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Family Conflict: Sources & Influence on Delinquency

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

The structure of the American family has changed significantly over the last 50 years. This lesson will discuss the changing American family, identify sources of conflict within the family, and discuss how this conflict can impact juvenile delinquency.

A Teenager's Situation

Trevor is a defiant 16-year-old teen who has a volatile temper. He lives in an apartment with his single Mom, and doesn't have any consistent male role models to help guide him. Trevor's Mom is petite and doesn't know how to handle his anger when he flies into rages about even the most minor things. So instead of correcting him or offering him guidance, she often retreats fearing her words will make matters worse.

Last week, Trevor's school called his Mom to inform her Trevor was caught selling illegal prescription drugs on school grounds. He was suspended from school and referred to a substance abuse treatment program. He will face delinquency charges in juvenile court as well as a result of the incident. Trevor's Mom is at her wit's end and doesn't know where to turn for help.

The Changing American Family

The face of the American family has changed dramatically. In the 1960's, for example, the norm was for women to stay home and take care of household duties and children. Two parent families were the standard, and single parents were frowned upon. This had its benefits and disadvantages, but that's for another lesson.

Approximately 32 million adults were single in 1960, compared to 105 million in 2013. The majority of women in the 1960's were also not college educated, married by the time they were 30, and oral contraceptives did not yet exist.

Fast forward to the American family today. Less than 50% of children now live in what was referred to in the 1960's as the traditional family. More children live in single family households or blended families than do in traditional 2 parent families.

The majority of women today, close to 75%, work outside of the home and many of them are in professional careers that require college education. Women are delaying marriage into their 30's, and having children much later in life. The 1960's traditional family is a thing of the past.

Family Stress and Conflict

The drastic changes in the makeup of today's American family has not come without problems. There are stressors and conflict that can be identified specifically related to the change in family life and structure. Some of these include:

  • Financial strain - changes in family structure can be accompanied by financial problems. Single parent households often struggle to make ends meet.

  • Lack of time - due to the increasing demands of work and family, lack of time can be considerable strain on family life

  • Lack of consistency and routine - when children go back and forth between two households, they may have different rules to abide with and lack routine and consistency.

  • No access to reliable child care - when both parents are employed, having adequate and reliable childcare is essential.

  • Parental dating - parents may start dating again after a divorce, and children may not always care for the partners they select, thereby creating the potential for conflict.

Delinquency Contributors

So, can family stress and conflict contribute to delinquency? The answer is a resounding yes. When families experience trying and difficult times, family conflict can contribute to delinquency. This appears to be especially true when family conflict is experienced during childhood.

In a literature review on the link between parenting and delinquency, it was concluded that parenting and family structure have a definite impact on juvenile delinquency for a number of reasons. These reasons include the impact of stressors and conflict discussed earlier in this lesson. Let's take a look at how they might contribute:

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