Strain Theories

VII. Reducing the Exposure of Individuals to Strains That Are Conducive to Crime

Several programs have tried to eliminate or at least reduce certain of the strains conducive to crime. For example, parent training programs attempt to reduce the likelihood that parents will reject their children and use harsh or abusive disciplinary methods. These programs target at-risk parents, such as teenage parents, or the parents of delinquent youth or juveniles believed to be at risk for delinquency. Among other things, such programs teach parents how to effectively discipline their children and how to better resolve conflicts that arise. They may also encourage family members to spend more time together in pleasurable activities. Furthermore, these programs may attempt to reduce some of the stresses or strains that parents experience, such as work and housing problems. These stresses have been found to contribute to a range of poor parenting practices.

Another program that attempts to reduce exposure to strains focuses on bullying or peer abuse at school. This program attempts to make students, teachers, parents, and administrators more aware of the extent and consequences of bullying. These individuals are then given assistance in designing an anti-bullying program. Clear rules against bullying are established, these rules are widely publicized, and teachers and others closely monitor the school for bullying. Bullies are disciplined in an appropriate manner, and the victims of bullying are offered support. Still other programs attempt to reduce strains such as poor academic performance, work and employment problems, and homelessness. Many of these programs have shown much success in reducing crime (see Agnew, 2006, 2009, in press).

Still other programs recognize that, despite our best efforts, we will not be able to eliminate all strains that are conducive to crime. Teachers, for example, will likely continue to give low grades to students. We can, however, alter strains so as to make them less conducive to crime. For example, teachers can be taught to assign grades in a manner that is more likely to be perceived as fair by students. Likewise, police and justice professionals can adopt techniques that are more likely to be perceived as fair by individuals who are arrested and punished. Many such techniques are embodied in the restorative justice approach. In addition, we can make it easier for individuals to avoid strains that are conducive to crime. For example, we can make it easier for students to change teachers or schools when other efforts to deal with school-related strains fail. Or we can make it easier for individuals to move from high-crime communities where they are regularly victimized.

Finally, we can equip individuals with the traits and skills to avoid strains. Individuals sometimes provoke negative treatment from others, including parents, peers, teachers, and employers. This is especially true when individuals are low in constraint and high in negative emotionality. As indicated, such individuals are easily upset, tend to act without thinking, and often have an antagonistic interactional style. Not surprisingly, these individuals frequently upset other people, who may then respond with negative treatment. Parents, for example, may eventually come to reject and harshly discipline children with these traits. Several programs, however, have shown some success in teaching individuals to better manage their anger and show some restraint before acting. As such, these programs may reduce the likelihood that individuals elicit negative treatment from others.