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Criminal Behavior in Juveniles: Psychological Factors


The article by Harris-McKoy and Cui (2013) that is going to be summarized in the paper at hand investigates the connection of adolescent delinquency with the level of parental control. The authors assume that during transition periods, parents are often unable to exercise due control over their adolescent children–this increases the risks of deviant behaviors, including delinquency, which continues into young adulthood (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). This connection was never properly studied, which made the authors attempt examination of the psychological factors (associated with the lack of the proper control on behalf of parents) that have a persistent impact in adulthood, promoting criminal behavior.

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Summary of the Article

Harris-McKoy and Cui (2013) build their research upon the assumption that adolescence is a transitive psychological period not only for teenagers themselves but also for their parents who experience stress owing to the growing autonomy of their children, associated with loss of former control and authority. Nevertheless, adolescents are not yet mature and require a lot of attention and guidance to keep mental stability. For this purpose, parenting roles must be reconsidered to adapt to the new period in such a way that the autonomy of the adolescent is not stifled. However, despite the presence of evident psychological influence of parents upon their children, it remains unclear if they are indeed capable of controlling deviant and criminal behaviors by increasing control and demandingness (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). The authors of the article assume that children’s outcomes can be improved if their parents balance power with responsiveness thereby strengthening attachment and instilling trust.

Having conducted a literature review, the researchers concluded that although delinquency reaches its peak in adolescence, it is likely to persist in young adults. This tendency is more frequent in males than in females, which can be accounted for by different parenting models implemented in relation to boys and girls. The desire to obtain decision-making power (concerning clothes, friends, school, etc.) is a part of identity formation, without which the transition to adulthood would be impossible. However, despite the fact that adolescents need some autonomy to develop, they are still not mature enough to avoid risky behaviors without any parental supervision (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). Parents should be aware of the fact that their children are psychologically vulnerable at this stage and the lack of attention and control on their behalf may lead to deplorable consequences.

The authors support their view by a substantial bulk of evidence found in the literature on the topic that provides arguments against granting too much unsupervised time to adolescents since it is connected with increased sexual activity, delinquency, and substance abuse. However, unlike other research in the field, the given article is more focused on the psychological and behavioral outcomes of the lack of parental supervision not for adolescents but for young adults, supposing that there may be long-term effects of lenient and indulging parenthood. The authors assume that, even though young adults no longer dwell with their parents, their behavior is still guided by messages communicated by parents before (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). This hypothesis is supported by behavioral continuity observed both in children and in adults. Moreover, if children had problems with their parents that they tried to conceal, it is likely that adolescent delinquency is a way of externalizing them. Thus, the study is aimed to prove that there is a positive connection between a low level of control during childhood and deviant or criminal behavior in early adulthood.

In order to achieve their research goal, the authors use data obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which analyzed 132 American schools during 1-year period (1994-1995). In 1995, students in grades 7-12 were interviewed on the topic of their relationships with parents, household organization, family dynamics, sexual activity, and other aspects. When the same participants were already 18-27 years old, the data were collected again. For the purposes of the study, the researchers used information collected during both surveys. They used only the items that repeated in the interviews. Namely, the respondents were asked how often they damaged someone else’s property, steal things that were worth more than $50 from shops, people or houses, steal minor things that were worth less than $50, threaten someone using weapons for blackmailing, sell drugs, and participate in group fights. These answers (which could range from 0 – “never” to 3 – “five or more times”) were recorded for each respondents both times. The results were analyzed together with the answers to the questions concerning the level of parental control. The researches asked teenagers whether their parents allow them to decide what clothes to wear, how much time to devote to watching television, what programs to choose, and how late they could stay up. In order to make the study more objective, other variables, including gender, age, ethnicity, and race were also included in the study (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). Also, it was taken into account if the family consists of two biological parents, single parent, or step parents.

Stata’s “svy” estimation was applied to conduct a statistical analysis of the data obtained during the surveys. It was found out that the mean for lack of control was 4.33 whereas the mean for delinquency was 1.13 since the majority of the participants reported that they never engaged in any kinds of criminal behaviors. During the second survey, the level of delinquency declined to 0.61. The analysis proved that the lack of parental control was positively associated with deviant or criminal behaviors, especially in Hispanic males, coming from a single-mother, single-father or step family (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). This influence persisted in young adulthood, which means that early indicators or delinquency could predict future behavior.

Thus, the hypothesis was proved and the results obtained by the study support the idea, indicated by other researchers, that the lack of parental monitoring is crucial for normal psychological development of children since its level is directly connected with the level of criminal activity both is adolescence and in adulthood. Although adolescents need certain autonomy for developing their own personality, learning to exist separately from their parents, too much independence actually does more harm than good (Harris-McKoy & Cui, 2013). The researchers conclude that parents should not cease to control what their children watch, with whom they communicate, how much time they spend out of home, and in what activities they are involved during their unsupervised time.

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Despite the fact that the article develops the topic that was raised in other studies, the approach selected by the researchers makes it stand out. They associate psychological and behavioral problems of adolescence (connected with the lack of attention and control) not only with early criminal behavior but also with delinquency during young adulthood, which is a difficult, transitional period of development. These findings are crucial for decreasing criminal activities both in children and in adults.


Harris-McKoy, D., & Cui, M. (2013). Parental control, adolescent delinquency, and young adult criminal behavior. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 22(6), 836-843.

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