roles of violent video games in influencing violent criminal acts committed by juvenile offenders. Rather, they question the reliability of methodologies used in the realization of the results. For instance, Craig and Dill (2000) discuss such works by informing that studies, which find significant effects of video games on juvenile delinquency, utilize some of the weakest methodologies (p.772). A particular criticism is on the impacts of video games on aggression arousal. The claim here is that correlation studies on aggression arousal do not give an indication of the impacts of video games on the probabilities of indulgence in juvenile delinquency since crimes are not committed immediately after playing the games.
Overall Findings and Recommendations
Through extensive literature review of the impacts of violent video games and other factors that may result in the indulgence of children in crimes and delinquency, a major finding is that engagement of children in deviant behaviors, which translate into crimes and delinquency is a function of many factors. However, since different video games possess violence, chances exist that children play games that are meant for age groups older than them. Therefore, playing violent video games may lead to normalization of brutal mechanisms of dealing with offending people in real life experience. The games teach children the various methods and potential weapons for dealing efficiently with their offenders. This effect is perhaps more pronounced where children live in social environments where they can easily access weapons such as guns. In some of the violent video games, in some instances, it involves attacking armed targets. This may lead to the development of cognitions that a weapon, which upon its use will result in immediate killing of the target, is justified for use even in some situations in which the targets are unarmed reminiscent of the case of Dylan Kelbold and his friend Eric Harris discussed in the problem statement section of the paper. In the light of the effects of violent video games and their interplay with other factors such as family, peers, and environmental factors in terms of influencing deviance and delinquency, legal frameworks are important in reducing juvenile delinquency. Strict legal regulations of incorporation of violent video games in mobile gadgets are recommended.
Increasing cases of juvenile delinquency are a major challenge encountered across globe. Through intensive literature review on the various factors that result in aggressive behavior, which is a major risk factor for juvenile delinquency, exposure to violent media was proved to be a major risk factor for the development of deviance behavior and subsequent engagement in juvenile delinquency. However, the paper held that other factors such as peer group and engagement in gangs, family characteristics, and social environmental contexts are major additional risk factors for juvenile delinquency. All these factors work together in shaping the social behaviors of children.
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