Scholars define juvenile delinquency as the habitual behavior of young people, especially below the legitimate age of being punished by law, committing criminal offenses. This behavior has attracted widespread research among scholars in establishing the cause of these behaviors among the young people. In pursuant of this, scholars have advanced several theories trying to establish the causative reasons for these behaviors. This paper covers some of the theories that explain the cause of juvenile delinquency and cites the best theory out of these that is more realistic to the cause of this behavior. Further, the paper gives the most appropriate way that the judicial system needs to adopt in dealing with juvenile delinquency according to the author’s perspective. The theories to be discussed as causing this condition include: the social learning theory, general strain theory and the behavioral theory.
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In his theory, the Social Learning Theory, Professor Albert Bandura argues that human learning is a continuous interaction of cognitive, environmental, and behavioral factors. In this theory, a child observes and imitates the behavior of the adults and other children around him or her. This theory, hence, focuses on behavior modelling; hence, also attaining a name of observational learning. According to this theory, the stuff that the media exposes to the young children plays a vital role in shaping their behavior. It is believed that the kids tend to emulate what they watch on television and other media platforms. If children watch violent television programs, it imparts negative traits to them. As a result, this child develops violent and aggressive behavior that is a symptom of juvenile delinquency. This is, thus, a direct learning process, which instantaneously matches the observed behavior to the modelled behavior. Therefore, according to this theory, violent and aggressive behavior from a kid reveals exposure to such activities before either by their elders or fellow children.
In 1957, Merton advanced the social strain theory explaining involvement in criminal activities. In this theory, human beings characterize conforming behaviors that abide to the law. Society, on the other hand, instils upward mobility aspirations and desires goals. However, problems set in, when legitimate avenues to attaining these goals become blocked. Anomie and strain come, compelling people to break the law in order to attain these goals. The most vulnerable people, according to this law, are the lower class because their efforts are frequently thwarted as they strive to actively participate in economically rewarding activities (Cox, Conrad & Allen, 2002). According to the strain theorists, society and social variables account for most criminal activities happening today. Society exerts more emphasis on goals, rather than the means for attaining these goals. In so doing, they limit legitimate avenues for pursuing these goals. This sets in anomie and strain that lead to future criminality. Agnews, on the other hand, argues that experiencing unpleasant events, like aversive conditions at home, lead to the strain that develops juvenile delinquency. Negative emotional reactions from adolescents, as a result of being subjected to aversive conditions, drive them into delinquency (Siegel & Welsh, 2011).
Watson, Pavlov and Skinner postulated the behavioral theory, in which negative and positive reinforcements play the significant role in human behavior acquisition. Operant conditioning suggests that likelihood of behavior is encouraged or discouraged by punishment or reinforcement that follows. In the negative reinforcement scenario, behavior X becomes stronger by the outcome of desisting from some negative situation. In case of extinction, a certain trait weakens by the outcome of abstaining to experiencing positive condition or ending some negative situation (Sandon, 2006). Punishment is a conventional operant conditioner and is administered to limit or reduce a certain behavior produced by the person. Hence, behavioral theory refers to conditioning leading to varying patterns of behavior raised by juvenile offenders.
In my opinion the social strain theory explains why juveniles commit crimes in the best way. Naturally, a human being depicts conforming behavior. However, the variables of society make it really challenging to attain the present goals through the legitimate avenues. Both the class of the rich and the lower class follow these avenues disadvantaging the lower class due to the huge economic disparity between the two groups of people. However, since everyone needs to survive, the lower class reverts to criminal means in order to attain these goals. Similarly, a child subjected to aversive conditions, either at home or school, reacts back by developing hostile and aggressive traits. This only sums up to the development of delinquency in society. The anomie and strain developed by these disparities play a major role in promoting delinquency that leads to the criminal behavior.
It is, therefore, vital for the justice system to revise its approach in punishing and dealing with the whole issue of juvenile delinquency. The judicial system needs to address the causes of juvenile delinquency rather than punishing the law offenders. The judicial system should devise the ways of increasing the legitimate options of means meant to attain goals. There is a dire need for the economically empowered, especially to the low class people, to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. The parents and teachers need to undergo detailed training and counselling so as to provide conducive environment for the children’s growth. This reduces chances of developing aggressive traits among children that might otherwise bring about juvenile delinquency. Those, breaking the law, need to undergo rehabilitation to enable them to interact with the other people in a correct manner.