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Essay on General Strain Theory and Juvenile Delinquency

6 pages
1560 words
Sewanee University of the South
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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General Strain Theory (GST) is a criminology theory that was developed in 1992 by Robert Agnew. It states that certain strains increase the likelihood of an individual engaging in crime, especially those that are intense, are perceived as unfair or are linked to low social control. The main idea of this theory is that people who are subjected to stressors or strains often become unhappy and resort to crime as a way of coping with it (Jang, Song & Kim, 2014). They may take part in crime as a way of escaping from their strains or eliminating them. Such individuals may also commit crimes as a form of vengeance against the causes of their strains. This essay looks at how the general strain theory can be used to explain juvenile delinquency.

A juvenile delinquent can be described as an individual who is typically below the age of eighteen years and who commits a criminal act for which he or she would be charged as an adult. According to Thompson & Bynum (2016), it is possible for such a person to be arraigned in court, tried and sentenced as an adult depending on the kind of offense and how severe it is. Juvenile delinquency is on the increase in the United States and other parts of the world today. Numerous families are plagued by social problems due to high poverty rates and the constraints of living in poor communities where delinquency and defiance is the only way to survive.

General strain theory explains juvenile delinquency and crime in a unique manner. Unlike learning and control theories, it mainly focuses on how individuals are treated negatively by others. GST happens to be the major criminology theory to highlight the role played by emotions in influencing an individual to commit a crime. According to it, the experience of strain or stress is capable of triggering negative emotions like frustration, anger, despair, and depression. In turn, such emotions pressurize an individual to look for an outlet, with juvenile delinquency being among the possible responses. One of the reasons for developing GST was to deal with criticisms directed at earlier versions of the strain theory. These versions have been the subject of intense criticism for concentrating on a narrow range of likely strains. They also fail to explain why not all strained juveniles resort to delinquency. GST has enjoyed substantial success in overcoming such limitations and offering a credible explanation to juvenile delinquency.

According to the GTS, there are three main kinds of strain. One of them involves goal blockage whereby individuals are unable to achieve their desired goals. For example, people may feel strained when they aim at achieving financial success but are aware they cannot attain it because there are limited sources of income. Goal blockage is strongly linked to juvenile delinquency. Another type of strain is about exposure to negatively-valued stimuli. A young person experiences undesirable circumstances or is negatively treated by others, for instance, being bullied by peers, criminal victimization, or poor relations with teachers and parents. The third type is about the loss of positively-valued stimuli whereby an individual loses something valued or experiences undesirable events. Examples comprise theft of valuable property or termination of an intimate relationship. These categories comprise hundreds of likely strains; some which have a relatively strong link to juvenile delinquency and others have a weak relationship.

GST recognizes that strains do not automatically cause juvenile delinquency, and that crime is just one of the numerous responses. A strained individual will typically pursue legal means of coping, such as reporting to the authorities, seeking emotional support from family members or friends, or hoping for a brighter future. On the other hand, certain strains spur an individual to respond to them with criminal activities. The theory also specifies the conditions likely to cause juvenile delinquency as a way of coping. They include insufficient coping resources, lesser chances for convectional coping, an absence of convectional social support, sufficient opportunities for delinquent coping, a strong inclination to commit crimes, and poor social control.

The above- mentioned conditions are often faced by adolescents, something that may help explain why young people are likely to engage in juvenile delinquency. Adolescents usually do not have convectional resources and skills for coping such as social skills, power, and money. Also, they have insufficient life experiences to draw on when compared to adults, a situation that leads to underdeveloped coping skills. According to Jun & Choi (2015), this means that adolescents have a higher likelihood of dealing with strain in a naive, immature and incompetent manner. Some groups of young people may not have access to convectional social support, particularly those who do not relate well to parents and teachers. Since they do not have caring adults to guide them in life matters, such individuals may have a hard time handling the emotional effects of strain in an effective way. When faced with strain coming from families, neighborhoods, or schools, adolescents do not have many opportunities for coping legally.

Unlike the case of grown-ups, juveniles generally lack the legal ability to deal with unpleasant realities of life. Also, they do not have access to legal facilities that adults get. To make matters worse, adolescents are always exposed to various opportunities for criminal coping, a good example being interaction with delinquent peers. In addition, in the course of the adolescence period, young people go through various social and biological changes that contribute to reduced abilities to have social control. For instance, their relations with teachers and parents may deteriorate as a result of disagreements about dress codes, curfews, privileges, and homework. Consequently, they dont have much to lose by taking part in criminal responses to strains. In addition, some young people are inclined to cope with strain in a delinquent way since they have certain inborn traits that make offending easier, such as being temperamental, easily upset, and impulsive (Thompson & Bynum, 2016).

The original strain theory stated that individuals are placed on established paths for them to succeed in society. Its the social structure as opposed to culture that is to blame for juvenile delinquents engaging in crime. For instance, a young person living in a low-income community may have to means of acquiring education or earning a decent living. Such an individual will be forced to adapt to societal norms and ways of life that already exist in his or her environment. Consider a young male living in the projects with a single mother who can barely afford to feed them despite having a full-time job. For such an individual to survive the harsh economic situation, he must look for a source of income. The only readily available means of income in such a community would be illegal, such as dealing drugs. Hence, the strain facing this juvenile delinquent is that crime and delinquency is the only way for him to survive. Although he is going against the norms acceptable by the society, he still manages to survive by adapting to his environment (Ousey, Wilcox & Schreck, 2015).

A sociologist called Robert Merton came up with a concept of innovation which states that individuals accept a societys cultural goals but reject the conventional ways of achieving them. This concept appears to apply to the example of the juvenile delinquent mentioned above. He is expected to conform to innovation for him to provide for his family. He has accepted his social status as a person born and brought up in a low-income community. However, instead of trying to get an education that can offer him a legitimate career, he would rather comply with his environment and become a drug dealer like those he has observed his entire life. His strain is the fact that his decisions are dictated by the environment he lives in, and he is somehow placed in confinement. His defiance is as a result of his communitys lifestyle, having learned how to commit crimes by observing those around him. The experience he has gone through has made him more inclined to commit crimes and other delinquent acts.

Robert Agnew came up with the general strain theory in order to make people better understand the determinants of crime and delinquency. Criminal activities, especially those carried out by juvenile delinquents, are quite prevalent in the modern society. The theory offers an explanation for the way the society influences young people to engage in delinquent behavior. Youths are subjected to numerous stressors or strains that are deemed to be unfair, thus spurring them to engage in delinquency as a means of coping.

References Bartollas, C. L., & Schmalleger, F. J. (2014). Juvenile delinquency. Prentice Hall.

Eriksson, L., & Broidy, L. (2017). Strain Theory and Crime. In The Palgrave Handbook of Australian and New Zealand Criminology, Crime and Justice (pp. 543-556). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Jang, H., Song, J., & Kim, R. (2014). Does the offline bully-victimization influence cyberbullying behavior among youths? Application of general strain theory. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 85-93.

Jun, S., & Choi, E. (2015). Academic stress and Internet addiction from general strain theory framework. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 282-287.

Ousey, G. C., Wilcox, P., & Schreck, C. J. (2015). Violent victimization, confluence of risks and the nature of criminal behavior: Testing main and interactive effects from Agnews extension of General Strain Theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(2), 164-173.

Thompson, W. E., & Bynum, J. E. (2016). Juvenile delinquency: A sociological approach. Rowman & Littlefield.


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