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 Research Hypotheses

From the above research questions, the following hypotheses have been formulated:

  1. Ho: There is no relationship between divorce and juvenile delinquency
    Hi: There is a relationship between divorce and juvenile delinquency
  2. Ho: There is no relationship between family size and juvenile delinquency
    Hi: There is a relationship between family size and juvenile delinquency

1.5 Significance of the Study

  1. This study which focuses on the incidence of juvenile delinquency in socio-economic classes of parents, the rate of juvenile delinquency among the sexes and age bands, will be useful in providing statistics on juvenile delinquency in Uyo urban.
  2. It will be valuable to the government in helping to determine where to channel its resources in an attempt to check juvenile delinquency.
  3. This research is expected to contribute in the area of helping to the dimension of juvenile delinquency in our society and will help in bringing in limitation on the cause and the consequence of this social problem.
  4. The study will also help guidance counselors decide on strategies to use in providing assistance in respect of some deviant behaviours among the youths as well as educating parents on how to help their children.
  5. Most significantly, it will identify the needed strategies and demand that could be used by parents, law enforcement agencies and others in checking their problems in our societies especially in the urban areas.
  6. It will also be of immense importance to researchers who may wish to carry out more studies on various aspects of juvenile delinquency in Akwa Ibom State.

1.6 Scope and Limitation 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. The researcher encounters some constrain which limited the scope of the study;

a) Availability of Research Material:

The research material available to the researcher is insufficient, thereby limiting the study

b) Time:

The time frame allocated to the study does not enhance wider coverage as the researcher has to combine other academic activities and examinations with the study.

1.7 Definition of Terms

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).

1.8 Organization of the Study

This research work is organized in five chapters, for easy understanding, as follows; Chapter one is concern with the introduction, which consist of the (overview, of the study), historical background, statement of problem, objectives of the study, research hypotheses, significance of the study, scope and limitation of the study, definition of terms and historical background of the study. Chapter two highlights the theoretical framework on which the study is based, thus the review of related literature. Chapter three deals on the research design and methodology adopted in the study. Chapter four concentrate on the data collection and analysis and presentation of finding. Chapter five gives summary, conclusion, and recommendations made of the study.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Introduction

It is important to ascertain that the objective of this study was to ascertain and critically analyze the subject family instability and juvenile delinquency.

In the preceding chapter, the relevant data collected for this study were presented, critically analyzed and appropriate interpretation given. In this chapter, certain recommendations made which in the opinion of the researcher will be of benefits in addressing delinquency among youth.

5.2 Summary

This study was on family instability and juvenile delinquency. Five objectives were raised which included: To determine the relationship that exists between divorce/separation and deviance in children, to demonstrate the relationship between parents’ attitude toward their children and delinquency, to find out if peer influence engenders juvenile delinquency, to find out if family size causes deviance in children, to make policy recommendations on how to combat deviance in children

5.3 Conclusion

It is generally observed that parents who are not formally educated want their children to be educated. With this desire, they spend time in instilling discipline into their children and wards. They have time to monitor and correct their children when they seem to go the wrong way, and their children are less involved in anti-social activities. On the contrary, the highly educated ones spend more time working in offices and establishment and have little time for their children. Children of uneducated parents are afraid of falling into trap of anti-crime agents, knowing their parents may not have the means to get them out of trouble. Thus they are better behaved than their counterparts from highly educated background. Anti-social behavior among students is as a result of their failure to achieve academically. Academic failure is noted to be more prevalent among students from uneducated homes than those from illiterate homes. Thus the level/rate of delinquency among children of elites is lower than their counterpart from illiterate parents. These parents send their children to privileged schools that are less violent and less aggressive. Thus aggressive behavior, truancy, pilfering etc are more associated with children from less educated homes. Adolescents sail through the stage with minimal disruptions. It is a stage that must be handled with care or else, the battle would be lost.

5.4 Recommendation

The influence of age, family warmth and school connectedness cannot be overemphasized when adolescent delinquent behavior is being addressed. The family has got a very important role to play at ensuring that the adolescent does not go astray. Parents should realize that the task ahead of them in nurturing an adolescent into a decent adult. But with determination and commitment, the adolescent would come out as desirable. Also, the teachers in the school are not left out in the battle against delinquency as it is also a source of concern to the school when adolescents engage in activities that are not expected of adolescents. Therefore, there should be a combined effort from parents, teachers, counseling psychologists and school counselors at ensuring that the

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