Although this research paper has focused on a wide range of topics, it has provided clear and consistent support for a simple but important thesis: Exposure to inept parenting practices increases an individual’s risk for childhood conduct problems; adolescent delinquency; and adult antisocial behavior, including marital violence and child abuse. However, factors such as educational success, a conventional friendship network, a happy marriage, and a satisfying job can operate to moderate this risk. Unfortunately, individuals exposed to inept parenting often possess antisocial characteristics that reduce their probability of acquiring or gaining access to these moderators.
The theories and studies discussed in this research paper all suggest that inept parenting increases the chances of child conduct problems, adolescent delinquency, and adult crime; however, it is important to not overstate the case. On the one hand, it is true that the roots of an adult antisocial lifestyle appear to be planted during a person’s formative years, and parenting has much to do with the formation of these roots. The evidence reviewed in this paper indicates that it is extremely rare that a person who was a model child and adolescent suddenly begins to engage in criminal behavior as an adult. On the other hand, the relationship between childhood conduct problems and adult antisocial behavior is far from perfect—indeed, the majority of delinquent children grow up to be conventional adults!
It is also important to remember that other factors besides parenting have been shown to influence involvement in delinquent and criminal behavior. Factors such as lack of occupational opportunity, living in a disadvantaged neighborhood, stressful events, and racial discrimination are associated with crime and delinquency. If society is to address the problems of crime and delinquency, it must pursue policies that address the full range of factors that influence participation in such behavior. It is important that social scientists and policymakers not overlook the family. Indeed, the effects of many of the social factors just mentioned may be mediated by family processes. Family religiosity, for example, appears to reduce delinquency, at least in part, because religious parents tend to engage in high levels of monitoring and consistent discipline. Also, there is evidence that part of the association between community disadvantage and delinquency is explained by the disruptive effect that such community conditions have on parental behavior. In the past, criminologists and sociologists have often ignored findings regarding a link between parenting and delinquency, treating such findings as narrow and socially conservative. Research results are not socially conservative, however, if they lead to social change.
It is important that social scientists and policymakers think systematically about steps that might be taken to enhance the quality of care provided to children, especially during the formative years. Unlike criminological theories concerned with economic and community factors, theories of deviant behavior that focus on family processes are often seen as having few policy implications. This is simply not the case. It is probably no more difficult to formulate policies that enhance quality of parenting and child care than it is to design policies that increase access to jobs or reduce poverty and discrimination. Instead of simply blaming parents for not doing a better job of raising their children, society needs to pursue social policies that strengthen families and enhance the quality of child care.
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