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Behavioral Theories and Juvenile Delinquency

Importance of Theory

Application of theories to juvenile delinquency is crucial, as it helps to address and prevent deviant behavior. The central benefit of using theories to juvenile delinquency is determining causal relationships between crime and external and internal factors (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). In other words, theories help to explain what the reasons a person turned to criminal behavior were. When speaking about causation, it is essential, however, not to mix it with correlation, as two co-occurring events may have no causal relationship. For instance, according to Harlin (2013), the juxtaposition of the Internet Explorer market share trend and murder rate reveals a clear correlation. However, this fact does not necessarily mean that Internet Explorer utilization led to murder. These two events co-occur without causal relationships. Refined theories are tested by numerous research, which confirms that some factors lead to an increased probability of delinquent behavior.

The utilization of theory helps prevent crime and recidivism. For instance, if authorities are aware that exposure to illicit drug use leads to deviant behavior, they may design interventions to prevent criminal acts. The interventions, for example, may utilize subculture theory, which believes that delinquent behavior is acquired to confirm the identity of a person (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). However, not all approaches are applicable to all cases of juvenile delinquency. For instance, psychoanalysis may help explain why behavior has occurred using the concepts of id, ego, and super-ego. However, this approach is useless for preventing delinquent behavior, as psychoanalysis may be applied only after a crime has occurred (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). Additionally, in rare cases, deviant behavior may be explained by antisocial personality disorder, while in the majority of cases, crime is caused by other factors (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). Thus, authorities need to be careful while choosing theories, as some of them may be inapplicable to delinquent behavior.

Case Study

Week 3 case study pictures a teenage loner that was arrested for hacking into multiple government websites, including the Department of Defense and other highly secure areas. The boy was described as a “loner,” as he did not communicate with many schoolmates and socialized with only a small group of people. The boy was found to share tips about hacking and anti-government views online under a screen name. Even though there did seem to be any signs of delinquency in the student, early interventions using a behavioral theory could have prevented the crime.

There are several theories that can be applied to the case scenario described above. First, social learning theory can explain how why the student acquired delinquent behavior. According to the theory, people learn to commit crimes similar to how they learn to tie their shoes or take a shower in the morning (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). The boy might have socialized with a small group of hackers with anti-government views online or in school. According to the founder of the social learning theory, Edwin Sutherland, noted that people learn the most from the group with which they spend the most time and in whom they have the most interest (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). If the peer group accepts deviant behavior, the individual is likely to do the same (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). This process is called differential association that consists of nine steps (Mallett & Tedor, 2018). Social learning theory is also associated with differential reinforcement, which is the reinforcement of behavior from the support of the peer group or the absence of punishment (Mallett & Tedor, 2018).

The theory may be applicable in the situation, assuming that the student communicated with a small group of peers online. Websites dedicated to hacking often spread antisocial or anti-government ideas as a sign of rebellion to the current values of society. Even though the student may not have communicated with a peer group supporting deviant behavior live, he may have read different stories about hacking and communicated on online forums anonymously. He may have received verbal support from peers about hacking into government websites, and the lack of punishment reinforced the behavior.

Thus, interventions based on social learning could have prevented the student from acquiring delinquent behavior. If the family members became aware of the social learning theory, they might have given more attention to the way the adolescent spends his time. Additional attention to the student’s activity may have helped the parents to reveal the delinquent behavior early and stop its reinforcement. Similarly, interventions based on the same theory on the school level would have increased awareness about possible problems with deviant behavior. The student’s friends may have reported to the teacher about his interests, which may have resulted in an early reaction to the problem. Finally, if the student was aware that committing crimes is often associated with social learning, he may have resisted peer pressure and avoided socializing with people that support delinquent behavior.

In summary, theories are extremely important for preventing delinquent behavior and recidivism. However, no theory can be applied to all cases with equal efficiency, and some cases can be explained by multiple theories with varying success. Thus, authorities need to pay careful attention to the choice of theory for crime prevention among adolescents.


Harlin, K. (2013). The 10 most bizarre correlations. Buzzfeed News. Web.

Mallett, C., & Tedor, M. (2018). Juvenile delinquency: Pathways and Prevention. Sage Publications.

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