National Survey Findings Support Association between Delinquency and Victimization

Childhood exposure to domestic and community violence has been linked to the development of PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, and can negatively impact cognitive development and educational achievement.  In addition, experiencing violence as a youth is considered a risk factor for delinquent behavior.

An October 2013 bulletin from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection takes a closer look at delinquency and victimization of juveniles, particularly where they overlap.  In Children’s Exposure to Violence and the Intersection Between Delinquency and Victimization by Carlos A. Cuevas, David Finkelhor, Anne Shattuck, Heather Turner and Sherry Hamby, data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence is used to examine the association between the incidence of children’s direct exposure to crime and their reported delinquent activities. 

Researchers categorized youth into three main groups, Delinquent-Victim, Primarily Delinquent, and Primarily Victim, based on reported delinquent acts and victimization (experiencing three or more criminal acts) in the past year.  Additional within-group classifications allowed for distinctions to be made regarding the types of reported behaviors and victimizations.  The key findings are summarized below.

  • For boys, the Primarily Delinquent group made up 20.8 percent of the sample, the Delinquent-Victim group made up 18.1 percent and Primarily Victims 17.9 percent.
  • For girls, the Primarily Victim group made up 21.2 percent of the sample, the Delinquent-Victim group made up 13.3 percent, and the Primarily Delinquent group 13 percent.
  • Among both boys and girls, the Delinquent-Victim group engaged in more delinquency than their male and female peers in the Primarily Delinquent group (boys, 3.9 versus 2.5 activities, girls 3.3 versus 2.0).
  • Both male and female Delinquent-Victim groups reported more victimization that their counterparts in the Primarily Victim groups (boys 6.3 versus 4.5 different victimizations, girls 6.4 versus 4.2).  Male Delinquent-Victims had a higher percentage in every category of victimization (except bullying) compared to males in the Primarily Victim group. For girls, perhaps the most significant statistic is the high sexual victimization rate among the female Delinquent-Victim group (58%) compared to that of the female Primarily Victim group (27%).

The researchers found patterns in the growth or reduction of each group as children aged, although this study was not longitudinal. Their analysis indicates that male rates of delinquency-victimization peak at ages 13-14, while for females it occurs earlier, at ages 11-12. This suggests interventions at the grade school level may be more successful than those introduced during the teenage years.


Youth Who Bully More Likely to Have a Mental Health Diagnosis

Much of the of the media coverage on peer-to-beer bullying in schools focuses on the mental health of the victims. This kind of coverage makes sense both in appeal to the public and the connection between being bullied and feelings of despair and suicidal ideation. However, a paper presented today at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans suggests that children and adolescents with mental disorders were more likely to bully other youth.   The presentation and paper, Association Between Mental Health Disorders and Bullying In the United States Among Children Aged 6 to 17 Years, may turn bullying intervention and prevention programs on their heads as the data show youth with depression or Oppositional Defiant Disorder are more likely to be fingered as bullies than their peers.

Studies indicate that at least 8 percent of American youth have serious emotional disorders  – how much of the bullying going on among adolescents is related to typical (although needlessly painful for those on the receiving end) developmental behaviors versus repeated acts of aggression related to, if not a symptom of, a known or unknown behavioral health issue? And regarding the family of the bully – so often maligned in comboxes across the internet, though at times with reason- perhaps these findings indicate that we should stop debating whether is it over-parenting or under-parenting that forms the bully and start looking at the emotional,  psychological and physical wellness of the child, even if it means recognizing something that we’d prefer to pretend we never noticed.


New Findings from Juvenile Offender Study Suggest Patterns of Criminality not Predictable

The Pathways to Desistance study is a large-scale, longitudinal study that followed a cohort of juvenile offenders (all found guilty of a felony or serious criminal offense) from the Phoenix, Arizona and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania areas into young adulthood (up to seven years post adjudication).  The principal researcher, Edward P. Mulvey, of the University of Pittsburgh, recently published a brief discussing some of the updated findings from the study.  Highlights include:

  • The trajectory of a youth’s future criminal activity cannot be predicted by the type of offense that brought him or her to the attention of the court.
  • Institutional placement of an adjudicated juvenile does not decrease recidivism and in some cases may increase the risk of re-arrest.
  • Substance abuse treatment is linked to better outcomes for youth offenders, but it may not be available or of the intensity and/or duration required.

The policy implications of these, and other,  findings are discussed in the National Juvenile Justice Network’s September 2012 brief, Emerging Findings and Policy Implications from the Pathways to Desistance Study.

What (if any) impact will these findings have on justice system policies?  Given the school-to-prison pipeline investigation(s), will the data on recidivism and incarceration influence a slightly less legalistic approach to maintaining order in public schools?  What is it about quality substance abuse treatment that has a stronger impact on juvenile re-offending than the fear returning to a correctional institution?

Paper: Teens Who Fight Influenced by Parental Behaviors

A paper presented at the recent 2012 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting explored the link between the behavior of aggressive teenagers and that demonstrated by their parents. A series of focus groups with middle and high school students found that attitudes and behaviors of parents were highly influential in shaping the violent reaction to conflicts exhibited by their teenage children. Many of the youth involved in physical altercations (fighting) reported that family members had pro-fighting attitudes and (anecdotal) histories of altercations. Fighting teens tended to lack knowledge of, or positive perceptions for, alternative methods of conflict resolution.

This study offers up yet another piece of evidence for the use of family-centered, not merely youth-based, interventions to discuss strategies for coping with stress, addressing conflict, and non-aggressive ways to mediate issues both within the family and with external players.