What Is Juvenile Delinquency? - Definition, Theories & Facts

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  • 0:01 What Is Juvenile Delinquency?
  • 0:22 Theories on Juvenile…
  • 2:53 Facts
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janell Blanco
In this lesson, we will define juvenile delinquency. Along with the definition, three major theories about juvenile delinquency as well as important facts are also discussed.

What Is Juvenile Delinquency?

According to the FBI, a juvenile is anyone under the age of 18 regardless of how each individual state defines a juvenile. A delinquent is an individual who fails to obey the laws. Juvenile delinquency is defined as an individual under the age of 18 who fails to abide by the laws.

Theories on Juvenile Delinquency

There are three common theories on juvenile delinquency. The three theories are the anomie theory, the subculture theory, and the differential opportunity theory.

Anomie Theory

The anomie theory was first written in the 1940s by Robert Merton. Merton's theory explains that juvenile delinquency occurs because the juveniles do not have the means to make themselves happy. Their goals are unattainable within legal means so they find unlawful means by which to attain their goals.

An example would be a juvenile who has had a goal to get a job and purchase a car. The juvenile is not able to find a job to make money so he either steals a car or he steals money to purchase a car.

Subculture Theory

Another theory about juvenile delinquency is the subculture theory. In 1955, Albert Cohen developed the subculture theory, which is a culmination of several of his theories. The subculture theory is much like it sounds; juveniles that do not meet the social standards seek validation from a subculture. The subculture group is formed of other juveniles who also do not meet the social standards.

These groups then act in manners that are not socially acceptable and rebel against the socially acceptable standards. According to Cohen, juvenile delinquency is a product of society. The juveniles commit crimes, such as stealing, because it is not a social norm, and they do it to fit in with their subculture.

Differential Opportunity Theory

The differential opportunity theory does not fully support Cohen's theory that juveniles become delinquent when they do not meet society's standards. Differential opportunity theory, developed by Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin in 1960, believes that opportunity plays a role in juvenile delinquency.

Cloward and Ohlin's theory states that if juveniles have more opportunities to succeed, then they would be less likely to turn to subculture groups for validation. Additionally, the differential opportunity theory believes that there can be other circumstances besides social factors that add to a juvenile's delinquency.

Cloward and Ohlin's theory believes that the juvenile may be successful during school but may fail to find gainful employment. The inability to find gainful employment can lead the juvenile to be delinquent and not the social factors. The differential opportunity theory differs from the subculture theory because there are reasons other than social factors that can lead a juvenile to be delinquent. If the juvenile has more opportunities, they will be more willing to succeed than to join a subculture.

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