According to Haynes and Prenzler, a stable finding across jurisdictions in Australia and overseas established that most offending occurred in middle to late adolescence and subsided in early adulthood. This was backed by Harvey and Kenneth in ‘Criminal conduct and substance abuse treatment for adolescents’ who noted that in most cases crimes were reduced with age. He observed that offending declined as the young people grew into adulthood. (Milkman B and Wanberg W. 2004). Various sociological theories have been coined to explain crime in society and more so the relationship between crime and age in the society.
The focus of this paper is to explain the interactionist theory of social deviance in relation to the reduced offending as children grew into early adulthood. The socialization process plays a vital role in affecting or rather influencing people’s engagement in crime in any society. From when a child is born, the family contributes a lot in as far as the assignment of symbols and meanings is concerned. Children learn to distinguish appropriate behaviour from inappropriate behaviour from the stance or the standpoint of their parents or their family members.
With time role taking is carried out and gender roles become clearer. (Thornberry P, 2004). Boys learn to behave like boys while girls learn to behave like girls according to how their families socialize them. From the appraisals given the certain behaviours are encouraged while others are discouraged. The success of the labelling embraced depends on individual children and will for instance be different for a less sociable child. The level of emotional attachment between the child and their parents has a role to play in influencing or determining if a child is to engage in crime and delinquency.
(Thornberry P, 2004). Close attachment between them results to compliance with the parents stand or reaction to crime. Children with parents who offer close supervision to are less likely to engage in crime as opposed to those with weak supervision. By the time children are 9-11 years they are in a position to make independent decisions regarding behaviour using the various explanations they have learnt. In this respect they will negotiate the prevailing situations using the various perspectives that their parents, teachers as well as their peers even in their absence.
(Thornberry P, 2004). At the middle childhood the role of the ‘generalized other’ becomes more effective. They use reference groups as a source of identity. At this stage, children will place themselves in the organized groups and try to evaluate themselves. (Thornberry P, 2004). They will compare the attitudes; expectations as well as the rules set by the groups and try to match in. To explain this occurrence, Mead gave the example of a baseball game where the pitcher understood and held the attitudes of all players in the field as well as their positions.
Youths who engaged in crime were more likely to be in a peer group that embraced delinquency or deviant behaviour. In other words the ‘generalized other’ revolved around crime and delinquency. The ‘generalized other’ in this case reflects the views of their parents as well as their peers which is at times conflicting. Youths may have a tendency of engaging in crime in their middle age as the influence of their parents dwindles and is replaced by peers. Most parents will subject their children to positive behaviour where crime and delinquency is discarded.
Without this influence, they are likely to be susceptible to crime. At this stage the manner in which they interpret the world is influenced by the intensified peer interactions. In their middle life, peers are at the same level in as far as ‘socialization agents’ are concerned as parents and family. The peer groups play a vital role in encouraging antisocial behaviour in childhood as well as communicating the cultural definitions of deviance. At the middle as well as late childhood the young are at liberty to select the peer groups they will relate to and parents play a minor role in influencing it.
However, the conventional peer groups will accommodate those who adhere to their values and likewise the antisocial and aggressive peer groups will opt for those who favour their behaviours. Aggressive children will be welcomed in aggressive peer groups which will ensure that their aggressive and anti social behaviours are reinforced. With time such behaviours will be stabilized. Selection into a group could be systematic, random or stochastic. (Thornberry P, 2004).
When it is systematic it ensures the stability of antisocial behaviour and could be as a result of individual character traits. Some youths may be labelled as anti social and on internalizing that they could be members of anti social peer groups. According to Finley in ‘Encyclopedia of juvenile violence’, the interactionist perspective to social deviance argues that delinquency cannot be wholly understood by simply evaluating the perpetrators of delinquent acts. Instead, criminal or delinquent acts ought to be examined through the context of what has been defined as deviant.
The interactionist theory of delinquency argues that ‘there is no act that can be defined as intrinsically deviant’ instead such acts become deviant when the observer in society defines them as such. (Finley L, 2007). A clear illustration of this is when violence is deemed as deviant yet there are sport activities that embrace it and a different perspective adopted all together. According to this theory, there are three main aspects to be considered when applying the interactionist’s perspective to explain crime in society.
The developmental change in the individual, his interaction with the environment as well as the individual approach to defining their role and place in the society will all affect their indulgence in social deviance. (Finley L, 2007). Criminal behaviour is seen to be related to one’s age or developmental stage in life. Thornbery and others argued that crime followed a certain pattern in people’s development. The initial phase occurs between 12-13 years which progressed into the maintenance phase which is between 16-17 years and finally there is the termination phase which takes place in the mid twenties.
Their theory argued that various causal factors for crime have an influence on individuals depending on their age. Young people at the age of 12 are more likely to engage in crime due to parental influences as opposed to 20 year olds. Similarly a 20 year old could engage in crime due to unemployment as opposed to a 12 year old. In other words variances in age explain the varying crime causal factors as at varying ages the young are subjected to varying circumstances. (Finley L, 2007). The interactionist theory appreciates the role of the environment in individuals.
People are seen as social beings that interact with others and hence influence each others behaviour. The interactionist theory has it that in the society, “The behaviour of those other people is not only changed but it also changes the behaviour of the original individual”. (Finley L, 2007, 143) For instance a child may be punished by a teacher after engaging in a delinquent behaviour. When the child’s parent is informed of the reprimand, the way that he or she reacts will affect the child’s relationship with the teacher while determining the interpretation of crime.
How a child defines his or her own place in the society will also determine if they are to be engaged in delinquent acts or not. When a child is labelled as delinquent he will be involved in peer groups that favour delinquency where such behaviour will be enforced. (Finley L, 2007). The self image that a child takes will be largely influenced by the roles that people have given them. People are constantly viewing themselves in ‘a mental looking glass’ which may not necessarily give accurate perceptions of others about us.
Positive roles will encourage positive behaviour while negative roles will reinforce negative behaviours. (Hunter D and Dantzker L, 2005). Parents influence by a large magnitude if children are to engage in crime. When parents are engaged in anti social behaviours there are higher chances that a self perpetuating cycle of destructive interactions will be enhanced. A clear illustration of how this could take place is when an antisocial or aggressive child misbehaves and their parents discipline them full of emotions and in a harsh manner through yelling or violence.
Such a child is more likely to reinforce the aggressiveness. Osgood and McCord in their distinguished book, Motivation and Delinquency, argued that the social interactionist perspective suggests that in some social environments, antisocial as well as delinquent acts tend to be functional in nature. (Osgood W and McCord J, 1997). This is to say that parents, peers as well as siblings will provide certain payoffs which will enhance the likelihood of such behaviours being carried on at a later stage in life.
One of the major explanations that would suffice in explaining why the rate of offending may be higher in the early adolescents and reduce in the early adulthood is the fact that the hazard rate changes with time. With time children mature and leave the criminal gangs that may reinforce criminal behaviour and this will translate to reduced chances of their engaging in offending. The symbolic interactionism has it that the society is an ongoing process where meanings are constantly given in social transactions between two or more individuals. (Levinson D, 2002).
The manner in which individuals adjust to the various situations and adjustments to each other determines the transactions to be made. Smooth and routine adjustments occur without one’s consciousness. When these adjustments are blocked individuals will evaluate themselves with the standpoint of others in the society. With time or age role continuity and role transition affects the rate at which an individual will engage in crime. (Osgood W and McCord J, 1997). Most young people in the developed countries will acquire education to high levels and this will see them in jobs that require them to behave in certain ways.
At this stage they have detached with the reference groups or peer groups where other peers were the generalized other influencing their behaviour. They adopt different attitudes, impulses, habits as well as commitments to suit their new roles. This indicates that people’s surrounding influences people’s behaviours as they use them to evaluate themselves. While in their working positions, young adults will be exposed to new social roles and will form other connections with people who favour conventional behaviours thus the reduced crime rates among them. References Finley Laura L. (2007). Encyclopedia of juvenile violence.
Greenwood Publishing Group, Hunter Ronald D and Dantzker Mark L. (2005). Crime and Criminality: Causes and Consequences. Criminal Justice Press, Milkman Harvey B and Wanberg Kenneth W. (2004). Criminal conduct and substance abuse treatment for adolescents: the provider’s guide : pathways to self-discovery and change. Sage Publishers. Osgood D. Wayne, McCord Joan. (1997). Motivation and Delinquency. Nebraska Press, Thornberry Terence P. (2004). Developmental Theories of Crime and Delinquency. Transaction Publishers, Levinson David. (2002). Encyclopedia of crime and punishment. Sage publishers
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