The two dominant perspectives on the causes of delinquent behaviour are Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory and Sutherland’s (1947) differential association theory. Other theories that speak to the issue of peer delinquency include Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) the general theory of crime and Osgood and colleagues’ opportunity theory (Osgood, Wilson, O’Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996). Although these theories offer useful explanations for understanding the importance of peer relations for delinquency, a social network perspective can offer additional insight through which to understand the role of friendship networks for delinquent behaviour.
Social control theory– Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory of delinquency is based on the idea of social integration i.e. the idea that individuals form bonds with the society which stop them or prevent them from acting on their delinquent impulses. It’s not only the peers who influence them to do delinquent acts but when you live in a society, the other people also take part in this because of their constant bullying and all. In the terms of friendship ties, the social control theory posits that the more adolescents carry friendship bonds which means something to them or with whom they are very attached, the less delinquent adolescent will be.
One of the more problematic aspects of the theory of social control theory includes neglecting the context in which the social bonds take place. While research has shown that in most situations social bonds are correlated with a reduction in delinquency via attachment, if adolescents are attached to delinquent peers, these social bonds are not likely to reduce delinquency. When a teenager has delinquent friends, attachment to these friends only directs their behaviour towards delinquency which can be a problem for adolescents. Despite Hirschi’s (1969) denial of the importance of delinquent peers, it is these delinquent associates who are implicated in the transmission of delinquency and to whom differential association theory attaches primary importance.
Differential association theory:- Despite Hirschi’s (1969) denial of the importance of delinquent peers, it is these delinquent associates who are implicated in the transmission of delinquency and to whom differential association theory attaches primary importance. Not only attachment with friends are important for delinquent behaviour but it also important to know the context or norms of friendship group determine whether attachment to friends results in conventional or delinquent behaviour. According to Sutherland, the social transmission of delinquency takes place within the network of relationships by changing beliefs about the suitability of delinquent behaviour. Attachment with peers plays an important role in delinquent behaviour. Akers’s (1985) extension to differential reinforcement theory suggests that the adoption of delinquent behaviour occurs through imitation of peers’ behaviour or through the observation of its consequences, either positive or negative. The important point made by these two theories are that friends play an important role in delinquent behaviour of adolescents.
Opportunity theory:- Osgood and colleagues (1996) provided a third hypothesis that is useful to understand how peer networks affect teenage behaviour in their opportunity theory. This argument suggests that in the absence of authority figures, conditions conducive to delinquency are particularly prevalent over time spent in unstructured socializing with peers. This is because the involvement of peers makes criminal behaviour simpler and more satisfying, the absence of figures of authority decreases the capacity for responses of social control to delinquency, and the lack of structure leaves time for delinquency. From this viewpoint, the type of friends one chooses do not associate peer relationships with delinquency. That counts, however, is the amount of time spent in a common type of activity with peers. From this viewpoint, friendship networks are critical because they give adolescents the opportunity to engage in delinquent behaviour. Whether the friends themselves are delinquent is less important than the amount of time spent with friends away from the authority figures in unstructured activities.
An alternative perspective on the association between friends’ delinquency and an adolescent’s delinquency was offered by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) in their general theory of crime. The basic premise here is that peers have no influence on delinquency; instead, stable characteristics of individuals determine how adolescents cluster together and therefore account for individual participation in delinquency (i.e., the idea that birds of a feather flock together). In particular, Gottfredson and Hirschi argued that adolescents’ level of self-control (i.e., the ability to control impulsive behaviour) determines whether adolescents self-select into delinquent or prosocial friendship networks. Because self-control is believed to be strongly associated with delinquent behaviour, this position suggests that delinquent behaviour precedes selection of delinquent friends (i.e., delinquent adolescents select other delinquent adolescents to be friends). At issue here is what comes first, an adolescent’s delinquency or the delinquency of his or her friends. A more nuanced position suggests that both socialization (i.e., peer influence) and selection (i.e., adolescents select friends similar to themselves) contribute to the similarity found between friends’ and an adolescent’s behaviour. The theories of both Elliott and colleagues (Elliott, Ageton, & Canter, 1979) and Thornberry (1987) imply that delinquent peer groups and normative influence are reciprocally related, with both processes at work. Therefore, adolescents are likely to befriend others similar to themselves, and once friendships are formed, behaviour is likely to be reinforced and shaped to be consistent with group norms.
Social Network Perspective
Although social control theory pays limited attention to the context in which social bonds occur, its focus on the constraining influence of social integration is consistent with a social network perspective. Being integrated within a friendship network in which adolescents are likely to report high attachment and time spent with peers either facilitates or discourages delinquency involvement depending on the norms, values, and behaviours evident in the network.
Consistent with Eder and Enke’s (1991) finding that although adolescents often discount a peer’s evaluation, but never a group evaluation, is the notion that embeddedness within a social structure, such as a friendship network, acquires additional influence because it creates expectations for behaviour while reinforcing the social norms and beliefs of the network. This idea of embeddedness also ties nicely into Sutherland’s (1947) theory of differential association, because being enmeshed in a peer network provides access to expectations, norms, and sanctions that either support or discourage delinquent behaviour. Because peer friendships are of central importance during adolescence, and considering that one of the most important developmental goals during this period is ensuring peer acceptance, peer networks should be especially effective at directing and constraining individual members’ behaviour.
Although a network perspective offers a particularly useful tool for understanding how peer networks can influence behaviour, research has until recently neglected to incorporate a network perspective to understand the role of peer relations in adolescent delinquency. As the next section illustrates, this has led to a limited understanding of the role of peers for understanding adolescent delinquent.
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