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Family Relationships and Crime

General Socialization And Crime

In studying the impact of family on delinquency, long-term studies are particularly helpful, providing information for judging whether parental rejection and unfair discipline precede or follow antisocial behavior. For two decades, David Farrington and Donald West traced the development of 411 working-class London boys born between 1951 and 1953. When the boys were between eight and ten years old, their teachers identified some as particularly difficult and aggressive. Social workers visited the homes of the boys in 1961 and gathered information on the parents' attitudes toward their sons, disciplinary techniques used, and compatibility between the parents. In 1974, as the boys reached maturity, each was classified as noncriminal (if there were no convictions) or, according to his criminal record, as a violent or a nonviolent criminal. Farrington and West found that the families most likely to produce criminals had been quarrelsome, provided little supervision, and included a parent with a criminal record. Furthermore, boys whose parents had been harsh or cruel in 1961 were more likely than their classmates to acquire records for violent crimes. Parental cruelty was actually a more accurate selector of boys who would become violent criminals than was the child's early aggressiveness.

Other longitudinal studies show antecedents to aggression and antisocial behavior similar to those found by Farrington and West. McCord found that maternal rejection and lack of self-confidence, paternal alcoholism and criminality, lack of supervision, parental conflict, and parental aggressiveness permitted predictions of adult criminality that were more accurate than those based on a person's own juvenile offense record. In studying Swedish schoolboys, Dan Olweus found that ratings of maternal rejection, parental punitiveness, and absence of parental control predicted aggressiveness. Descriptions of the family had been obtained from interviews with the parents when the boys were sixth-graders, and aggressiveness was evaluated by the boy's classmates three years later. In her Finnish longitudinal study, Lea Pulkkinen discovered that lack of interest in and control of the fourteen-year-old child's activities, use of physical punishments, and inconsistency of discipline tended to lead to criminality by the age of twenty.

All of these studies suggest that delinquents have parents who act unfairly or who are too willing to inflict pain, whereas the parents of nondelinquents provide consistent and compassionate attention. Community variations may account for the fact that some varieties of family life have different effects in terms of delinquency in different communities. In general, consistent friendly parental guidance seems to protect children from delinquency regardless of neighborhoods. But poor socialization practices seem to be more potent in disrupted neighborhoods.

In sum, family life influences delinquency through providing offspring with predispositions regarding how to cope with life outside the family. Children reared by affectionate, consistent parents are unlikely to commit serious crimes either as juveniles or as adults. On the other hand, children reared by parents who neglect or reject them are likely to be greatly influenced by their community environments. When communities offer opportunities and encouragement for criminal behavior, children reared by neglecting or rejecting parents are likely to become delinquents.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawFamily Relationships and Crime - Single-parent Families And Crime, Parental Attachment And Crime, Variations In Discipline And Crime