When aiming to explain why delinquent behavior occurs, scientists and practitioners have used several theories that explain how some inborn qualities and environmental factors impact the development of an individual. The reasons why I resisted negative delinquent behaviors when growing up can be explained by the Life Course Theory. In this paper, I will discuss the Life Course theory to explain why I was not affected by negative delinquent tendencies and contrast this theory with the Latent Trait Approach.
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The Life Course Theory argues that over the course of one’s life, people’s environment changes together with the individuals who influence one’s behaviors and choices. For example, when growing up, a person who lives in a nuclear family is less likely to engage in criminal behavior since their family structure and nature influence their decisions and behaviors ( Siegel and Welsh 50). Next, at school, the peer group affects one’s choices and predisposes one to crime if the classmates of an individual commit such actions.
Following this theory, I was able to avoid the negative influence and subsequent delinquent behaviors because I grew up in a nuclear family. Moreover, when I went to school, my peers and friends did not engage in any crimes, which affected my behavior and attitudes toward delinquency. During adulthood, I had some acquaintances with people who committed crimes; however, my peer group, in general, did not support delinquent behavior. Hence, in accordance with the Life Course Theory of Development, I did not engage in delinquent behavior when growing up because the people who surrounded me and affected my life did not support the negative delinquent behaviors.
Another theory that helps explain why people may choose to behave delinquently is the Latent Trait Theory. According to Siegel and Welsh, there are a set of factors, such as inborn qualities of a person, that remain the same over the course of a person’s life, which predisposes them to crime (50). For example, low IQ and impulsivity may be strong predictors of a person’s delinquency. Impulsivity, in particular, is a strong characteristic that impacts one’s behavior throughout their life (Aßfalg and Klauer 10 ). An impulsive person generally makes decisions quickly and without thorough consideration, which means that their decision to engage in delinquent behavior could be a result of an instant impulse. Another important factor linked to impulse control is an opportunity (Chamberlain et al. 810). Under a Latent Trait theory, a person would not commit a crime unless there was a good opportunity for it. For example, if someone with a set of character traits predisposing them to crime sees an unlocked door, they are likely to come in and steal something. In contrast to this, under the Life Course Theory, the opportunity would not matter if a person’s social circle did not support delinquent behaviors.
An important implication of the Latent Trait theory is that if these traits are noticed right away, the child’s caregivers can affect their behavior and prevent negative delinquent influences. This is because these traits are present from birth or soon after birth (Aßfalg and Klauer 10 ). Hence, if noticed and addressed early, the turning points that will lead to criminal activity can be reversed, and a person with latent traits would not become a criminal.
In summary, different developmental theories offer opposing explanations to the reasons why some people behave delinquently and others do not. In my case, the Life Course theory helps illustrate that I was surrounded by peers and adults who did not support delinquent behavior. On the other hand, the Latent Trait theory suggests that there are some implicit and inborn personality characteristics that will affect an individual’s delinquency regardless of other factors.
Aßfalg, André, and Karl Christoph Klauer. “Consensus Theory For Multiple Latent Traits And Consensus Groups.” Journal Of Mathematical Psychology, vol 97, 2020, pp.10-20.
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Chamberlain, Sara et al. “Latent Traits of Impulsivity and Compulsivity: Toward Dimensional Psychiatry.” Psychological Medicine, vol 48, no. 5, 2017, pp. 810-821.
Siegel, Larry and Welsh, Brandon. Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. Cengage, 2017.