Program Outcomes for Youth
Reduction of Risk Behaviors in Youth including: 
Delinquent Behavior 
Laura De Haan and Kelly Olson 

Adolescent delinquent behavior is a pressing problem in America.  Almost 2.3 million juveniles are arrested annually.  Over one billion dollars per year is required to maintain the juvenile justice system (Swenson & Kennedy, 1995).  Adolescents under 18 years of age account for 16% of arrests for violent crimes, and 34% of property crime arrests (Snyder, 1992).  The relationship between juveniles and violent crime varied considerably over time.  Between 1988 and 1992 arrests for violent crimes committed by juveniles increased 47%, while violent crime arrests for adults only increased 19% (Allen-Hagen, Sickmund, & Snyder, 1994).  However, 1997 statistics have indicated a drop in violent crime among juveniles (Sickmund, Snyder, & Poe-Yamagata, 1997).  Studies indicate that juvenile delinquents are more likely than non-delinquents to suffer problems in adulthood, such as unemployment, alcoholism, and involvement in welfare (Kazdin, 1992). 

Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey (1989) describe the process of delinquent behavior as beginning with a lack of positive family interaction, leading to school failure and social rejection, then leading to membership in a deviant peer group.  In an exhaustive review of the literature, Patterson (1996) describes family management factors as having the best ability to predict future and current delinquency, followed by child problem behavior, and school performance.  Low predictors were SES status and living in a single-parent home.  These studies indicated that adolescents are helped by consistent discipline, strong support, and parental monitoring. 

Noting that more minority and low SES adolescents are arrested for delinquent offenses, although class differences do not exist in self-reported delinquency, Larzelere and Patterson (1990) examined the role that family management plays in moderating these effects.  Their longitudinal study examined the relationship between SES and delinquency, asking whether parental management (expressed by discipline and monitoring) moderated the effects of SES status on adolescent delinquency, or whether SES has a direct effect. Parental management entirely mediated the effects of SES, indicating that parental discipline is a stronger predictor of delinquent acts than economic deprivation. 

Related Elements:
Juvenile delinquency is associated with adult unemployment, alcoholism, and involvement in welfare.
Males are more likely to be delinquent than females; delinquent behavior increases with age.
Minorities and disadvantaged youth are more likely to be arrested, but when self-report methods are used, race and class differences disappear.
Past views on causes of delinquent behavior focused on the "broken home" hypothesis, but modern studies have found that single parent families are not more likely to produce delinquent adolescents.
Parental discipline is a key factor, which overrides the effect of family structure, or SES.  Clear, consistent discipline, and knowing where your children are and who they are with are major deterrents against delinquent behavior.
Strong, supportive relationships with parents are also associated with lower levels of delinquent behavior.
Strong punitive methods of discipline are associated with higher levels of delinquent behavior.
Adolescents who spend more time away from home are more likely to commit delinquent acts.
Delinquent behavior has been the subject of considerable research in the last 50 years.  Significant strides have been made in our understanding of both the antecedents and consequences of delinquent activity, as well as in evaluating the effectiveness of strategies to prevent or intervene with delinquent adolescents. 

Although delinquent behavior was once thought to be a product of “broken homes” and single parent families, family interaction styles (i.e. supportive relationships where parental monitoring of behavior is present) has been found to predict delinquent behavior more powerfully than family structure. Parental monitoring, even at age five, has been found to be predictive of lower levels of delinquent behavior among teenagers (Henry, et al., 1993).  Other studies, however, have found that being male, and involvement with delinquent peers also have a great deal of influence on delinquent involvement (Weintraub & Gold, 1991). 

Academic achievement may serve as an important factor in protecting adolescents from delinquent behavior, as it has been shown to mediate the relationship between parental monitoring and delinquency (Zingraff, Leiter, Johnson, & Meyers, 1994).  Students who do well in school, even without effective parental monitoring, are not significantly different from those adolescents who receive more effective parental discipline. 

Membership into a deviant peer group often plays an important role in delinquent involvement, and these friendships often serve to “train” adolescents how to be delinquent (Dishion, Spracklen, Andrews & Patterson, 1996).  Deviant friendships are often marked by higher conflict and lower supportive qualities (Dishion, Andrews, & Crosby, 1995),  as well as higher levels of hostility within the friendship (Windle, 1994).  Although alcohol and substance use is often considered as a delinquent behavior, the relationship between substance use and delinquency may be declining (Adlaf, Smart, Walsh, & Ivis, 1994), and the two behaviors may be associated with different family and peer influences (Otero-Lopez, et al., 1994). 

Examining research on both prevention and intervention of delinquent behavior suggests that early prevention will be more effective than interventions with identified delinquent adolescents (Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992).  Strategies focusing on prevention with young children who have been identified as at risk for future delinquent behavior have proven effective (McCord, 1994).   Other effective strategies include focusing on community-based programs focusing on social skills and building connections to a community, rather than long-term stays in institutional centers (Mulvey, Arthur, & Repucci, 1993).  Family-focused programs, which help parents develop and maintain effective monitoring and discipline strategies have also proven effective, especially when they are sensitive to their specific environments, and involve long-term community efforts (Kumpfer, Molgaard, & Spoth, 1996). 


Kazdin, A.E. (1992). Child and adolescent dysfunction and paths toward maladjustment:  Targets for intervention.  Clinical Psychology Review, 12, 795-817. 

Larzelere, R. E., and Patterson, G.R. (1990).  Parental management:  Mediator of effect of socioeconomic status on early delinquency.  Criminology, 28, 301-323. 

Loeber, R. and Dishion, T.  (1983).  Early predictors of male delinquency:  A review.  Psychological Bulletin, 94, 1, 68-99. 

Patterson, G. R. (1996).  Some characteristics of a developmental theory for early-onset delinquency.  In M.F. Lenzenweger & J.J. Haugaard (Eds.) Frontiers of developmental psychopathology.  New York:  Oxford University Press. 

Patterson, G.R.  DeBaryshe, B.D., and Ramsey, E. (1989).  A developmental perspective on antisocial behavior, American Psychologist, 44, 2, 329-335. 

Sickmund, M., Snyder, K.N., & Poe-Yamagata, E. (1997).  Juvenile offenders and victims:  1997 update on violence.  Washington DC:  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, August. 

Swenson, C., & Kennedy, W. (1995).  Perceived control and treatment outcomes with chronic adolescent offenders.  Adolescence, 30, 565-560. 

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