Family Instability And Juvenile Delinquency

Project and Seminar Material for Sociology

Family Instability And Juvenile Delinquency


The family as a universal social institution exists in all human society. It forms the basis without which no society can survive. It is from here the individual picks up a “self” through the process of socialization. Various factors have been associated with delinquency, but the most important is the quality of relationship between parents and children. Some observers of social life have argued that the family no longer functions as a useful social unit.

The method employed for the study is the survey method and the purposive/judgemental sampling technique of the non-probability sampling method.

Based on the data collected, we found that domestic violence does determine delinquency in children, that large family does not engender delinquency, that children who associate with delinquents usually became delinquents, and that there was a relationship between parents’ criminal record and deviance in children.

We concluded by saying that since delinquency emanates from the home from, much attention should be focused on childhood and family life.

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background Of The Study

Many sociologists regard the family as the cornerstone of society. It forms the basic unit of social organization and it is difficult to imagine how society could function without it. Although the composition of the family varies, for example in many societies two or more wives are regarded as the ideal arrangement, such difference can be seen as minor variations.

In general, therefore, the family has been seen as a universal social institution, as an inevitable part of human society. On the whole it has been regarded as functional both for the individual and society as a whole (Haralambos and Heald 1984).

The study of the family involves several theories, but the functionalist and conflict theories are the two most fundamental. The functionalists are interested in the functions that are performed by the family. The family according to the functionalist view, is the most stable social institution and is therefore ideal for the performance of the following functions:

(i) The family, through the process of socialization, nurtures and prepares children to be productive members of society. (ii) It equips them with the cultural values and skills necessary for the society to survive continuously. (iii) Family members receive their basic needs, such as emotional and physical care, from their families. In most societies, there are groups or organisations that take up the responsibility of caring for or protecting the members of the society under certain circumstances. The family, however, seems to be the most appropriate of them all, especially regarding daily living in an impersonal environment caused by rapid changes (Magill, and Hector, 2000 ed).

From the foregoing, the family is supposed and expected to be an arena of love, peace, harmony, and tranquility, where members will naturally find a haven of rest after a tension soaked and stressful working day. It is expected to be the protector and guardian of its members from external aggression among other roles. However, research and observation show that the family has become another place of tension, multifarious problems and a danger Zone (Ekiran 2004)

1.2 Statement Of The Problem

Early attempts to explain delinquency centred on biological and psychological factors, seeking to explain crime and delinquency in terms of some deficiency or imbalance within the individual who engaged in the behaviour. Noting that criminal and delinquent behaviour patterns were found under certain circumstances and in certain areas more frequently than in others, sociologists began to look at the social milieu in which the acts took place (Sanders 1996)

The family represents the primary agent for the socialization of children. The family is the first social group a child encounters and is the group with which most children have their most enduring relationships. The family gives a child his or her principal identity and, of course, even his or her name. The family teaches social roles, moral standards, and society’s laws, and it disciplines children who fail to comply with those norms and values. The family either provides for or neglects children’s emotional, intellectual, and social needs; the neglect of these basic needs can profoundly affect the shaping of a child’s values and attitudes (Bartollas, 1990). One of the apparent voids that exist in the life of a child who is delinquency prone is pronounced supportive and affectional needs that go largely unmet. According to Berman (1989), if the mother is ineffective, indifferent or cruel, the child sees her as one who rejects his needs and responds to her as the one who hates him. Her own dependency needs may be such that she finds the infants needs intolerable. This type of mother most often is helpless, confused, disorganized and dependent. She feels there is no one to satisfy her dependency needs and therefore feels unable to care for the needs of her children. The father also poses a serious problem to the child, since he may either ignore the child or belittle him and be harsh or cruel. This father is devoid of or lacking in his capacity to give love or tender interest to the family.

Some observers of social life have argued that the family no longer functions as a useful social unit. They contend that divorce, single-parent families, isolation, role conflict, out-of-wedlock births, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence are some of the problems affecting the family today (Baltimore, K Freudenthal 1998). The importance of given the family as a contributory factor to delinquency has varied through the years Karen Wilkinson has classified the attention given to the family into three periods: 1900-1932, 1933-1950, and 1951-1972. In the first period, the role of the family as a contributory factor to delinquent behaviour was emphasized. A broken home was considered a major cause of delinquency, and a great deal of research was done to measure its influence. Studies done in the United States in 1981 for example, indicated that there was one divorce for every two marriages. Even though most people who get divorced ultimately remarry, the ratio of divorced people to married people living with their spouses more than doubled from 47 per 1,000 in 1970 to 100 per 1,000 in 1980. The rise of the divorce means that single-parent families have been increasing (Bartollas 1990).

Isolation also is a major problem affecting many families. This is as a result of urbanization, increased mobilization, dehumanizing jobs, and the disintegration of communities, neighbourhoods, and support networks. The declining impact of the extended family, which traditionally offered numerous advantages to children because it relived some of the pressures of parenting, has further contributed to the problem of isolation.

Violence has been a major characteristic of the family in the past, and it is no stranger to family life today. Marital violence is rapidly becoming recognized as a pervasive problem that affect nearly a third of the world’s population (Gelles and Straus 1988). A study in Delaware (U.S) found that 12 percent of those surveyed reported having hit a spouse with a hard object, while 22 percent has used a hand. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of the couples reported at least one violent act in their marriage. With a seeming general acceptance of violence within the family, it is not surprising that some parents also act out their aggressions on their children.

Inadequate supervision and discipline in the home have been commonly citied to explain delinquent behaviour. Hirschi (1969) found that the rate of delinquency increased with the incidence of mothers employed outside the home. He attributes this finding to the fact that unemployed mother spent more time supervising their children’s activities and behaviour. Nye (1960) reports that the type of discipline were associated with high rates of delinquent behaviour, for both strict and lax discipline and unfair discipline were associated with high rates of delinquent behaviour. McCord, McCord and Zola (1979) further found a relationship between inconsistent discipline and deviant behaviour. Nye adds that the disciplinary role of the father was more closely related to delinquent behaviour than was the disciplinary role of the mother.

The foregoing observations are some of the problems plaguing the family, and which are responsible for deviant acts in children. Since the family is the first social group a child encounters and is the group with which most children have their most enduring relationships. The family teaches social roles, moral standards, and society’s laws, and it disciplines children who fail to comply with those norms and values. Where these are missing due to improper socialization, violence or one of those problem affecting the family, it becomes a problem both for the individual and society as a whole. Also, the fact that children learn most of their behaviour from the home, it is clear that whatever they are exposed to in the home, they tend to exhibit to the society. On the whole, the rate of delinquency appears to increase with the number of unfavourable factors in the home. That is, multiple “handicaps” within the family are associated with a higher probability of juvenile delinquency than single handicaps.

1.3 Objectives Of The Study

General Objective

To establish the relationship between family instability and deviance in children

Specific Objectives
  1. To determine the relationship that exists between divorce/separation and deviance in children.
  2. To demonstrate the relationship between parents’ attitude toward their children and delinquency.
  3. To find out if peer influence engenders juvenile delinquency.
  4. To find out if family size causes deviance in children.
  5. To make policy recommendations on how to combat deviance in children.

1.4 Significance Of The Study

The significance of the study is to add to existing knowledge on family instability and juvenile delinquency in Nigeria, it will serve as a basis for further research on the subject matter, and finally, to serve as a guide for policy formulation aimed at addressing the problem of juvenile delinquency in Nigeria.

1.5 Scope Of The Study

The scope of the study will be within the ambit of teenagers in Lagos State, particularly in Birrel Boys Approved School (Sabo), Girls Remand Home (Idi-Araba), in Yaba, Mushin, and Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government Areas in Lagos State.

This will be done in the time frame of two months, July – August 2006, in order to gather information on family instability and its effects on children.

1.6 Conceptual Clarification

In this section, operational definitions of all the major concepts as they are to be used in the study will be done, so as to give meaning and clarity of purpose to the study.


Refers to behaviours for which a juvenile can be formally sanctioned; collectively, those behaviours include status offenses and those behaviours prohibited under criminal law (Magill and Hector, 1995).


Refers to an act or behaviour which departs from a generally accepted pattern of behaviour; a behaviour or act that aberrates from that which is considered a norm (Magill, and Hector, 1995).


Refers to the termination of marriage by legal, customary or religious procedures (Census Manual, 2006).


A family consists of a group of people who identify themselves as being related to one another, usually by blood, marriage, or adoption, and who share intimate relationships and dependency. Lamanna, and Reidmann, (1991) define a family as “any sexually expressive or parent-child relationship in which people-usually related by ancestry, marriage, or adoption:

  • Live together with commitment
  • Form an economic unit and care for any young, and
  • Find their identity as importantly attached to the group

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a juvenile is a young person who is not yet an adult.

Juvenile Delinquency:

Refers to any act in violation of criminal law, committed by a person defined under the law as a Juvenile, which if it had been committed by an adult will be treated as crime or criminal conduct (Alemika, and Chukwuma, 2001).


Refers to a situation where a couple is shut off from cohabitation, especially by Judicial Decree (Census Manual, 2006).


This will be looked at from two perspectives: the society and the individual.

  • From the societal perspective, it is the process of fitting new individuals into an organized way of life and an established cultural tradition. It begins early and is a life long process.
  • From the individual perspective, it is the process by which human animal becomes human being and acquires

Family Instability And Juvenile Delinquency

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Family Instability And Juvenile Delinquency


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