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Juvenile Delinquency: Main Theories

Psychological Theories

Kohlberg theory of moral development outlines three different levels. In the pre-conventional level the concept of obedience and punishment channels moral reasoning and individual perceptions are formed on the basis of individual needs during middle childhood. The conventional level is reached when middle childhood ends; the expectations held by others guide decision making and maintenance of law and order is important. The post-conventional level occurs during early adulthood and internalized principles of justice are pursued. (Wagner, n.d.)

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Shoplifting: A child may steal a candy from a shop and somehow manages to escape without getting punished; the judgment is thus formed that it bears no punishment. During the second stage, progress is not smooth and this paves way for incorrect internal frame in the third level. At the post conventional level, the individual is able to use the judgment from the first level for framing internal principles of justice and do shoplifting.

Breaking and entering a home: An individual takes refuge as a child by entering someone’s home, for instance, when being chased by a dog. This thing doesn’t come into action again till the child enters the third level where it forms the internal frame of reference which is prominent and external influences are of secondary importance. The individual’s frame of reference decides from the childhood event of breaking and entering into someone’s home may be helpful again.

Car jacking: A child learns that a car is a means of traveling and that carjacking is often used for the same purpose. In the second stage, the awareness that car jacking is a crime come into awareness but the progress is uneven in case of respecting rules and when the third stage is entered, the social principle don’t have value and the individual who does car jacking use the internal frame of justice where carjacking is being used to fulfill some need; a perception that was framed in the first stage and couldn’t be appropriately tamed in the second stage.

In psychoanalytic theory, Sigmund Freud proposes that the unconscious of people represses natural drives and urges. People have different tendencies which are promoted or restricted by socialization when inner controls are developed through experiences of childhood and these controls guide later actions. (Wagner, n.d.)

Shoplifting: Let’s assume that two people may have tendency of shoplifting. According to this theory, person A may do it the first time and after being punished, he develops the internal control that refrains him from performing this action under any circumstance again. Person B also performs the same act and is reprimanded in a similar fashion but for this person, the tendency is further fuelled because of the external influences e.g.: social circle helps in developing an inner control which doesn’t consider the consequences serious enough.

Breaking and entering a home: A child who already has an inclination for this act, may witness an event of someone breaking and entering another’s home but does not witness the later consequences of the crime; as a result, the child develops an internal control, through the subconscious memory, which guides and motivates him in the future to perform this action as an adult.

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Car jacking: This theory holds the aspect of a child identifying with his/her parent(s) under socialization. A father may perform car jacking while in the company of his child, the child identifies with this and is improperly socialized developing an impulse for the same; the inner control later directs the person to perform the same act.

Sociological Theories

The social disorganization theory primarily indicates the malfunctioning of specific communities by concentrating on urban conditions which impact the rate of crime. It identifies factors which contribute to crime in communities like low income levels, high unemployment, and a great number of single parent households by reducing the motivation of exercising successful social control. (Zarka, 2007).

Shoplifting: Communities that are poor have a high rate of shoplifters; these people are economically deprived and due to low levels of income they resort to this illegal activity as a means of fulfilling their needs. Besides, there are communities especially with a large population of the minority where such crimes are already prevalent and hence those who are deprived with criminal tendencies are encouraged by observing. Lack of schooling and parental guidance is also responsible for raising socially irresponsible citizens.

Breaking and entering a home: Residents of deprived societies are not familiar with each other and they frequently change their communities, as a result, they care less about each other and do not have close ties with their neighbors; this makes such societies a vulnerable target for this crime as residents are more likely not to interfere in the affairs of the neighborhood, for instance, by not scrutinizing the activities of residents and subtly consenting to crime.

Car jacking: Poor communities have limited resources and as a result of this, they are bound to have a greater urge for what resources others have; they are also not much attached to the community; they lack those skills which can effectively enable them to help others. Therefore, they may be motivated to steal these resources to help themselves or others for example car jacking to have a means of transport for a better life.

According to the strain theory, crime is a result of conflict which arises between the legal goals that people have and the methods that are used for obtaining them. This theory implies that people living in a low socioeconomic class do not have much opportunity for attaining their objectives and they commit illegal acts for doing so. Besides, when faced with stress, they tend to be upset, and consequently sometimes get involved in crime to diminish or avoid the strain. (Zarka, 2007).

Shoplifting: Stress is likely to result in crimes that have low cost but high benefits; that is, the chances of getting caught and then being punished is low but the rewards that are reaped are higher. Shoplifting is a crime in which there are less chances for a person to get caught especially in a crowded place but the stolen good, for instance, food has great value. It may also be a mean of achieving autonomy by not having to ask someone for a certain thing and instead stealing it.

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Breaking and entering a house: individuals have a greater disposition to commit a crime when their beliefs justify it, or when their exposure has been to such models, or similar actions in the past have been reinforced. A person, who as a child, often used to enter people’s home while playing or without their permission or observes others doing so, develops this tendency which results in this crime later on.

Car jacking: A person belonging to a low class has fewer opportunities for achieving goals than a person belonging to a higher class. These goals may be prestige, wealth, authority, or material possessions. An individual who considers car to be a symbol of status and strives to achieve it doesn’t succeed in doing so legally, due to limited resources, this person then turns towards car jacking as a means of obtaining his objective.


Wagner, K.V., n.d., “Psychology theories”, 2009. Web.

Zarka, H. 2007, “Sociological theories of crime”, Web.

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