December 9, 2023
Juvenile crimes are a serious problem in society not only for the present, but also in terms of how they may impact our nation’s future. Juvenile delinquency can be considered a systemic problem – parents, schools, society, culture, and government agencies all have some contribution to juvenile crime.
A number of factors make adolescents more likely to engage in criminal activity. However, studies have shown that support from the community can keep teens from turning to criminality, and can help put at-risk teens back on the right path, keeping them out of generally unhelpful or even harmful juvenile incarceration programs.
Below we discuss why juveniles commit crimes, which factors decrease the risk of juvenile delinquency, and how community support can help prevent or reduce juvenile crime.
Why Colorado Juveniles Commit Crimes
Much research has been undertaken to understand why exactly juveniles choose to commit crimes. Although juvenile delinquency is complex and the reasons for delinquent behavior vary greatly between individuals, research has identified four common factors that increase the risk of juvenile delinquency:
- Individual risk factors: Factors specific to individual juveniles such as antisocial behavior at a young age, impaired cognitive development, psychiatric conditions, and hyperactivity.
- Family risk factors: A child’s home environment profoundly influences development. Family risk factors such as poverty, abuse, neglect, family violence, divorce, parental psychiatric conditions, familial antisocial behaviors, teenage parenthood, single parent families, and large families increase the risk for juvenile delinquency.
- Peer risk factors: Peer pressure is highly influential among adolescents. Factors such as rejection by peers and associating with peers who engage in delinquent behavior increase the risk of teens themselves engaging in juvenile delinquency. In fact, having a delinquent peer group is the most significant risk factor for delinquency in the pre-teen years.
- School and community risk factors: Teens are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior if they are not engaged with the community. Other factors, such as lack of commitment to school, low academic performance and aspirations, disorganized neighborhoods, concentration of delinquent peer groups, and access to drugs and weapons increase the risk of delinquency.
Protective Factors against Juvenile Delinquency in Colorado
No single solution will prevent juvenile crimes and antisocial behavior. However, certain factors decrease the risk of delinquent behavior among teens and pre-teens:
- Youth resilience: Teens’ ability to manage stress and function well even in the face of adversity and trauma decreases the likelihood of delinquent behavior. Factors such as hopefulness, self-esteem, spirituality, positive attitude, trust in others, and a sense of empowerment contribute to resilience.
- Social connectedness: Positive social connections to peers and institutions help youth develop coping skills, a sense of belonging in the community, and even a sense of purpose in life. Supportive relationships with parents and other adults, connections with friends who disapprove of delinquent behavior, commitment to school, and extracurricular activities contribute to positive social connectedness.
- Concrete support: When teens have a less-than-supportive home environment, support from other sources can help address their needs and minimize stress. This could include school counselors, youth groups, social workers, and community programs.
- Cognitive and emotional competence: Emotional intelligence and maturity make teens less likely to engage in delinquency. Healthy parenting styles and interventions such as counseling to resolve mental health issues can help contribute to emotional stability.
How Colorado Communities Can Offer Support
As community members, we can help prevent juvenile delinquency by being positive role models for youth in the community, and by volunteering for community outreach programs intended to support at-risk youth. Mentoring programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters are a great way to provide one-on-one support to youths from troubled backgrounds.
The bottom line is that juvenile delinquency is a systemic problem, and no one solution will completely resolve it. However, as community members, we can make the system more supportive of youth, discouraging delinquency and antisocial behavior.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.