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Social Learning Theory, Application in Juvenile Delinquency

SocialLearning Theory, Application in Juvenile Delinquency

SocialLearning Theory, Application in Juvenile Delinquency

Theworld has plunged into a generation characterized by increasedviolent and aggravated crimes among the children around the world.Moreover, this population is characterized by growing incidences ofsubstance abuse and drug-related crimes. Unfortunately, a majority ofthe children have to endure a disintegrated life following the highpoverty levels in the society, neglect and abuse, or the loss ofparents caused by diseases such as the HIV/AIDS. Arguably, the youngindividuals, as a result of the factors highlighted above, are morevulnerable to developing and maintaining delinquent acts. Althoughsome forms of juvenile delinquency are due to the normal growth anddevelopment process, many are often triggered by marginalizationarising from poverty, unemployment, and social isolation.Consequently, many have ended up with criminal charges, which arecurrently conducted in a way different from adult cases. That isbecause, according to the social learning theory, juveniles are underdevelopment process, and that enables them to acquire behaviorthrough exposure. According to Williams &amp McShane (2014), thereare many criminological theories which present the opportunity toanalyze the way people perceive crime and the possible causes oftransgression. In this writing, a thorough exposition of the conceptof juvenile delinquency and how it is affected by the social learningtheory is provided. Before an in-depth analysis of how the two areasabove relate, a concise background is given to form the baseline forthe discussion.



Formost children today, traditional concepts that guide the interactionsand switches between the family, school, and job are facing perennialchallenges. Social associations that permit a smooth socializationprocess are degenerating, and the trajectories of lifestyle arebecoming more diverse and less foreseeable. The remodeling of thelabor market, the lengthening of maturity gap, and the constraintsrelated to becoming an independent grown up all affect the waychildren behave in the society (Siegel &amp Welsh, 2014). The youngpopulation, irrespective of gender, social background, andnationality, are confronted with personal risks and opportunitiesalike, which can either benefit or cause harm to the community. Moreoften, advantages are being taken of the outlawed opportunities asthe children commit a variety of crimes, become devoted to substanceutilization, and direct violence and aggression towards their peers.Specifically, most of the children who face the risk of becomingdelinquent live in unbearable circumstances (Williams &amp McShane,2014).

Theyoung people, who for some reasons, are orphans or lonely and lackthe means of subsistence, shelter, and other primary needs, harborthe highest possibilities of falling into juvenile delinquency. Suchfactors that deprive the children of the necessities include:alcoholism among parents, family breakdown, poverty, abusivesituations at home, overcrowding, and the rising scourge of HIV/AIDS.The challenge of juvenile delinquency is assuming a more complex anduniversal orientation lately, and the crime intervention initiativesare unprepared to handle the present ordeal, or they do not exist atall. In fact, the contemporary efforts to contain juveniledelinquency feature the absence of systematic action as well as thelack of task-oriented and efficient social work with the victims andoffenders, whether authentic or prospective (Siegel &amp Welsh,2014).

Williams&amp McShane (2014) argued that it is impossible to formulatesuccessful prevention programs without comprehending the reasonsbehind the involvement of juveniles in criminal behaviors. Differenttheories are utilized in the scientific and juvenile crime andviolence literature to classify and give an account of delinquentbehaviors by the children. Criminologists view juvenile delinquencyas the public offenses committed by children aged between 12 and 20.Conversely, sociologists give a rather broad perception to theconcept, pointing out that it comprises of diverse infringement ofsocial norms, which ranges from minor wrong doings to seriousoffenses by the young individuals. In an attempt to provide a validexposition concerning delinquency, sociologists relate the specificsof the children behavior with the environments of home, family,peers, and other multiple variables that model the social setting ofthe juveniles. That led to the conception of social learning theory,which is reviewed below:

SocialLearning Theory

Asa conceptual framework, Williams &amp McShane (2014) asserted thatsocial learning theory puts forward an explanation regarding howpeople acquire, maintain, and change their criminal and deviantbehaviors that touch on the social, cultural, and nonsocial elementsfunctioning both to inspire and to manipulate criminal actions aswell as promoting and undermining compliance. In other words,learning is the basis of which the conforming and deviant behaviorsare gained from the social structure and interactions. In essence,social learning theory posits that it is the imitation andreinforcement of a person’s setting that defiance and crime actsare derived. It specifies the decisiveness of human socializations inmanipulating the way individuals learn and engage in crimes. Thetheory was initiated into the discipline of criminology by RonaldAkers, who derived some concepts from the differential associationtheory. It is popular among many criminologists as a tool forexplaining diverse criminal phenomena.

Thefunction of social learning theory is not completely inclined towardsthe crime causes, explaining why they happen or otherwise. Rather, italso includes crime-enhancing, protective, and preventiveinterventions. Moreover, the possibility of conforming or criminalact is a function of the equilibrium of these stimuli on behavior notlimited to a person’s learning history, but in addition to thoseworking at a particular time under a given situation, and thoseenvisaging the future actions. The four major concepts associatedwith the theory include definitions, imitation, differentialassociation, and differential reinforcement (Williams &amp McShane,2014).

Differentialassociation encompasses the direct interaction with individuals whoparticipate in some forms of behavior, or the direct values, norms,and attitudes that encourage such actions, and also the indirectassociation and identification with reference groups which are faraway. These groups form the basis of social learning, and theyinclude the family and friends (primary components), the media,computer games, and websites (secondary elements). Therefore, thetheory postulates that the more frequent a person’s configurationsof differential associations are aligned towards greater contact todeviant behavior and attitudes, the higher the chances of the subjectinvolving in unusual or criminal practices. Besides, the definitionspeople relate to crime and particular actions may also contribute todeviant behavior. The social learning theory stresses on theessentiality of human association and the evidence that learningtakes place directly through socialization inducers (e.g. parents andtutors), and indirectly through individual observations of the wayother persons behave and the results of their actions (Williams &ampMcShane, 2014). Such interactions can significantly affect the typeof definitions that fit with some deviant behaviors.

Indifferential reinforcement, Williams &amp McShane (2014) clarifiedthat criminal actions are bolstered either in a positive or negativeway. Reinforcement values are regarded as the positive or negativerewards which are predicted to follow defined behaviors. Such rewardsare posted to vary with the certain circumstances concerning thesocial context, and can, therefore, be learned. There are severalfunctions of reinforcement in criminology studies. First, itgenerates the information regarding the accomplished behavior, itmotivates or stimulates behavior, and it can also regulate one’sbehavior. Hence, people can develop anticipation about their actionsand the outcomes that succeed such behaviors. Finally, in imitation,it is postulated that a sheer observation of antisocial actionsincreases the chances of a person, the witness, to copy the behavior.If the group the person interacts or associates with is regularlyinvolved in delinquent acts, then everybody within that platform willperceive the behavior as normal, and the witnessing individual willbuy the assumption that nothing is wrong in doing the exact criminalactivities that the rest of the peers carry out.

Atthis point, it is clear that social learning theory maps socialfactors as one of the leading causes of criminal conducts. Inessence, during the development stages of children, Williams &ampMcShane (2014) argued that socialization plays a crucial role inshaping behavior. During this stage, juveniles are entirely inclinedto the learning of the rules and values that govern the community. Atfirst, the young people tend to learn to respect the codes of conductas put forth by the society. Moreover, some actions are repeated dueto the presence of the consequences that are correlated. Mainly, ajuvenile does not naturally know that stealing is illegal he or shelearns that through negative effects that the act is, in itsentirety, unacceptable. Consequently, these rules are internalizedand rated as fundamentally right by the young population. Simply put,socialization pinpoints the developmental phase in which the moralityand socially approved behavior ideals are instilled in the juveniles.In tandem with that, if a young person is regularly taught how tobehave through positive and negative reinforcement, he or she willstart to show particular traits due to the held perceptions that theacts are correct. Conversely, if the juvenile is not subjected toregular training on how to properly conduct him or herself, thedistinct moral obligations may not be achieved, hence the dispositiontowards delinquent behavior.

Aggressionremains a serious issue in the human populations. The youngpopulation develops strong, stable, and mutual relationships withpeers who have similar aggression behaviors. However, the aggressivejuveniles find it difficult to build such affiliations. If two ormore peer pairs interact, conflicts have frequently been reportedirrespective of how strong the bond was. In other words, anyintervention meant to solve delinquent actions is unlikely if peoplesay, aggressive young individuals, are grouped together. There isalways some degree of learning within the group that only worktowards worsening the situation (Williams &amp McShane, 2014).Therefore, it is imperative to examine how social learning theory canbe applied to give an account of juvenile delinquency, which is asdetailed in the ensuing sup topic:

Applicationof Social Learning Theory on Juvenile Delinquency, Discussion

Whydo children engage in crime? According to the social learning theory,juveniles, through their association or interaction with others,become involved in criminal acts of violence, aggression, andsubstance use among other serious societal offenses. Within theirenvironment, they can imitate other people’s actions, engage incrime through differential association, and differentialreinforcement and as well, through crime definitions (Williams &ampMcShane, 2014).

Inthe ideologies of the social learning theory, children learn toparticipate in transgression in the same way they train to engage inconforming actions. Given that it is an age bracket characterized byrapid learning and development, the effects of the social environmentof juveniles on delinquency cannot be overwritten. The primary andintimate segments like the peers, family, and teachers haveconsiderable influence regarding what the young people learn. Thetheory specifies that through association with delinquent friends,children readily adopt criminal behaviors. Similarly, it theorizesthat such juvenile delinquency is not only a result of direct contactwith other groups, but rather, it is also possible to acquire, say,violent behavior by observing the media presentation (Williams &ampMcShane, 2014). Arguably, the social learning theory utilizes itsmechanisms of differential reinforcement, imitation, differentialassociation, definitions, beliefs, and models to provide an in-depthexposition to juvenile delinquency.

DifferentialReinforcement and Juvenile Delinquency

Positivereinforcements result in good attributes while negative ones are theresult of the high prevalent juvenile delinquency in the society. Thesocial learning theory posits that the young people, who are exposedto environments which support the reinforcement of crimes and withlittle to no punishments imposed thereafter, adopt delinquent acts(Williams &amp McShane, 2014). For instance, deliberatereinforcements may be seen in the parents of an aggressive juvenileintentionally encouraging and reinforcing aggression without the homesetting, while adolescent’s friends may reinforce substance usewithout the fear of being charged. Other reinforcements are far fromdeliberate, for instance, a guardian who is embarrassed may give hisscreaming child a candy bar in supermarket’s checkout line, andthat is a powerful reinforcement of aggression behavior in thejuvenile.

DifferentialAssociation and Juvenile Delinquency

Whena juvenile is exposed to friends or people engaged in or defineantisocial behavior positively, he or she is intrinsically urged toparticipate in the same actions (Williams &amp McShane, 2014).Consequently, a child may be seen to rationalize the reasons forexecuting a given crime, and even consider the action as legitimate.In other words, upon an offense, the young people may still insistthat their actions were just, and plead that they were compelled tobehave that way by the exigencies of the circumstances around them.

Imitationand Juvenile Delinquency

Accordingto Williams &amp McShane (2014), juveniles who are more exposed towitnessing antisocial or delinquent actions by their peer groups mayperceive the behavior as normal and try to adopt them with the notionthat nothing bad will result from such acts. Although there is stillcontention on the actual definition of imitation, it is perceived tobe related to modeling but dichotomous to copying and mimicking.Hence, juveniles tend to develop delinquent behaviors only afterrepeated observation of what their friends do, and understanding thatlittle consequences are attached.

Beliefsand Juvenile Delinquency

Childrenwho interact with people who approve of certain crimes are likely tolearn and reinforce delinquent acts through physical teaching. Forexample, some individuals acknowledge soft drug utilization, alcoholuse, curfew abuse, and truancy as minor, good, and acceptable formsof offenses. Similarly, others hold values that stimulate criminalactivities, and these include toughness thrills, excitement, andkicks and the desire for easy prosperity (Williams &amp McShane,2014). When children get in touch with such people eitherlegitimately or illegitimately, they acquire delinquent behaviors.

Modelsand Juvenile Delinquency

Themodeling process is decisive in the delinquency incidences among thejuvenile populations. Ideally, the social learning theory states thatpositive or negative consequences can influence the behavior of anobserver. According to Williams &amp McShane (2014), learningthrough observation occurs in a series of steps namely attention,retention, reproduction, and motivation. Regarding attention, theparents and guardians execute the reciprocated imitations in afashion modeled to sustain the attentiveness of the young individual.That forms the baseline on which the juveniles expand theirattentions in actions that surpass the ones they have acquired. Whatfollows the attentiveness is the retention or memorization of what isobserved in the surrounding. As events occur, children discern whatto retain by observing other people’s memory feats. Once theinformation is captured, the juveniles work towards reproducing whatthey learned and stored, and that brings about the onset of behavior.With the motivation and the inspiration to do what others were or aredoing, the juveniles have often ended with delinquent behaviors aslearned through observation.

Constantly,children try to figure out what the social impacts of the variousimitations would be if executed. If their judgment favors the act,then they are likely to reinforce it regardless of the views held bythe public against or for the actions. For example, a parent whowalks home drunk on a daily basis is closely monitored by a child,and because the behavior is salient, recurrent, and constant, thelatter is misinformed that the society accepts that conduct (Williams&amp McShane, 2014). Nonetheless, he or she grows up with thepredilection to alcohol consumption which, upon execution, willresult in other social crimes like truancy and the use of soft drugsamong other delinquencies.

Definitionsand Juvenile Delinquency

Throughdirect interactions or socialization with parents, teachers, andpeers, or indirect association of observing how others behave,Williams &amp McShane (2014) concurred that children gain access tothe definitions that fit with particular deviant behaviors. The youngpeople who are brought up in households characterized by strongfamily, educational and religious standards are unlikely to bevictims to juvenile delinquency. However, those who grow in singleparent house, have friends who are deeply rooted in criminal acts,and are facing the torments of poverty, have often ended up with thedelinquent behaviors.


Juveniledelinquency has grown into a serious concern area in the societyworth being probed. The young population, irrespective of gender,social background, and nationality, are confronted with personalrisks and opportunities alike, which can either benefit or cause harmto the community. More often, advantages are being taken of theoutlawed opportunities as the children commit a variety of crimes,become devoted to substance utilization, and direct violence andaggression towards their peers. Specifically, most of the childrenwho face the risk of becoming delinquent live in unbearablecircumstances. The young people, who for some reasons, are orphans orlonely and lack the means of subsistence, shelter, and other primaryneeds, harbor the highest possibilities of falling into juveniledelinquency. However, it is impossible to formulate successfulprevention programs without comprehending the reasons behind theinvolvement of juveniles in criminal behaviors. The social learningtheory puts forward an explanation regarding how people acquire,maintain, and change their criminal and deviant behaviors that touchon the social, cultural, and nonsocial elements functioning both toinspire and to manipulate criminal actions as well as promoting andundermining compliance. According to the social learning theory,juveniles, through their association or interaction with others,become involved in criminal acts of violence, aggression, andsubstance use among other serious societal offenses. Within theirenvironment, they can imitate other people’s actions, engage incrime through differential association, and differentialreinforcement and as well, through crime definitions.


Siegel,L. J., &amp Welsh, B. C. (2014).&nbspJuveniledelinquency: Theory, practice, and law.Boston, U.S: Cengage Learning.

Williams,F.P., &amp McShane, M.D. (2014). CriminologicalTheory (6thEds.). New Jersey, U.S: Pearson.