When people think of youths, several images come to mind and more often than not these are very negative. Youth is ‘… expected to be at an age of deviance, disruption and wickedness. When teenagers behave badly, they are typically fulfilling negative stereotypes about them. ‘1 They are seen as violent trouble-makers who have complete disregard for authority and rules and are above all lazy. It is true to say that a large percentage of crime can be accredited to youths, however, there are criminals within practically every age group and yet it is youths which are still especially targeted for being the ‘bad’ citizens in society.
But why is this? In this essay I will attempt to answer two main questions, these being; firstly, what social influences encourage youths to become problematic and secondly, why does the adult generation particularly persecute teenagers. The first main aim is to define what social construction actually is. Social constructionism is understanding human behaviour in relation to the social environment and community surrounding it, in other words it is the influence that society has upon the actions or behaviour of individuals. In this case, how are youth problems born out of the influence of he social environment?
How can a person be moulded by what is going on around them? So what are the causes of youths committing crimes? Out of curiosity, young people try out everything that they have never experienced before. As they are not mature, they do not know how risky they are and how serious the consequences will be. Owing to vanity, they want to buy luxuries and use brand names products in order to show off or not to be teased and looked down upon by their counterparts. Nevertheless, their parents may hardly give them sufficient money to buy whatever they want.
Therefore, they may commit crimes such s shoplifting and smuggling as they find that it is an easy way to have money. Lack of parental guidance is another bane of the problem. Nowadays, it is common that more and more couples get divorced. Single parents work hard in order to support them. Moreover, some parents are very busy at work. Therefore, these parents could hardly spare time to take care of their children and communicate with them. In effect, young people may find that their parents do not care about them. Then they may do something to draw their parents’ attention. Therefore, committing crimes seems like to be a good means to them.
In addition, even if the unconcerned’ youths do not commit crimes, they may feel lonely at home. The family unit has longed been blamed for juvenile delinquency, even dating back to the early to mid twentieth century. For example, the rising crime rate in the early 1940s was attributed to the breaking up of the family life as a result of the Second World War. As identified by Bob Holman, ‘the family may be a cause of delinquency yet, paradoxically, so is the lack of a family’2 For example, ‘In 1994 Robert Black was sentenced to ten life-terms after assaulting and murdering a number of small children… But what was his upbringing like?
He was the illegitimate son of a factory worker. He never knew his father and his mother soon placed him in a foster home. His substitute parents died when he was ten and he ended up in a children’s home. Here he was systematically sexually abused by a member of staff. At the age of 16, soon after leaving the home, Black was convicted of his first sexual offence… Once released, his offending multiplied and reached at least seventy in number. Black suffered from a lack of a stable, affectionate family. Institutional care exposed him to sexual abuse which appeared to shape the way he then behaved towards others.
It was not the family life but lack of it which moulded Black’s warped personality. ‘3 This is a great example of how ‘youth problems’ are socially constructed as, in this case, the subject was placed in a society where he experienced abuse which had a definite effect upon his personality and caused him to offend. The family is the major means of the socialization of children; it is where they should to be taught to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong; the limits of tolerated behaviour and where they can acquire the skills to live one day as adults.
Not least, it is within the family that children can gain identity for themselves, can perceive themselves as good or bad, liked or unliked. ‘4 There are also more specific ways in which the family can have a negative effect on the way that a youth behaves. Firstly, there may be a lack of discipline at home. Although children do not benefit from harsh or inconsistent discipline, they do need firm discipline within a context of love. Without it they do not learn when and how they are misbehaving, do not learn what is right and wrong. The type of parenting that does work is simply called authoritative parenting.
This type of parent assumes a role of authority in the child’s life, but the rules and structure are sensible and flexible to accommodate the child’s growth toward adolescence and young adulthood. The parent’s intelligent explanations of the rules plus reasonable enforcement help to maintain a steady reduction of control as the child matures. Secondly, there may also be lack of attention from the family, for example there may not be sufficient attention to problems like bullying within the home. Outside of the home, the family may neglect to monitor what their children may be doing and who they may be doing it with.
The children could therefore acquire bad habits and friends which could later mean trouble. Lastly, there may be a lack of example coming from within the family (lack of a good example anyway. ) Children model their behaviour on that of their parents. Children of criminals therefore are more likely to become offenders themselves, not because of some kind of criminal gene inheritance, but because they often copy and take on the values held and practised by their parents. I can therefore be seen that the role of the family can be vital in the social construction of ‘youth problems. Violent, destructive or eglectful families are without doubt a major cause of juvenile delinquency.
Another way in which ‘youth problems’ are socially constructed is the effect that poverty can have upon the behaviour of the individuals which must endure it. Unfortunately poverty is extensive in Britain, which ever of the three main measures are used: * The Benefits Poverty Level counts as poor all those dependent upon incomes at or below the basic level of Income Support. By this measure in 1989, some 11. 3 million people were poor.
The Income Poverty Level regards as poor all those with incomes less than 50 per cent of average income. In 1990-91, 13. 5 million citizens, 24 per cent of the population, were in this plight. * The Basic Essentials Level stems from the Breadline Britain survey conducted by London Weekend TV. It asked members of the public which items they considered as essential necessities and they chose items like a damp-free home, an inside toilet, a waterproof coat, an annual holiday, heating for living areas and so on. People without three or more of these items were then graded as poor.
The total for Britain was 11 million people. 5 Large-scale studies are agreed that delinquents have a tendency to come from low-income and ocially deprived families. The survey Continuities of Deprivation, established that six out of ten boys from such backgrounds acquired a criminal record. 6 The main reasons for this are that because they come from a very poor background, without money many young people turn to theft so that they can still have the things that they want. The overlap between crime and poverty is also revealed in the kinds of groups with high incidences of crime.
For instance, homeless young people are probably the poorest members of society. Often they have no money at all and no permanent shelter. They are tempted to commit offences in order to obtain food and clothes, and are also prey for those wanting to lure into prostitution and the drug culture. A report by the housing charity Shelter found that 37 per cent of young homeless people had been in trouble with police within the lat twelve months. However, one reason why poorer people feature more prominently in crime statistics is that their wealthier counterparts are much less likely to be investigated, apprehended or prosecuted.
Inner city areas and council estates tend to have a higher concentration of police and other officials hereas residential suburbs are less regulated and hence offenders are less visible. Having said that, I still believe it to be accurate to say that a youth coming from a poor background is more likely to offend than one coming from a wealthy background, usually because they don’t have enough money and so resort to crime, but also but there is the increased chance that their parents themselves could be criminals.
Also, poor people tend to inhabit areas of deprivation, usually inner-city council estates, where there is already a high offence rate and youths which have turned to crime. If youths are living around areas where other youths are committing offences, there is a very likely chance that they too will follow suit. Youths are often subjected to peer pressure from their friends or peer group. Friends often can have a huge influence over the actions of a young person, there is a real need or desire to fit in with a group of people and so will often to as they are told by their friends so that they are not the odd one out. It is firmly established in criminology that the more an adolescent keeps company with delinquent friends, the more likely he will tend to commit crimes himself.
There are four main reasons why delinquent peers lead others astray; imitation, instigation, assistance and approval. ‘Imitation’ is copying a crime committed by a friend. Belson asked a group of London youths why their associations with thieves had prompted them to steal also. Among several answers, the one that came second in terms of frequency was that they wanted to copy their mates and be just like them. People tend to behave like everyone else because there is a good chance of winning approval when we do so or because we have found that what someone else has done has had the results we would like to achieve ourselves. Instigation’ is being induced to commit a crime because of the pressure brought to bear by friends.
‘Adolescents often act out because a friend has encouraged them to do so or because they have been dared to. ‘9 ‘Assistance’ is when friends co-operate to carry out an offence. The presence of obliging friends and accomplices makes it easier to commit an offence. In the company of another or several others the delinquent act seems much easier. The group gives courage; it lessens the responsibility; it gives assistance and support. ’10 ‘Approval’ is the knowledge that friends consider the offence commendable. Many acts of delinquency would probably be avoided if their authors were not assured of their friend’s approval. From this we can therefore identify a major reason why ‘youth problems’ can be socially constructed.
Poverty can drive youths to commit crime just to get by, however it can also place an individual into a situation where there have to commit crime just to gain the approval of those around them. Aside from family reasons, poverty and peer pressure, many people argue that juvenile delinquency or ‘youth problems’ can be brought around by the media, particularly images on television. Television is such a powerful means of modern communications, even more influential than newspapers, simply because it reaches into almost every home.
‘In one average week in 1993, British TV showed 737 dead bodies, 1,117 people injured and 343 sex scenes. 11 So does modern television have a harmful effect upon young people? Critics would say that it provides impressionable young minds with mountains of violence and crime. Defenders of film and television would say that millions of people enjoy television yet they do not all become unruly offenders. However, there is one case which suggests that life can mitate art in an adverse way. The killing of two-year-old James Bulger by eleven-year-old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables shocked a nation which was already well used to media coverage of juvenile crime.
During the case the judge criticized a film, Childs Play 3, which had been apparently viewed by the guilty boys and showed shocking similarities with the ways in which they attacked James Bulger. Previously, the same film had been referred to in another murder trial in which one of six killers chanted a line from the film as the victim was tortured. 12 Without any doubt, not every child who watches violent programmes or films ill become a criminal; most will not be affected in the slightest.
However, a minority may well have their already violent tendencies reinforced to the point that their subsequent hostility copies the offensive methods they have seen on TV. I therefore argue that crime within the media perhaps is not a direct cause for ‘youth problems’ but could perhaps be reinforcing the offensiveness of an already troubled mind. Media can therefore be seen as a social constructor of ‘youth problems. ‘ It is true that a large percentage of crime is carried by juvenile offenders, yet crime is ommitted regularly by people from all age groups.
So why is it that whenever something goes wrong; a certain crime has been committed, that the adult generation’s eyes automatically focus upon youths? As we move in the twenty-first century, childhood and youth are becoming increasingly controversial and confused notions. Older people can often be heard to retort ‘kids today’ or something similar, but why is there such mistrust in young people. One reason for this may be the emergence of ‘youth’ as a recognised age group. Going back only a hundred years or so ago, people were children and then they became adults.
Nowadays, people see youths as children acting ‘like adults’13 and somehow perceive this as some sort of threat. When much of the older generation were at this age, they were not doing the sort of things that the youth of today are doing. They would have finished school, got a job etc, whereas the youth of today appear lazy because they do not go into work at as early an age, therefore they have less money and are often penned as scroungers. There is a huge drinking culture among youths now which did not exist back when old age people were in their teens.
All of these factors add up to create a general mistrust of youths, completely side from how much crime they commit. I am confident that many ‘youth problems’ today are not actually youth problems, they are merely problems which have been labelled this because of the mistrust of young people by the older generation. In conclusion, I certainly believe it to be true that ‘youth problems’ can be socially constructed and are not just some offensive gene within juvenile delinquents. Many different strands of society can have many different effects upon individuals causing them to act in many different ways.
The family can have a huge effect, either through home abuse, neglect r absence; Poverty can socially construct ‘youth problems’ in that having a lack of money can lead youths into theft or drug dealing to get by, it can also force kids into living in rough areas where they are subjected to other delinquents and inevitably peer pressure; and finally the media could perhaps influence impressionable into committing copy-cat crimes in a life imitating art scenario. However, how many problems are accredited to youths, even when they are not to blame, purely because of the mistrust that older generations have for the young people of today?