Psychological Theory of Delinquency and Juvenile Offending: Sexual Misdemeanor among Children

Posted on: 10th May 2023


I need a title page, abstract, and reference page in addition to a 15-page paper on Psychological Theory (facts, history, and how it is significant to the juvenile justice system). It must have 15 sources from journals or peer review articles. APA format 8th edition.

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The research paper is on the psychological theory of delinquency and juvenile offending: specifically, sexual misdemeanor among children. A sexual misdemeanor is considered the most common crime committed by children. The present review analyzes evidence base for contributing factors to sexual deviance among children, including etiology, mental health issues, cognition, levels of self-control, arousal/impulsivity theories subtypes (emotionally reactive-impulsive versus behaviorally inhibited-impulsive), and the role of sexual victimization. The paper also discusses two psychological models: General Strain Theory and Developmental Pathways Model, which both focus on strain theory and delinquency/criminal behavior, while concurrently acknowledging issues with social learning theory. The present review finds some support for the theories in explaining juveniles' engagement in sexual misdemeanor behaviors.

Keywords: Juvenile Sexual Misdemeanors, Sexual victimization




Psychological Theory of Delinquency and Juvenile Offending: Sexual Misdemeanor among Children

Background Overview

The psychological theory of delinquency and juvenile offending has been extensively researched, and one of the most common crimes committed by juveniles is sexual misdemeanor. There are many factors that may contribute to a child's engagement in sexual misdemeanor behaviors, including etiology, mental health issues, cognition, levels of self-control, and arousal/impulsivity theories subtypes. In addition, social learning theory is often criticised for its inability to account for all delinquency behaviours. Two psychological models that focus on strain theory and delinquency/criminal behaviour are General Strain Theory (GST) and Developmental Pathways Model (DPM). GST suggests that all strains are not equal, and that some strains (i.e., those that are more severe orless legitimate) increase the likelihood of criminal behaviour. Thus, when strain occurs in a legitimate way, such as losing a family member through death or divorce, it is less likely to lead to delinquency and/or crime than when strain occurs illegitimately (e.g., being fired from work). Furthermore, GST suggests that different strains elicit differenttypes of reactions, which may be related to delinquency. On the other hand, DPM is based on an interactionist perspective that views development as a continuous process rather than a series of stages. It suggests that strain affects juvenile offending through two pathways: one cognitive path and another affective path. The cognitive path focuses on youths' ability to reasonand understand consequences associated with their actions, whereas the affective path focuses on youths' emotions and motivations.

Delinquency is a social problem that has been around for as long as humans have been able to record history. It refers to criminal or antisocial behavior by minors, and it can manifest in a variety of ways, from minor rule-breaking to more serious crimes like violence and theft. Juvenile delinquency is particularly concerning because most juvenile offenders become adult criminals. This means that a process of rehabilitation and reform is necessary to break the cycle of delinquency. Unfortunately, the rate of juvenile offending has not decreased over time, despite many efforts from researchers and legislators. Recent studies have demonstrated that juvenile offending rates are rising in countries worldwide. Some theories suggest that this may be due to changes in the social climate, such as increased availability of illicit drugs and greater income inequality. However, because so much information has been collected about delinquency, but little has changed in terms of its prevalence, researchers are coming to believe that they need to re-evaluate their understanding of delinquency. Delinquency can be better understood by taking a broader view of its causes rather than only focusing on the individual. Focusing on delinquency itself allows for a greater understanding of why it occurs, what factors are related to it, and how different approaches might provide new ways to study these problems. Only by looking at delinquency from a different angle are researchers finding ways to help reduce youth crime rates.

A person who commits a sexual misdemeanor against a child is not always considered a criminal. This paper will focus on how society views those individuals and their crimes, which can be significantly different from other offenses committed by adults. It also aims to explore the psychological theories that are used to explain these differences in opinion and punishment of those who commit crimes against children. Finally, it looks at what effect this has on the juvenile justice system and how it should be handled differently than adult offenders with similar backgrounds, mental health issues or experiences with abuse or neglect. The paper will conclude by discussing possible solutions for handling these cases based on new findings of recidivism rates among victims of sexual assault.

Key Terms And Definitions

Delinquent behavior- This refers to criminal or antisocial behavior by minors.

Juvenile delinquency- This refers to delinquent behavior committed by minors.

Psychological Theory- Theories based on experiences, personality, and social influences.

Sexual Misdemeanor - This refers to all unlawful non-forcible sexual intercourse with an adult or someone who is at least 14 years old.

The Psychological Theory of Delinquency

The psychological theory of delinquency is a sociological perspective that examines delinquent acts from an individual’s personality and their experiences and social influences. The Psychological Theory focuses on understanding why youth offend rather than judging or punishing them for their actions. Researchers have found compelling reasons to be interested in the psychological process of delinquency. The Psychological Theory’s main contribution is that multiple factors can lead to delinquent behavior, rather than just one solution (Paternoster & Mazerolle, 1994). It understands that different individuals respond differently to the same situations and experiences, leading to different outcomes. By examining juvenile offending from a multidimensional standpoint, this theory can help create new ways to respond to different offenders to reduce crime rates.

Sexual activity has been a part of human history since the beginning, and it is said that human sexuality begins before birth with a fetus' first source of pleasurable stimulation being his or her own movements in utero. Most sexual behaviors are normative and occur within the bounds of legality. However, there exists a continuum of sexual activity that ranges from normal to atypical or deviant. In order for sexual behavior to be considered a crime, it must be an illegal sexual act. Of particular interest in the field of juvenile delinquency is children's engagement in sex offenses or sexual misdemeanors. In other words, when youth have been involved in behaviors that meet the legal definition of the term sexual behavior, regardless of whether they know it is wrong, they have engaged in sexual misdemeanors. Sexual misdemeanors include behaviors such as voyeurism (Peeping Tom), exhibitionism (flashing/exposing), and frotteurism (rubbing against another person in a sexual manner without consent).

Many factors may contribute to a child's engagement in sexual misdemeanor behaviors, including etiology (i.e., cause), mental health issues, cognition (i.e., levels of self-control), arousal/impulsivity theories subtypes (emotionally reactive-impulsive versus behaviorally inhibited-impulsive), and the role of sexual victimization.


The literature suggests that there exists no single cause that contributes to sexual offending, but rather a variety of contributory factors including biological (e.g., genetics), psychological (e.g., personality traits), and social/environmental (e.g., negative family/peer influences). Moreover, there is evidence suggesting that children who engage in sex offenses are at risk for either becoming a victim of sexual assault or victimizing others. Understanding the various factors that contribute to juvenile offending can help us identify potential risk factors for these youth, which is an important step in rehabilitation and treatment.

Mental Health Issues

Juvenile offenders are more likely to haveattempted suicide, have a history of mental health treatment or hospitalization, and/or have received psychological testing indicating emotional problems. It is suggested that "juvenile sex offences" are most associated with affective disorders (i.e., depression) rather than cognitive disorders (i.e., psychotic features). For example, a study found that youth who had been diagnosed with even a minor depressive disorder were three times more likely to have been charged with a sex offense than those without such a diagnosis. Moreover, several studies have found a relationship between mental health issues and recidivism, which is an important indicator used by criminal justice systems when considering rehabilitation programs.


Juveniles who engage in sex offences are thought to have deficits in self-regulation or self-control. This is because they are believed to lack the cognitive abilities necessary for impulse control. Additionally, when decision making, juveniles often rely on stereotypes linking adult females with sexual behaviour rather than assessing the situation appropriately. Emotionally reactive youth may be predisposed to sexual offending due to a lack of fear conditioning and a heightened interest in sexuality, whereas behaviorally inhibited youth may engage in sexual offenses as a way to gain social acceptance from their peers.

Role of Sexual Victimization

In addition to the impact of mental health problems on juveniles who engage in sex offenses, it has been suggested that sexual victimization may contribute to offending. Victimization can include experiences of sexual coercion, incest, child sexual abuse, and/or exposure to community violence. Juvenile Sex Offenders are characterized as having close relationships with adults who encourage their deviant activity rather than discourage it. Additionally, research has shown that juvenile offenders havea significant number of prior arrests and often have records for various offenses. Some juveniles may be predisposed to engage in sexual offending due to a lack of fear conditioning and enhanced interest in sexuality, while others may engage in sex offences as a way to gain social acceptance from their peers.

The History of Psychological Theories of Delinquency and Juvenile Offending

Psychological theories of delinquency began as early as the late 1800s, but it was not until the mid-1900s that they were considered a separate theory from biological and sociological explanations (Nalah & Ishaya, 2013). Today, psychological theories continue to inform why juveniles offend and what can be done about it. Psychological researchers began to shift their focus from delinquency itself, defined by negative behaviors, to the factors that lead to these behaviors. This shift in perspective led to a re-examination of some major sociological theories on delinquency and an attempt at creating new ones. However, none of these theories gained significant traction before World WarII, mostly because the need to combat delinquency was not examined with any depth (Nalah & Ishaya, 2013). Once the war ended with large-scale delinquency, researchers began re-examining their understanding of youth behavior problems

Early psychological theories on delinquent behavior focused on biological factors within the individual. Researchers believed that certain physiological characteristics were responsible for an individual’s likelihood of committing delinquent acts. For example, Lombroso argued that delinquents have physical traits similar to those of criminals, specifically the appearance of being primitive and crude (Lombroso, 2006). This led him to conclude that delinquency was biologically determined because it appeared to be passed down through genetics. Researchers today understand that this conclusion is incorrect, but at the time, it used the limited available information to argue for the biological origins of problem behaviors (Lombroso, 2006).

Psychological theories emerged in the late 1800s when researchers examined the environmental factors that lead to delinquency (Lombroso, 2006). They believed that certain social or economic conditions are responsible for juvenile offending. However, there was still debate over whether this is driven by nature or nurture. The most notable proponent of this perspective was Laub & Sampson, who argued that delinquency is caused by biological factors interacting with the physical environment (Laub & Sampson, 1991). This perspective has influenced modern-day psychological theories on offending behavior

A major shift occurred in the early 20th century when researchers focused on the individual’s psychological processes rather than their biology or social conditions (Baltes, 1987). The Chicago School became the leading proponent in this new perspective, arguing that the delinquent acts of adolescents result from a lack of socialization and exposure to crime (Simons et al., 1994). Despite not fully understanding how criminal behavior develops in adolescents, these theories remain influential today. While psychological researchers continued their investigations into delinquency during the 1950s and 1960s, few significant advancements were made (Nathan, Stuart, & Dolan, 2000). Many continued to embrace biological explanations, such as those suggested by Freud and Eysenck. Others focused on social causes, emphasizing psychological factors that limit individual development. Researchers during this time also focused their attention on understanding how adolescents become delinquent and whether external incentives influence delinquency

Research efforts increased significantly in the 1970s and 1980s due to a large volume of empirical studies on juvenile delinquency (Hoyt & Scherer, 1998). Researchers began to shift their attention from delinquent behaviors to those at high risk for committing offenses. They argued that the factors that lead individuals to have problems must be understood before effective intervention can be developed. The 1990s represented a turning point in developing modern-day theories on delinquency (Kubrin, 2017). This period marked a shift from focusing on external factors to understanding the behavior of individual offenders at all stages in the criminal justice system. Researchers began to focus their attention on personality traits that were likely to lead individuals into crime, as well as how psychological disorders could be connected with problematic behaviors

There are three main psychological theories on delinquency and offending behavior: general personality disorders theory, self-control theory, and social learning theory. All three theories have been highly influential, but the self-control theory appears most widely supported by research on offending behavior. Researchers who embrace this perspective focus on how individuals’ inability to regulate their behavior leads to criminal actions. One of the factors that have been associated with the emergence of criminal behavior is impulsivity, which is often discussed in conjunction with self-control theory.

General personality disorders theory

The general personality disorders theory assumes that certain traits or characteristics make it more likely for an individual to engage in criminal behavior. Researchers who support this perspective maintain that individuals with long-term problems in behavior regulation are delinquency-prone (Beck, Davis, & Freeman, 2015). This theory is largely supported by clinical research identifying psychopathology among delinquent adolescents. However, many researchers have criticized this theory because it is often difficult to identify the traits linked to criminal activity. Researchers sometimes use assessment tools designed to measure conduct or behavior management problems, but these measures often fail to distinguish between normative and non-normative behaviors (Kimberlin & Winterstein, 2008).

Self-control theory

The self-control approach focuses on the role of impulsivity in offending behavior (Winfree Jr et al., 2006). This perspective argues that individuals who lack adequate abilities to control their impulses will likely engage in criminal acts. Researchers who support the self-control approach believe that when individuals fail to regulate their behavior or control their emotions, they are more likely to commit offenses (Winfree Jr et al., 2006). The major implication of a lack of regulation is that these individuals will be unable to consider the consequences of their actions before they respond. Since many offenses may have long-term negative effects, the ability to consider these consequences may lead individuals not to commit crimes.

Social learning theory

The social learning perspective is based on the assumption that delinquent behavior is learned through observation and reinforcement of behaviors exhibited by others (Conger, 1976). Researchers associated with this perspective have argued that adolescents learn to be involved in crime largely from their interactions with peers. This theory has been highly influential because it highlights the importance of peer groups in a young person’s life (Conger, 1976). Researchers have paid particular attention to the types of behavior exhibited within a peer group and how interactions with others influence individuals’ decision to engage in crime.

Delinquency and crime represent significant social, political, and economical problems worldwide. Crime impacts those who are victimized and on society as a whole. A person perceives crime is often based on their family background and friends. Furthermore, adolescents who engage in criminal behavior may live tragic lives as they may be incarcerated or dead (Aymer, 2016). Juvenile delinquency and criminal offending are serious social problems requiring multiple interventions (e.g., school, family, peer group).

The Facts of Psychological Theory of Delinquency and Juvenile Offending

In the past, theorists have provided several explanations on juvenile offending and delinquency. The current dominant explanation of adolescent delinquency suggests that various interacting risk factors work together to produce a delinquent outcome. For example, Moffitt (1993) describes a life-course-persistent model of antisocial behavior where early-onset antisocial behaviors, under certain conditions, are more likely to evolve into persistent antisocial behavior over time (Moffitt, 1993). Current research on offending and delinquency has moved towards studying specific risk factors that may lead to delinquency (e.g., Moffitt, 1993). Risk factors can be divided into static or individual difference variables and dynamic or contextual variables. In turn, these different risk factors can be further divided into different levels of specificity. Static variables often describe a relatively enduring characteristic of the individual, such as age, genetic traits, and neurobiology (Odum, 2011). Dynamic or context-specific variables include aspects of the immediate environment, such as family and peer influences (Banyard, 2011). Static variables can be further differentiated into two subcategories: dispositional variables and neurobiological risk factors (Reid Meloy, Hoffmann, Guldimann, & James, 2012). Dispositional variables are relatively enduring characteristics of the individual that are unlikely to change over time, such as age, gender, and intelligence. Neurobiological risk factors are more specific characteristics that the environment may influence but are not necessarily enduring. For example, Völlm et al. (2004) argue that antisocial behavior results from a neurobiological dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex, resulting in poor executive functioning. This risk factor is considered neurobiological because it can be identified through imaging techniques like fMRI.

Theoretical Framework

The psychological theory of delinquency and juvenile offending is integral to understanding youth crime. Without understanding how their minds work, there would be no way for society to understand why people commit crimes. Many accredited psychologists who have published many peer-reviewed journals on the matter have long studied the application of psychology towards criminal behavior. According to Kahneman (2000), psychology is a scientific principle of behavior and mental processes. It is concerned with why people think, feel, behave the way they do and how these processes develop. Concerning delinquency, the psychological theory has been used for centuries to understand why some people commit crimes more often than others (Greenberg, 1977). Some theorists have focused on only one aspect of behavior, such as low intelligence or other forms of mental illness, while others have focused on the interaction between the individual and their social environment.

The study of delinquency and juvenile offending can be traced back to the early days of psychology when many psychologists were more concerned about studying extreme deviant behavior than what we would call “normal” behavior. Most early researchers tried to prove that deviance resulted from biology, thinking that criminals were from a different breed from “normal” people. The research has evolved a great deal since then, and it is now generally agreed upon that criminality has many determinants, not just one. Delinquency cannot be explained by one factor alone but must consider many factors in the individual’s life and environment. Criminal behavior is often explained by looking at the interaction of multiple factors (Agnew, 1991).

Using psychology to study criminal behavior started segregating “normal” people from criminals. The view of psychologists was that they were scientists who had discovered the laws of nature, and therefore, society could benefit greatly by applying these laws to crime prevention. “This approach to crime continues to underlie much of the thinking about delinquency and juvenile offending” (Matza, 2018). The basis for this view is that criminals are seen as an alien breed from normal people who have a very different psychological make-up. This type of research was criticized because it seemed a bit reductionist or overly simplistic. This has been replaced by a more holistic approach to criminal behavior. It is now understood that a combination of many different factors causes crime, and therefore, one theory will not be able to explain all cases of delinquency and offending (Matza, 2018).

Research conducted by the University of Toronto found that gang members have been found to have higher rates of criminal behavior and psychosocial problems (Cook et al., 2015). These include substance abuse, disruptive behaviors and aggressive tendencies. In a study conducted by Nussio (2020)., it was discovered that gang members were also more impulsive and sensation-seeking than those who did not join gangs. Many gang members come from dysfunctional families with little supervision, and in most cases, they look up to role models who also exhibit antisocial behavior (Nussio, 2020). Psychological theories that try to explain delinquency and offending have changed over time as society has focused on different aspects of the causes of crime. This has led to many different theories that look at the causation of criminal behavior, which will be discussed later in this paper.

A study conducted by Beran & Li (2007) found that juveniles who engage in bullying have experienced bullying themselves and therefore know how it feels to be the target of this type of behavior. These individuals usually lack empathy and understanding and the social skills necessary to interact with others in a healthy way (Beran & Li, 2007). The study also found that young people involved with gang activity have been shown to engage in bullying behaviors more frequently than those who do not associate themselves with gangs. These same individuals have been found to engage in other forms of delinquent and criminal behaviors (Beran & Li, 2007).

One psychological theory many people consider when thinking about juvenile delinquency and offending is psychosocial development. This theory specifically looks at the different stages that a child goes through when developing their sense of self. Many of these stages are defined by the level of integration a child has with their family, friends, school and community (Coleman, 1982). According to this theory, children go through six stages, developing from infancy to adulthood. The earliest stage is one or occupation centered on the self, which starts at birth and usually ends around the age of two. The second stage is a practicing stage that extends from three to six years old and usually ends when a child enters school. The next developmental stage is industry versus inferiority which extends from about seven to eleven years old and usually ends once a child enters adolescence (Coleman, 1982). The following stage is the last before adulthood, and it is one of identity versus role confusion. This stage usually ends around the age of 15 or 16 when a young person understands their sense of self. The final developmental stage leading up to adulthood is intimacy versus isolation, which occurs between 17 and 25 years old (Coleman, 1982).

Analysis of Psychological Theories

The different psychological theories discussed in this paper are important to consider when considering why juveniles often engage in delinquent or criminal behavior. Without age-appropriate cognitive and emotional development, it is difficult for juveniles to understand the long-term consequences of their actions and make a sound decision based on rational thought rather than impulsive desire. For example, a juvenile that is still in the practicing stage of psychosocial development will likely not consider the consequences that might result from their behavior and how it could affect others. It is also important to understand the concept of identity formation and its role in any delinquent or criminal activity (Coleman, 1982).

The effect of psychological theories on someone who witnesses abuse or violence is also significant. Being a victim of bullying, physical assault and other forms of violent behavior can have long-term effects on an individual’s mental health (Beran & Li, 2007). Many young people who are victims of this type of violence develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which causes them to experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, insomnia and other forms of psychological distress (Beran & Li, 2007).

Without proper education or training on effectively dealing with stress, it is difficult for individuals to understand the effects of violence on their mental health. Often, victims are not taught how to cope with their situation and therefore often turn to methods such as violence or drug use to try and cope or escape from their situation. This can have a snowball effect on young people who are already at risk for delinquency and offending (Beran & Li, 2007).

It is also important to understand how psychological theories relate to children’s academic performance. According to Ham (2004), academic achievement has declined during the past several decades. Researchers have found evidence that a lack of emotional support and high levels of stress can significantly affect a child’s ability to learn and reach their full potential (Greil, Slauson‐Blevins, & McQuillan, 2010).

The cognitive development theory suggests that how children approach academics is directly related to their academic achievement. In general, children progress through three different cognitive development levels during their academic careers. The first is pre-operational thinking which occurs between two and seven years old. At this stage, students are still learning how to understand their environment and therefore tend to see things in black or white (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008). For example, if a young child is not getting enough support at home for their school work, they may conclude that they are no good at school or that it does not matter. The next level of cognitive development is concrete operational thinking which occurs between the ages of seven and eleven years old (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008). During this stage, children begin to understand the basic concepts of science and math and apply these concepts to real-life situations. Finally, the highest level of cognitive development is formal thinking which usually begins during puberty and continues into adulthood (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008). Young people who are successful in school understand abstract concepts such as fractions, percentages, and geometry. According to recent research, children who suffer from low academic performance and stress may not reach this final stage of cognitive development (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008). This is significant because it can affect a child’s ability to learn and create new memories and therefore influence how they approach future academics (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008).

Many psychological theories also focus on how children develop self-esteem as they grow older. In general, it is believed that a young person’s level of self-esteem directly affects their behavior and how they approach academics (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008).

In recent years, adolescent girls have been diagnosed with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa more than ever before (Taylor, 1983). Young girls often use fasting, excessive exercise and smoking to lose weight. Although these young women typically begin their disorder in an attempt to build self-esteem, many times, they will continue to follow certain disordered eating habits even when it begins to interfere with their daily life (Taylor, 1983). This is significant because research suggests that self-esteem plays an important role in developing delinquency and offending (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008). Even though various psychological theories can explain why young people may begin using drugs or act out against authority figures, many researchers still find it difficult to conclude how these factors influence children’s behavior (Grier-Reed, Na’im H, & Buckley, 2008).

In the juvenile justice system, there is a special focus on dealing with children and young adults who display psychological problems such as diagnosed mental disorders (Grisso, 2008). It is important to understand how they have been identified and the specific symptoms they might cause to understand these different diagnoses. According to Grisso (2008), children struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have problems focusing, controlling their impulses, and sitting still. This can affect how they act in school or the juvenile justice system if they cannot control these problematic behaviors (Grisso, 2008). Mentally Ill youth may also struggle with various psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety (Grisso, 2008). For example, children dealing with schizophrenia often believe that someone is trying to hurt them or that people can read their minds (Grisso, 2008). Mentally Ill youth also face unique challenges when entering the juvenile justice system. These young people often find it difficult to establish a relationship with the judge, prosecutor or defense attorney because of these psychological issues (Grisso, 2008). This is significant because it may cause them to act out in the courtroom, potentially damaging their case.


In conclusion, various psychological theories can help to explain the development of delinquency and juvenile offending. The most widely recognized theory is social learning because it focuses on how children learn behaviors and imitate their role models. The social cognitive theory believes that a child’s behavior is influenced by their ability to think about the consequences of their actions and how they perceive themselves. Social identity theory and self-efficacy focus on how a child’s sense of belonging or social status affects their behavior. Lastly, psychoanalytic theories such as Freudian psychology focuses on how children’s subconscious conflicts can affect their behavior. Although the psychological development of delinquency and offending may be complicated, it is still important to understand these theories because they can help juvenile justice professionals better identify problems in children and young adults.



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