A General Strain Theory Approach to Families and Delinquency
Families, Crime and Criminal Justice, Greer L. Fox & Michael L. Benson, eds., JAI Press, 2000
39 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2016 Last revised: 14 Oct 2020
Date Written: 2000
This paper draws on Robert Agnew’s General Strain Theory (GST) to more fully describe the relationship between family dynamics and delinquency. Drawing on the family research, as well as the stress literatures in sociology and psychology, it is first argued that parental strain contributes to those parenting practices that increase the likelihood of juvenile delinquency. Parental strain is most likely to lead to poor parenting when the ability to cope with strain in a legitimate manner is low, the costs of poor parenting is low, and the motivation for poor parenting is high. Among the most important of these parenting practices are poor supervision, excessively harsh discipline, and the failure to establish close emotion bonds with children. It is next argued that these parenting practices contribute to delinquency partly because they increase the juvenile’s level of strain. Because traits like irritability and impulsivity may be genetically based, irritable and impulsive parents are more likely to have children with heightened sensitivity to problematic parenting practices. Further, certain family factors increase the likelihood that juveniles will respond to strain with delinquency (e.g., failure to provide direct instruction and models of legitimate coping, failure to raise costs of delinquent coping, etc.). The strain model that is presented (1) helps integrate important aspects of the research on the family and delinquency, (2) helps better explain why certain family factors impact delinquency, and (3) draws attention to family factors that have been overlooked in the research on families and delinquency. Although we are unable to provide a complete test of the model, we conduct a partial test using data from two national surveys and find preliminary support for our key hypotheses.
Keywords: General Strain Theory, Juvenile Delinquency
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