Nature versus nurture is a debate as old as time about how childhood affects development. Through this ideology, I derived my hypothesis that parental divorce is positively correlated to juvenile delinquency. Childhood has been proven to have a strong effect on how people develop into adulthood and can even affect their interests later in life, whether it is evolved through one’s environment or genetics (Tabery, 2014). Therefore, if the way we were raised can affect our interests and behavior, I believe that it can affect one’s criminal activity in youth as well. Oftentimes, when children are lacking something from their home life they act out for attention in other ways that I have witnessed firsthand by watching people I know and love deal with divorce, and how they began to act out in other aspects of life. My own personal experience also drives my belief that parental divorce can be a common drive between juvenile delinquents. One question I have though if my hypothesis is correct; what can be done to prevent criminal activity in youth from separated households?
For starters, divorce is a very common issue around the world. The rates of divorce across the world have raised over two hundred percent in the last forty years, reaching the statistic of over five per one thousand marriages (Depaulo, 2019). Multiple causes lead to divorce, perhaps the couple was not cut out for marriage, they found love elsewhere, or they could even be walking away from a pernicious or abusive relationship (Depaulo, 2019). Whatever the case may be, divorce is a prevalent problem in today’s world and is a distressing experience for all parties involved, even in cases where the divorce is liberating and sometimes a rescue mission. The divorce is not the only traumatic part, however, the downfall of a marriage is also a painstaking process to watch. Events like this are going to affect the parents and family, including the children and it would be naive to think otherwise.
With the idea of nature versus nurture in mind, an abusive environment or toxic relationship with parents or between parents can oftentimes lead to criminal activity, specifically those that happen during the children’s adolescence (Burt, S., Barnes, A., McGue, M., Iacono, W., & Burt, S., 2008). The study conducted showed that there was a higher rate of delinquency in children whose parents divorced during their adolescent years, whether the children were biologically related to their parents or adopted (Burt, et al., 2008). In addition, children from families that either never divorced, or divorced before birth, or soon thereafter, have lower rates of delinquency (Burt, et al., 2008). From this evidence, one could conclude that delinquency can be influenced by the timing of the divorce.
Another study followed a group of boys for a period of nine years, to examine how their family situations affected their behavior, and these situations included divorce and remarriage effects on two different age categories from six to eleven, and twelve to fifteen (Pagani, L., Tremblay, R. E., Vitaro, F., Kerr, M., & McDuff, P., 1998). During the study, the boys were given a questionnaire each year over aspects of their behavior from the last year including what researchers considered the four main issues of delinquency, like fighting, vandalism, theft, and substance abuse (Pagani, et al., 1998). Further, the parenting styles were examined each year through another questionnaire based on the boys’ thoughts and beliefs, regarding supervision, and communication with their parents (Pagani, et al., 1998). The questions were composed to investigate how the parents’ were attending to their child, as well as disciplining their children, and whether there was positive reinforcement within the household or issues with verbal/physical degradation (Pagani, et al., 1998). Based on these questionnaires, it was shown that delinquency increased in age for all groups. The highest rates of delinquency came from remarried families in the twelve to fifteen category, yet there was a decrease in delinquency as the boys got older (Pagani, et al., 1998). The decrease in delinquency over time from remarried families poses the question of whether divorce is the issue, or rather the lack of a two-parent household. However, although their rates of delinquency reduced, they had an incongruent amount of supervision when compared to those from families that never experienced transitions (Pagani, et al., 1998). Going back to the prior nature versus nurture discussion, can we assume from this information that the environment of a two-parent household decreases delinquency regardless of blood relation and supervision?
The data showed that for male children, the most susceptible aged to go through familial transitions is from twelve to fourteen, which backs up the earlier study that the timing of divorce matters in correlation to delinquency (Burt, et al., 2008; Pagani, et al., 1998). That being said, a meta-analysis of seventy-two different studies, showed conflicting results to these specificities. While there was a high correlation between delinquency and parental divorce found, it showed that younger children tend to be more defiant and susceptible to delinquent habits (Price, & Kunz, 2003). Rates of delinquency also were dependent on race, and the meta-analysis shows higher rates of delinquency from African-American families experiencing a broken household (Price, & Kunz, 2003). Juvenile delinquency was also shown to have some influence from the socioeconomic status and the family makeup from divorced families, showing that families from higher classes with both gender siblings were far more involved in criminal activity than those of families from other societal rankings with all boys or all girls (Price, & Kunz, 2003).
So much data shows that there is a positive correlation between parental divorce and delinquency, albeit there are other facts involved like age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status, but what can be done to prevent it, or lessen the chances of juvenile delinquency from broken homes? The idea of co-parenting is often a suggestion but is usually easier in theory than reality. The premise of co-parenting is defined as the “ideal parenting relationship after divorce” meaning that both parents put the child first, and have equal responsibility and supervision in their children’s lives, and work as partners to raise their children although their romantic relationship failed (Gasper, J. A. F., Stolberg, A. L., Macie, K. M., & Williams, L. J., 2008). An important aspect of co-parenting is respect, meaning that if the parents do not respect one another through decision-making and boundaries, it will not help (Gasper, et al., 2008). Working as a team rather than against each other has a direct effect on children, and can often be the source of issues for their children’s development. A study among young adult undergraduate students ranging from eighteen to thirty was conducted to understand the consequences of divorce and how divorced parents working together can affect their children (Gasper, et al., 2008). Most of the children’s parents had been divorced earlier in life than the prior studies examined in this essay, and most reported that one of their parents had gotten remarried (Gasper, et al., 2008). The study was carried out by either physical participation in the study or by writing a brief essay that investigated multiple aspects of children of broken families psychological trends (i.e. fear of intimacy, self-esteem, a self-report of behavioral and emotional issues, etc.) to see what effects applied in which cases (Gasper, et al., 2008).
From this, it was shown overall that mental health is extremely susceptible to parent cooperation, or lack thereof, specifically in areas of the children’s external relationships, self-esteem, and independence (Gasper, et al., 2008). Intriguing enough, however, the primary parent affects the children differently in the case of whether the child’s primary caregiver was the mother or the father. Those with a father figure as the primary caregiver rated higher in areas of self-esteem, while those with a mother as the primary caregiver had lower levels of delinquency (Gasper, et al., 2008). It is clear that divorce affects the children and their development overall, yet the implementation of co-parenting might be able to assist in combating the alarming rates of delinquency. Yet, in some cases, this is not an option due to an abusive parent, or something of that nature, whether the abuse is towards the partner, the children, or both. These researchers suggested further studies to examine children of younger age groups, with similar guidelines to see if aging also affects how children’s issues from a past divorce are affecting them after some time, growth, and maturity (Gasper, et al., 2008).
Across all of these studies, there have been differences in the way they were conducted, the age ranges, the guidelines, and the goal of the research, nonetheless, one thing ties all of them together: parental divorce is positively correlated with juvenile delinquency. There are few combatants known today, and the most common concept to aid these children is by having a team that raises them. There is an old proverb saying it takes a village to raise children, and to most that mean that children require a lot of time, dedication, money, and attention. The truth is that it takes a village to raise children because children need a strong centralized homelife to properly develop. Starting with the original concept of nature versus nurture, it seems that to avoid childhood delinquency, a balance is needed to contest this matter (Tabery, 2014). By incorporating the co-parenting methods, or providing a strong household of two parents, blood-relation or not, it is shown that delinquency caused by a divorce can be reduced (Gasper, et al., 2008; Pagani, et al., 1998).
Throughout the mass of these studies, and mass analyses, the correlation has been proven again and again that family transitions affect children’s development and can often lead to delinquency. Based on these studies, my opinions have not necessarily changed, but my eyes have been opened to some alternative reasons that I had not previously taken into consideration. Obviously, I never believed that divorce was the only link to childhood delinquency, merely that it was a link because not everyone who experiences a broken home commits criminal acts and not everyone with a seemingly perfect, or at least an intact home life strays away from a life of crime. One of the things I had not taken into consideration before conducting my research was gender, which makes sense based on the discussions carried out in class about a link between testosterone and aggression (Truelove, 2020). Another concept I had not thought of before was the influence of social class or the family makeup in regards to a family of all boys or all girls. Aside from these influencers, the most shocking part of my research was learning that in separated families, whether the primary caregiver is the mother or father can not only change rates of delinquency but also the way children’s mental health develops.
Before conducting research, most of my opinion was based merely on things that I had seen or experienced first-hand. Personally, I grew up in a broken home myself, but my parents split while I was an infant and although I have experienced some of the other issues mentioned, like those in the last study, I never experienced delinquency which I contribute to the idea presented of co-parenting (Gasper, et al., 2008). That being said, I have seen how my step-brother has experienced problems with delinquency due to his own parent’s divorce, and his father’s remarriage to my mother. His parents went through a divorce when he was about eleven or twelve and his father was remarried to my mother by the time he was about fourteen and about that time his delinquency started. I think the lack of co-parenting from his biological parents assisted in the issue a decent bit, and although the amount of trouble he has gotten in decreased as he got older, his case is very similar to all those presented in the studies I examined.
As far as research is going forward, I think highlighting the issues that divorce can cause for children, as well as remarriage is an important concept the public should be exposed to. Future studies should also examine possible ways to prevent this, specifically in cases where co-parenting is not possible, as well as further examine the effects of co-parenting and remarriage since there is little research on how these things affect the children. I also believe that there should be research on what aspects of divorce lead to delinquency since clearly not all children of separated homes exhibit delinquent behavior, and delinquent behavior is not always a response to divorce. It would be ignorant to believe that every criminal is from a broken home, but is there something from the nature aspect that is a commonality between criminals and their homelife during childhood?
I am also a little disheartened to discover my hypothesis was supported. Although I predicted the outcome, it is still hard to learn that sometimes children go on the wrong path merely based on home life or parenting. Based on the research already out in the world, and the research that has yet to come in regards to childhood delinquency being partially linked to parental divorce, we as a society should do more for these families. Having after-school programs or clubs for the children to attend to know they are not alone and promote better ways of self-expression, or coping mechanisms, in addition to parenting classes for newly-divorced parents would do wonders in my opinion.