The increase in youth crime has aroused the public attention. Concern about juvenile’s behaviour is not new. Public believe that youth crime is serious and out of control. The media headlines focusing on the increases in child offending has reinforced this view (Maxwell et al., 2000). The statistics show that there has been a steady increase in the number of young people offending from 33,500 in 1988/1989 to 43,504 in 1997/1998 (Maxwell, Morris, & Victoria University of Wellington, 2000). Over 22 per cent of all the offences are attributed to young people in 1996 (Triggs, 1998). Youth offending has increased over the past 12 years, but less so in the past five years. There are stable figures in the number of youth crime since 1996 (Maxwell et al., 2000). Therefore, the claim of increase in youth crime does not match the experience of those who working with young offenders. They believe youth crime is getting better and no worse than before.
Although youth violence declined slightly in the late 1990s, adolescents are frequently exposed to drug-related crime, violence and delinquency. This research essay focuses on the significant areas of New Zealand society in which may affect juvenile delinquent behaviour over the past 12 years, such as family environment, social factors and media effect.
One of the significant factors contributing to youth crime within New Zealand today is dysfunctional family. Garnier and Stein (2002) reveal that the relationship in the early family environment is associated with children’s development and peer group experience. They explain that young people coming from nonconventional values family have more possibility to involve in high-risk behaviours such as heavy drug use and serious offending. Moreover, young people tend to associate with friends whose values are similar to their own (Elder, 1980, as cited in Garnier & Stein, 2002). Therefore, family environment and parents attitudes are key factors in the development of problem behaviours. When children are exposed to domestic violence, parental drug abuse and high levels of conflict, they tend to transmit these values to themselves. Garnier and Stein (2000) apply this perspective into social learning theories.
Social learning theories assert that children acquire their values and behaviours from the most important role such as parents, and child-initiated violence is a strategy used by child to cope with other people’s hostile and aggressive behaviour (Garnier & Stein, 2002; Brezina, 1999). In other words, family environment and parents attitudes may provide children an opportunity to engage in problem behaviour and attitudes. Children will imitate parents’ aggressive attitudes and values to manage the inimical behaviour of others. Once their behaviour has led to a decrease of threatening from others, their negative attitudes are reinforced. Patterson’s coercion theory explains that children’s aggressive behaviour towards other people can provide an effective means to control or restrain people’s behaviour (1982, as cited in Brezina, 1999). Moreover, Agnew’s general strain theory argues, “delinquency represents a means by which youths attempt to cope with various sources of environmental adversity” (1992, as cited in Brezina, 1999, p.418). Therefore, they will continue repeating their negative behaviour when they experience threatening, and most of the behaviour may relate to delinquency or crime.
Furthermore, parental values can also influent the peer affiliation. What children learn at home from their parents, they bring to the peer group. Youth pick peers who have common values, social status and backgrounds to be friends (Garnier & Stein, 2002). According to this, youth who engage in problem behaviour are more likely to associate with other youth who are involved in similar behaviours. Therefore, a group of youth may become an aggressive gang to engage in illegal group activities.
The above theories and arguments support that the family dysfunction has contributed to the increase of youth crime. Dysfunctional family such as sole-parent and divorced family can affect children’s values and beliefs. However, these types of families affect children in different ways, due to different personal situations (Drummond & Bowler, 1999). Coleman and Hendry (1990) explain that divorce is “an ongoing process of uncertainty and confusion” (as cited in Drummond & Bowler, 1999, p. 32). In this process, parents are more likely to produce an aggressive and stressful atmosphere in family environment. Divorce for adolescents is more than just parents breaking up. It is hard for adolescents to comprehend and cope well. Adolescents tend to deny parent-developed values and search for external supports such as peers. Therefore, adolescents will reconstruct their values from their peers and friends. This group socialisation theory argues that children will carry their values and behaviours that are learned from peers into adulthood (Harris, 1998, as cited in Garnier & stein, 2002). Although peers may have positive effects on adolescents, negative effects have a higher risk factor causing delinquency.
However, there is limited statistic to show the relatives between youth crime and family dysfunction.