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Strain Theory

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What makes us who we are? What affects our childhood? Life is full of ups and downs, and how we handled them as adolescents’ shapes how we handle them as adults. In life, we all go through some type of strain. Strain is another word for stress. Everyone experiences different types of strains. I am going to focus on juvenile strains. When juveniles experience these strains, they make themselves more prone to crime and delinquency. They may resort to theft, abuse, drugs and alcohol. In addition to this voluntary level of action, involuntary, biological and psychological factors play a part in their decision making. Agnew and Brezina state that, “A major type of strain is the failure to achieve your goals.” (Agnew and Brezina 2015:114) When adolescents do not achieve their wants and goals, they can become very angry and disrespectful. These goals range from materialistic and non – materialistic. Some goals include, money, status, excitement and autonomy from adults. Young kids want to have the money, power, and the fame, and will do whatever it takes to get it. If they are unsuccessful at obtaining their goals, this may result in strain. Personal, non-materialistic strains can be described as rejection from parents, neglect, abuse, negative school and peer relations, prejudice, discrimination and heartbreak. This results in emotional strain which leads to delinquency, because the child does not know how to cope with their feelings.

“Delinquency results from the blockage of pain-avoidance behavior as well as the blockage of goal-seeking behavior.” (Agnew 1985) Data shows us that men are more likely to engage in delinquency then women. I teach a Sunday school class that is co-ed, ranging from kindergarten to high school. The boys are a lot more vocal and open than the girls. One young man just turned thirteen and believes that he is an adult. He comes from a single parent household, he is the only child and rules are not really enforced.

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He has no curfew, no responsibility and is a delinquent. Often, I run into him at the grocery store or just walking around in the neighborhood unsupervised. A few months ago, he got into trouble with the truancy officer. After that, he was detained in in-school suspension and now he must go to court. His parent put him on punishment for one week and after that week was up, he went right back doing what he was doing. When he comes to church in the mornings, he tries to joke and laugh and make fun of his delinquent acts. I do not let him, because I do not want him to influence the other children and make them believe that what he is doing is fun and right. That would be a form of the social learning theory. He makes statements such as “You guys never let me do anything or have fun.”, “My mom gets to have fun with her friends and her boyfriend, why can’t I?” He becomes upset because he is not reaching his goals and does not have the freedom that he desires. This is an example of what I was referring to earlier.

A positive method that could possibly help in minimizing criminal offenses from the youth, is to teach them how to cope with what their feelings. Three major coping methods are cognitive coping, behavioral coping and emotional coping. These coping methods work hand in hand.

Cognitive coping helps to reduce anger towards others. Employing behavioral coping strategies, causes one to act in a manner that is conducive Employing behavioral coping strategies, causes one to act in a manner that is conducive to their well-being. Engaging in emotional coping, reduces how they interpret and act on negative feelings. Family and school life play a huge part in how a child responds to stress. “First, adolescence is a period of transition when youths enlarge their social worlds and take on greater responsibility in school and at home.” Agnew (1997, 2006) If a child had parents that were irritable and had low self-control, they tend to absorb these habits. Peers are also a huge influence on how a kid reacts to certain things. ’Particularly for younger youth as they relate to deviant attitudes and commitment to and involvement with delinquent peers.” (Wiley 2015) Being pressured to do things that are positive or negative causes stress on a child. I remember when I was younger, we would dare people to do things.

If they did not to participate, we would then double dog dare them, which pressured them into doing the dare. The inability to perform well in class will cause a juvenile to disrupt the class to either bring attention to himself, as well as divert the attention off of his or her shortcomings. Reading aloud would give the children who were not fluent in reading, a reason to become the class clown and forfeit their turn to read. “Strains, particularly major strains that are seen as unjust, are likely to make individuals angry. “This anger creates pressure for corrective action, interferes with the use of certain legitimate coping strategies, such as negotiation, reduces concern for the consequences of one’s behavior, and creates a desire for revenge.” (Agnew 2007) This desire of revenge is not limited to just one person, it can be towards a group of people. Authoritative figures are most likely the targets. Parents, teachers, peers, police officers, siblings and strangers can all be targeted when a child is revengeful. De-escalation of delinquent acts should be the focus, as society and our knowledge expands and grows. Now that we have an origin of the problems, we must find a way to solve the problems.

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