Family Structural Influence on Juvenile Delinquency

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The rate of juvenile delinquency is on the rise in the contemporary society. In 2008, over 6,318 youths aged between 10 and 17 were arrested for different offenses (Apel & Kaukinen, 2008). In 2009, the juvenile courts in the United States arbitrated at least 1.5 million felonies that involved juveniles (Thompson & Bynum, 2013). Numerous factors are attributed to the rise in the rate of juvenile delinquency. They are the family organization and the connection that kids have with their parents. According to Apel and Kaukinen (2008), changes in family structure lead to the increase in the rate of juvenile delinquency. Currently, adolescents live in different types of families. Some live in families made up of cohabiting parents, married couples, or single parents. The family structure, combined with the social environment that a child grows up in has significant impacts on the juvenile’s behavior. A majority of kids who live in nontraditional families have a high risk of engaging in crimes. On the other hand, children from married families are unlikely to engage in crimes. According to Apel and Kaukinen (2008), children who live in different family structures experience diverse degrees of involvement, supervision, and attachment. These factors may lead to a child engaging or not engaging in juvenile delinquency. This article will discuss the influence of family structure on juvenile delinquency.

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Theory of Self-Control

Booth, Farrell, and Varano (2008) posit that it is imperative to understand how criminal behaviors arise to explain the correlation between family structure and juvenile delinquency. The theory of self-control explains the processes that result in crime. Understanding the processes that lead to delinquency can help to figure out the correlation between family structure and juvenile delinquency. According to the theory, individuals with a high degree of self-control are unlikely to commit crimes. The theory of self-control maintains, “Criminal acts provide immediate gratification of desires” (Booth et al., 2008, p. 431). The wish for immediate gratification forces individuals with little self-control to engage in crimes. Kierkus and Baer (2002) attribute little restraint to poor childrearing. According to Booth et al. (2008), lack of supervision, discipline, and love that are prevalent in broken homes leads to low self-control. Parents must monitor the behaviors of their children and punish them when necessary to ensure that they develop self-control. In other words, parents require investing in their kids. Parental concern helps to prevent juvenile delinquency. A family where both parents show strong affection to children does not report cases of juvenile delinquency. Carlson (2006) alleges, “Fathers of non-delinquents are 50% more likely to be warmly disposed toward their sons and one-fifth as likely to be hostile to them compared to parents of delinquents” (p. 139).

Changes in family structure impact the degree of self-control amid children. According to Carlson (2006), changes in family structure affect how parents discipline, supervise, or monitor their kids. In return, the level of self-control in kids goes down resulting in some teens engaging in criminal behaviors. For instance, divorce affects the level of child supervision. Besides, most divorced parents do not punish their kids when they are wrong. Conversely, intact families can easily monitor, supervise and discipline children when they are wrong. Children of employed mothers have a high risk of engaging in juvenile delinquency. Working parents do not get time to observe, supervise or reprimand their kids. As a result, the children can freely participate in criminal activities as there is no one to stop them. Transformations in family structure that have taken place over the last four decades have made it difficult for parents to observe their kids. Failure to observe children causes them to develop a small degree of self-control. As a result, they readily participate in delinquency.

Influences of Family Structure

Numerous researchers have analyzed the correlation between family structure and juvenile delinquency. A majority of the studies shows that children who hail from broken families are at a high risk of partaking in crimes. A study conducted in South London found that most boys who engaged in crimes came from broken families. Additionally, a study on the correlation between divorce and juvenile delinquency found that separation contributes to increasing the rate of juvenile criminal behavior. Carlson (2006) holds that children who live in divorced families engage in petty theft, drug abuse, status offenses, and general delinquency.

According to the social control theory, “the bonds between parents and children provide a basis for children to give up their immediate pleasures in exchange for receiving distal rewards attached to socialized behavior” (Demuth & Brown, 2004, p. 63). In most cases, children from divorced families do not get attention from their parents. The lack of parental attention leads to the kids engaging in crimes as a way to seek attention. Most girls from divorced families participate in criminal behaviors like auto trespassing, sexual deviancy, vandalism, and incorrigibility. Parents play a critical role in teaching their kids good morals. When parents abdicate their responsibility, children are likely to succumb to external pressures, thus engaging in criminal behaviors.

According to Booth et al. (2008), the American nuclear family continues to undergo significant transformations. A lot of the previous studies on the relationship between family structure and criminal behaviors concentrated on family characteristics that could yield wrong results. For instance, some studies evaluated the correlation between wrecked families and criminal actions amid teenagers. The studies just classified the families into two categories, which were whole and broken homes. As a result, they concluded that broken homes contributed to increasing in “family” crimes like absenteeism and running away. The studies claimed that broken homes did not significantly contribute to serious juvenile delinquency. According to Demuth and Brown (2004), studies which argue that broken homes do not contribute to the increasing in the rate of severe juvenile delinquency are misleading. The studies use an insufficient operational description of the family milieu and criminal behavior. Recent studies have investigated the correlation between cohabitation and juvenile delinquency. The studies showed that children who hail from families with cohabiting couples are at a high risk of engaging in juvenile delinquency. Booth et al. (2008) argue that children who live in cohabiting families develop antisocial behaviors that make them commit crimes.

Fathers play significant roles in the development of children. According to Thompson and Bynum (2013), fathers who spend enough time with their children prevent them from engaging in criminal behaviors. The presence of a father figure in a family helps a child to develop good morals. A father helps a child to develop an identity, which determines if the kid engages in delinquent behaviors. However, it is important to note that a father figure is only supportive to a child who lives with both parents. Children who are raised by single fathers have high chances of engaging in criminal behaviors. On the other hand, children who are raised by single mothers participate in unethical behaviors like drug abuse and alcoholism.

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One of the reasons why children from single parent families are vulnerable to juvenile delinquency is the lack of strong affection to the parents. Research indicates that the availability of both parents in a family helps to reduce delinquency. For instance, a study conducted in the United States found that kids who relate well with both parents are not vulnerable to self-reported criminal behaviors. The study found that children who connected well with only one parent were susceptible to committing crimes. According to Breivik, Olweus, and Endersen (2009), it is hard for a single parent to monitor his/her child. Thus, a child can quickly engage in criminal behaviors. Additionally, cases of disagreement between a parent and a child are common in single parent families. Breivik et al. (2009) hold that in single parent families, few people can help to discipline a child. Additionally, it is difficult to supervise or monitor a child to ensure that it does not engage in unlawful activities. Consequently, the child is likely to get involved in juvenile delinquency.

Family structure affects the child’s vulnerability to peer influence. Children from stable families are less vulnerable to antisocial peer influence than those from unstable households. Kids from stable homes that comprise both biological parents are less likely to engage in illegal behaviors. It shows that there is a strong correlation between family structure and juvenile criminal behavior. The family structure has a direct impact on negative peer influence that contributes to a child’s involvement in illegal activities.

Today, a lot of mothers have joined the workforce. As a result, they do not have adequate time with kids. Breivik et al. (2009) allege that at least 70% of mothers are currently employed. Thus, women no longer serve as full-time housewives. Even though women have benefited from joining the workforce, the move has contributed to increasing the rate of juvenile delinquency. There are numerous discussions on whether or not maternal employment contributes to juvenile criminal behavior. Research shows that kids brought up by working mothers are susceptible to delinquency. The working moms do not have time to supervise their children. The children develop estranged bonds with their parents resulting in behavioral challenges. As per Breivik et al. (2009), kids with working mothers are vulnerable to peer pressure. The kids spend a lot of time with their peers. Thus, they can easily be influenced to engage in criminal activities.


Changes in family structure contribute to juvenile delinquency. The theory of self-control holds that parents who do not supervise or punish their children make them develop little self-control. Consequently, the children cannot control themselves and are vulnerable to delinquency. Children who hail from single-parent families are likely to engage in criminal activities. In a single-parent household, the mother or father does not have adequate time to supervise or monitor the child. Additionally, the parent does not punish a child when it commits mistakes. Eventually, the child develops little self-control, thus engaging in criminal acts. Children from broken families are also at a high risk of juvenile delinquency. Divorce leads to children developing antisocial behaviors. Research shows that children from stable families are unlikely to engage in criminal acts. The parents help each other to supervise, monitor and punish the children. As a result, the kids develop a high degree of self-control, which deters them from committing crimes. Children of working mothers are likely to develop criminal behavior as the parent does not have adequate time to reprimand them.


Apel, R., & Kaukinen, C. (2008). On the relationship between family structure and antisocial behavior: Parental cohabitation and blended households. Criminology, 46(1), 35-70.

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Booth, J., Farrell, A., & Varano, S. (2008). Social control, serious delinquency, and risky behavior: A gendered analysis. Crime & Delinquency, 54(2), 423-456.

Breivik, K., Olweus, D., & Endersen, I. (2009). Does the quality of parent-child relationships mediate the increased risk for antisocial behavior and substance use among adolescents in single-mother and single-father families? Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 50(1), 400-426.

Carlson, M. (2006). Family structure, father involvement, and adolescent behavioral outcomes. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 68(1), 137-154.

Demuth, S., & Brown, S. (2004). Family structure, family processes, and adolescent delinquency: The significance of parental absence versus parental gender. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 41(1), 58-81.

Kierkus, C., & Baer, D. (2002). A social control explanation of the relationship between family structure and delinquent behavior. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 44(4), 425-458.

Thompson, W., & Bynum, J. (2013). Juvenile delinquency (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

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