How Might Poor Parental Supervision Contribute Psychologically To An Individual’s Criminal Potential?
“…Offending behaviour escalates during early adolescence before peaking in late adolescence and declines in early adulthood” (Watt et al, 2004, P.141). To investigate what contributes to a child’s vulnerability to later delinquency, criminologists have for decades considered aspects of parenting. Parenting style influences the well-being of a child, and research suggests that when parenting practices do not include clear expectations, or fail to provide proper supervision, children are at risk for developing behavioural problems (Cassel & Bernstein, 2006, P.145). Many aspects of family dysfunction has been linked with juvenile delinquency; conflict within the family, lack of supervision and rules, lack of parent and child attachment, instability, poor home life quality, parental expectation and inconsistent discipline (Shumaker, 1997, P.73).
A vast majority of crimes are committed by young people, and a large number of these young offenders begin to commit crimes during their teenage years. It may be that the different parenting styles have little to do with it, and the behaviour is shaped by genes (predestined). While it is recognised that both genes and the environment play a role in the development of antisocial behaviour, it is still not clear how the various factors interact. In some cases it is difficult to separate the two factors, for example, when there is a case of apparently poor parenting practices, it is difficult to know whether it is an ordinary parent dealing with a difficult child. In other words, the child’s behaviour may be difficult because of his or her genetic predisposition. The traditional view placed genes and the influence of parents in opposition to each other. However, the relationship is no longer considered as straightforward. Research suggests that the genetic predisposition for criminal potential together with a certain type of environment increases the chances of participating in criminal delinquency (Feinberg et al, 2007, P.457 Jones, 2005, section one). Psychological explanations also have something to offer when factors contributing to criminal potential are discussed. Recent research has studied the development of moral emotions, such as shame and guilt, and how they might contribute to an individual’s criminal potential (Jones, 2008, P.126).
The significance of attachment between the child and the parent has long been established (Bretherton, 1992, P.759 Lyons-Ruth & Jacobvitz, 1999, P.549). A loving, warm and responsive parent provides a firm foundation for a child’s social and emotional development. Research has suggested a link between the quality of parent-child attachment and outcomes later in life, such as the level of social skill, self esteem, and the level of aggressive behaviour. Preschool children who have uninvolved, rejecting or harsh parents are more likely to show overactive, noncompliant, aggressive and impulsive behaviour (Campbell, 1995, P.113). A secure bond to the parents allows the child to develop a positive self image and the child also learns to trust the parent and this may transfer to a general perception of other people as safe and reliable. A secure base is created when the parent is available, responsive and a reliable source of safety and comfort to the child, and this provides a good foundation for general interpersonal skills. The way a child interacts with the parent is important, and the child’s temperament might influence the parent‘s way of treating him or her, therefore making the bond dyadic in nature. A vicious cycle may begin as difficult infant temperament attracts harsher parenting. This process may be further compounded by the sensitivity and therefore greater susceptibility of children with difficult temperaments to the effects of harsh and neglecting parenting styles.
Parenting is a complex activity that contains many different aspects; however, looking at specific parenting behaviour, such as smacking, the conclusions can be misleading. The direction of effects is sometimes difficult to determine, and the broad pattern of parenting is more useful in predicting a child’s well-being. Plenty of research has been conducted on different parenting styles, and differences in parenting styles have been found to predict a child’s social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development, and problem behaviour (Hoeve et al, 2008, P.223). Four different parenting styles was suggested by Baumrind (1978): authoritarian, permissive, neglectful, and authoritative. Authoritarian parents are demanding and directive, and they tend to enforce their rules without any explanation or justification. These parents do not show much affection and are not involved in their children’s lives. Children who grow up under these conditions tend to be moody and unhappy, and they tend to be quite aggressive. Permissive parents are more responsive, they do not require mature behaviour and they tend to avoid confrontation. These parents do not clearly communicate their rules, and they tend to be easily manipulated by their children. These children tend to have low self-esteem and be aggressive and impulsive. Neglectful parents are both rejecting and neglecting their children. This parenting style is similar to permissive, however, the parents do not show any care for their children. These parents are generally not involved in their children’s lives, and as a result, the children grow up feeling resentment against their parent’s. Authoritative parents have clear standards for their children’s behaviour, but they are not restrictive. They tend to clearly communicate and justify their rules. This parenting style helps children take responsibility for their behaviour.
The success of authoritative parenting has been credited to the balance of clear parental demands with emotional responsiveness and recognition of child independence. In other words, parental responsiveness and parental demands are important components of good parenting. It is assumed that the role of parents is to influence, teach and control their children. Furthermore, the importance that parents foster individuality, self-regulation and self-assertiveness is stressed in the theory. The child should become integrated into the family and the parent should be willing to confront a child who disobeys (Baumrind, 1991, P.61). Parenting styles may be particularly influential for those children who are in some way vulnerable, or show early signs of some disability or disadvantage.
Children who have uninvolved or neglectful parents are severely affected by their lack of attention and love. Neglectful styles of parenting are characterised by the lack of attention, and the cold and passive behaviour towards the child. Research suggests that children of uninvolved or neglectful parents often have more behaviour problems (Baumrind, 1978). Although parents may differ in how they try to control or socialize their children and the extent to which they do so, it is assumed that the primary role of all parents is to influence, teach, and control their children. Furthermore, research has suggested that the importance of parents being involved and making demands are less critical to girls’ than to boys’ healthy development (Barber, 1996, Weiss & Schwarz, 1996, P.2101). There is also another form of lack of supervision, namely the lack of supervision by permissive parents. This permissive parenting style is high in responsiveness but low in demand, and the children are more likely to be involved in problem behaviour and perform less well in school. However, these children have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression. These children seem to blossom because the lack of parental supervision and demands is counterbalanced with high responsiveness.
There are also links between criminal potential and the lack of contact between father and child. Many delinquents have been abandoned by their fathers, and also emotionally neglected by their mothers. In many cases the consequences are negative for a child when the parents split up. The single mother may lack economical as well as emotional support. Consequently, the mother may be less able to emotionally take care of the child. Children rejected by their parents are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviour. A father’s bond with his son has a positive influence on the boy’s emotional and social development. When the father abandons the family the boy is deprived of this vital emotional bond and of a male role model.
Neglectful parents show little control, are disengaged, undemanding, and unsupportive of their children. The parents are focused on their own needs more than the needs of their child. Therefore, the child develops a poor sense of self-worth; the child grows up believing that he or she is not special or important enough to deserve the parent’s attention. These children may later in life seek affection and attention in other ways, and peers can become very important during the teenage years, when these children may show patterns of truancy and delinquency (O’Connor, 1997, P.5). Differences in self-perception are important factors to consider when the potential for criminal behaviour is discussed. A positive self-image protects against a range of life challenges. A supportive and warm relationship may lay the foundation upon which a positive self-image can develop. It may be misleading to suggest that a positive self-image is the direct result from a development of positive attachment; however, a positive bond is important for the development of a healthy self-image. Recent research suggests that children in care who developed a secure attachment were most likely to have a positive self-image (Taylor, C. 2006, P.116).
In many cases physical punishment is used to discipline, and physical punishment, erratic and inconsistent discipline is linked to delinquency. Unpredictable punishment where certain behaviour is sometimes allowed and sometimes punished makes the child insecure. Inconsistency between the parents may also contribute to an individual‘s criminal potential. Parents who lack supervision also tend not to explain to children why they are being punished. It is difficult for the child to identify the behaviour that was being punished. Research has suggested that middle-class parents concentrate on the long-term character-building of their children and therefore they explain to their children why they are being punished. In contrast, children from families of a lower-class are more likely to develop criminal potential because of their parents’ lack of supervision and inconsistency in the use of discipline, which may be used without any verbal explanation (Taylor, I et al. 1973, P.182).
A supportive and loving relationship with the parent may lead to the development of a perception of oneself as someone who is competent and deserving of affiliations. This positive self-image will be reflected in later relationships in life. Parents, who constantly shout or ignore the child, damage the self-image which increases the externalising conduct (Delfos, 2004, P.114). The children later may show a number of antisocial behaviours: lying, stealing and aggression. Early parent-child relationships characterised by inconsistency and insecurity are more likely to foster a model in which other people are perceived as not to be trusted. Furthermore, people are seen as acting according to negative motives. The child grows up living with fear scared and one that is easily misled. These children are more easily to lead astray, and are more likely to be involved in criminal activities.
Different parenting styles might influence the child in different ways. Research suggests that rejecting and neglecting styles of parenting is characteristic by lack of both love and limits. It is both uncaring and inadequate in meeting the needs of the child. Many children will grow up feeling resentment against their parents for being neglectful, and they become alienated from them in adulthood. Research has shown that youth with high levels of self-esteem, good stress management and self-motivation are more likely to never engage in aggressive behaviour. The development of control over emotions is a type of self-control that is vital for a child. The influence of an involved parent not only helps the children learn to read other people’s emotions but also to develop the self-control to express themselves in a socially acceptable manner (Cassel & Bernstein, 2006, P.143). Children who lack self control are more likely to become emotionally uncontrolled in adolescence, which increases their criminal potential. The absence of communication within a family increases the stress and conflicts within a family and this might lead to more instance of deviant behaviour. Furthermore, the inability to solve problems also increases the amount of stress (Stern & Smith, 1999). A secure and stable relationship between parent and child makes it easier for the child to form truly reciprocal friendships. These children tend to have a wide circle of friends. In contrast, children who grow up in homes that lack supervision tend to have problems later in life with forming relationships. These children will have a negative self-image and low self-esteem and they tend to behave in a way that does not make them popular.
Poor parental supervision in many cases begins at early childhood; however, the consequences of this parenting style might not become obvious until the child becomes a teenager. Teenagers who lack parental supervision are more likely to engage in early sexual behaviour and experiences with drugs than children of authoritative parents. The influence of peers is significantly high during the teenage years, and a poor self image may allow these individuals more susceptible to engage in criminal behaviour. There seems to be a link between letting children roam the streets unsupervised from an early age and potential criminal behaviour later in life. For example, in the Cambridge-Somerville study, poor parental supervision in childhood was the best predictor of violent and property offending up to the age of forty-five (Lyons-Ruth, & Jacobvitz, 1999). Thus, the young people who lack both the supportiveness of parental warmth and the self-esteem may have major difficulties in coping with challenging situations or negative influences of peers. These children are afraid to say no, and they might be looking for friendship and support from peers, since they lack support at home. In some cases, the problem is complicated by public responses to young people. Sometimes youths are considered a source of disorder and their behaviour must be restricted, this may make young people feel angry and unwanted. They are out on the streets because they have nowhere else to turn, and because they are not appreciated at home. The frustration and lack of supervision may be expressed in destructive activities, such as vandalism. Delinquent behaviour is frequently committed in the same area as the young person place of residence. Young people are likely to offend with their peers and the criminal activity is often unplanned, and opportunistic. In other words, many of these crimes have a character of attention seeking.
Positive parenting can reduce the chances that a child becomes involved with substance abuse, and there are links between substance abuse and criminality. Youth with higher levels of parental nurturance are less likely to have and to establish contacts with peers who engaged in criminal behaviour. It has been suggested that lack of parental supervision may have different effect on boys as compared to girls. Boys might be more prone to try to gain social status with their peers by becoming involved in criminal activity. A lack of emotional bond between a parent and their daughter may result in the girl developing feelings of loneliness and uncertainty. These self-esteem problems may lead to girls’ seek attention from men or older adolescent boys, who might be involved in criminal activities (Cassel & Bernstein, 2006, P.154). In many cases delinquent girls are less attached and they have a more troubled relationship with their parents, particularly with their mother, as compared to boys. The absence of parental supervisions is in most cases due to lack of parenting skills. Many parents were not supervised by their own parents, consequently these skills can be taught. This might be particularly important for single teenage mothers. Young mothers tend to be more inconsistent in their approach to discipline their children. The mother’s inability to connect and bond with the child and the lack of supervision and father figure makes these children of single teenage mothers at risk for later criminal behaviour.
The attachment between the parent and child is important for the child’s social and emotional development. Uninvolved and neglectful parenting can have severe consequences for the child which may involve participating in criminal activities. In many cases, the child develops a negative self-image and distrust in their parents. These perceptions and feelings are transferred to a general perception of other people as unreliable. Neglectful parents are focused on their own needs and the child grows up believing that other aspects of their parents’ lives are more important. The child’s temperament and behaviour also influences the parent, and in some cases a vicious cycle may begin. Children who grow up in homes which lack parental supervision often have low self-esteem. This lack of confidence makes it difficult and hard to establish relationship with peers, and these children may be easy to influence and lure into criminal activities. From my research conducted, a major aspect to why poor supervision from parents may direct a child to engage in criminal behavior is the fact that children may have a distorted perception to what is considered to be socially accepted and what is not from an early age. Often, as discussed earlier, in families from a working class background, committing crimes such as theft, benefit fraud or vandalism is deemed as acceptable. As a young child growing up around this environment, it may be seen as the norm by the child from an early age because the child’s peers and family are participating in similar activities. This may result in the child committing more severe crimes as he or she grows up, in order to fit in with the environment or because the boundaries of what is deemed as socially accepted are blurred, as a result of the child’s upbringing.
Poor parental supervision in many cases begins at early childhood; however, the consequences of this parenting style might not become obvious until the child reaches adolescence. Inconsistency between the parents (sometimes allowing particular behavior and sometimes punishing it) may also contribute to an individual‘s criminal potential. Parents who tend not to explain to children why they are being punished make it difficult for the child to identify the behavior that was being punished. Even though the consequences of lack of supervision might have different effect on girls and boys, generally, lack of supervision and attention has an enormous impact on a child and a child’s criminal potential.
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