Prevalence of Delinquency
Prevalence of Delinquency
The term delinquency suggests a wide range of behaviors from socially unacceptable acts performed early in childhood that parents describe as “naughty” and psychologists call “acting out” to violent and destructive illegal behaviors. The seriousness of the act and the age of the perpetrator further sharpens the definition. Acts such as robbery, aggravated assault, rape, and homicide are not age-related offenses. They are criminal acts whether committed by juveniles or adults and are categorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as index offenses. Other less serious offenses, such as running away, truancy, drinking under age, sexual promiscuity, and uncontrollability are categorized as status offenses, because they are performed by youth under a specified age which classifies them as juvenile offenses. States differ in their penal codes in regard to the age at which an individual moves from juvenile to adult jurisdiction. About three-fourths of the states have set age 18 as a maximum for defining juveniles, two states have set age 19 as a cutoff, seven states use 17, and four states (including New York) 16. Thus, running away from home at age 17 may be an offense in one state but not another. Almost every child at one time or another acts out, defies parents or teachers, tells lies, or commits minor acts of vandalism. Clearly, they are not all current or potential juvenile delinquents. Many of the behaviors that are considered delinquent are included in a psychiatric diagnosis called conduct disorder. The symptoms of this diagnosis include multiple behaviors extended over a six-month period; 17 behaviors are listed including truancy, stealing, cheating, running away, fire setting, cruelty to animals or persons, “unusually early” sexual intercourse, substance abuse, breaking and entering, and excessive fighting, among others. When three or more of these behaviors co-occur before age 15, and a child is considered unmanageable or out of control, then the clinical diagnosis is conduct disorder. Kazdin defines this disorder as a “pattern of antisocial behavior, when there is significant impairment in everyday functioning … and the behaviors are regarded as unmanageable by significant others.”
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