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This paper will focus on the application of criminological theory in the following scenario: As the vice principal in charge of discipline at a prestigious school, I need to determine what actions to take in dealing with a deviant eighth grade male student. This student comes from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background and has now been caught in a physical altercation with another student. My direct supervisor, the principal, believes it is in the student’s best interest to remain at our school.
As I am in charge of discipline, I will suggest several possible courses of action, incorporating criminological theories, to be used either singly or in tandem. The first course of action would be to speak to both of the students involved in the altercation and in turn, their parents. Although it is not an excuse, it is possible that there was some instigation preceding the altercation. Speaking with both students may paint a picture as to the nature of what transpired and how it could have been avoided.
In any case, both students will be reprimanded as we have a zero tolerance policy for such acts here at the school.
To properly understand the deviant student, let’s call him David, it will be necessary to find out more about his background, social and family ties, peer influences, general demeanor, and any goals or hopes he has. I cannot simply classify David as a juvenile delinquent or a future criminal. To label him may do more harm than good.
The labeling theory asserts that once an individual has deviated from the social norms of society, they are labeled as a delinquent or a criminal, and begin to behave as such (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011).
In other words, if David is continuously labeled by the school, his peers, and society in general as a juvenile delinquent then he will begin to believe it himself. His self-esteem and self-worth will go down and he will begin viewing himself as a juvenile delinquent. Once David has accepted his label, he will begin to engage in more and more deviant acts. So it is important here that I am sensitive to his situation and avoid putting a label on him for one discretionary act.
We know that David comes from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background. It is likely that he lives in an environment where social ties are poor and delinquent peer groups are abundant. Such communities have a higher crime rate and a higher rate of delinquency, as explained by their weak social bonds. Socially organized and tight-knit communities are more likely to supervise and control teenage peer groups where socially disorganized communities are not (McCord, 1992). External factors such as lack of supervision and a weak social bond may be contributing to David’s delinquency. Unfortunately, the school can do little in the way of helping him and his family out of their community.
However, creating a social bond of sorts here at the school may help David move from a perhaps delinquent peer group to one more conscientious of social norms and societal laws. I would suggest trying to get David involved in a sport or another social club at the school. Again, finding out what he is interested in is an important part of helping him. We want David to feel socially accepted and increase his self-esteem.
Learning theories suggest that antisocial, deviant, and criminal behavior is not instilled in an individual, but learned through interactions with their environment and peers. Because of their individual circumstances, some people learn and practice behaviors that the larger society condemns. Not surprisingly, children growing up in neighborhoods rife with crime often end up committing crime themselves” (Barkan, 2009). It is essential that David associate with peers that follow and respect societies rules. The theory of differential association attributes an individual’s attitudes and views of crime and deviance to that of their immediate social groups.
In other words, if David’s peer group is deviant, he will be deviant as well. Another explanation for that follows the theory of differential identification; David may feel the need to “fit in” and be accepted as a member of a group. By acting like the group he has chosen to fit in to; dressing like they do, speaking the way they speak, and engaging in the same deviant activities they engage in, he gains their approval and is accepted as part of the group. In the same manner, David is learning deviant behavior because he is exposed to it on a regular basis.
He may see violence and deviance as a social norm (and therefore acceptable) because in his immediate environment it is a normal occurrence. Finally, through differential reinforcement, this learned behavior is reinforced through reward or praise from his peer group. Perhaps he see’s frequent violence in which the person committing the violence is never reprimanded. If David believes he can commit these acts with little fear of reprimand or with the encouragement of his peer group, he is more likely to do so and not even feel like he has done anything wrong.
School is a place with many rules and many types of interactions with different people. Clearly what is acceptable in David’s home environment and peer group is not acceptable here. It is important that he understand what is right and wrong in this setting and furthermore, in society. I will likely suggest that David speak with the school’s psychologist to determine how much learned deviant behavior he has experienced. This will also give him an opportunity to bond with someone who respects social norms and laws.
Unlike other criminological theories, control theories set out to learn not why individuals commit crime, but why they do not commit crime (Akers & Sellers, 2004). David’s meeting with the school psychologist will also shed some light on where he measures using some of the control theories. The containment theory introduces the possibility that there are internal and external influences that guide an individual away from committing crime. Internally, that individual’s positive self-image and tolerance for frustration help sway them from becoming deviant.
On the other side, external influences like positive role models and a close family bond will do the same (Barkan, 2009). Travis Hirshi’s social bonding theory had several explanations for the behavior of juveniles. These explanations included supported research that found that “youth’s who were strongly attached to their parents were less likely to commit criminal acts” and “youths who maintained weak and distant relationships with people tended toward delinquency” (Evans, n. d. ) One final addition to control theories, although there are several more, is the coercive control and social support theory.
This theory, in short, states that an individual is coerced into crime either through fear or through other means, such as poverty. Whether that individual has strong social support from family, their community, and social institutions such as school, has a large impact on the likelihood that the individual with commit crime. While each of these control theories introduce several ideas about why individual’s may or may not commit crime, one similarity is present throughout. The presence of a strong social bond with friends, family, and community encourages a crime free existence. To encourage David to head down the right path, so to speak, we need to fortify his social bonds.
Life-course theories focus on what factors occur during different stages of one’s life that may promote delinquency or crime. These factors include: socioeconomic status, poor and inconsistent parenting, weak social bonds, poor school performance, and delinquent peers. (Barkan, 2009). The recurring theme across the life-course theories is that it is weak social bonds, poor parenting, and the influence of delinquent peers that determine an individual’s susceptibility to deviant behavior.
Strain, or stress, result from an individual’s perceived inadequacies making them even more susceptible. Such strain can be caused by any number of the causal factors of delinquency listed above. A young and impressionable individual such as David may experience strain because of his socioeconomic status, his difficulty at the school, or many other reasons. The more strain one experiences, the more likely they are to display deviant behavior.
I fully support the principal’s decision to keep David at the school as it truly is in his best interest.
My final disciplinary decision regarding the physical altercation between David and the other student will include several days of in-school suspension where both boys will be able to serve out their punishment while still completing school assignments, separated from the rest of the students of course. I am compelled to reach out to David and give him every opportunity to reform. I will be speaking with the teacher who made the initial complaint regarding David to explain to them that he is in need of a positive role model and positive reinforcement.
A visit with the school’s psychologist will also be made. Not only will this give David an outlet to perhaps discuss his problems, it will also expose him to another positive influence and someone who can help him cope with any anger issues he may have. Introducing David to positive and close social bonds is already decreasing the chance that he will engage in more deviant behavior. Suggestions will be made that he engage in a sport or other social clubs at the school. This will encourage David to interact with a less deviant peer group.
There will also be a meeting between David and myself. I will explain to David that his current behaviors are unacceptable here at school and any further infractions will be dealt with swift and more severe punishments. Once that has been discussed, I would like to find out more about what goals David has. In doing so, I can help motivate him to obtain these goals. My intention is to make it clear to him that I am there to help with any issues he has and that he can feel comfortable coming to me, or any other school staff, if he needs to.
In closing, the main goal here is to help David by introducing positive role models, making him feel socially accepted to increase his self-esteem, strengthen his social bonds, and encourage him to interact with people in a more positive way. If nowhere else, a school should foster these values to reduce a child’s likelihood of delinquency.
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