Parents, Teachers, and Peers and Early Adolescent Runaway in Hong Kong

Article excerpt

Running away from home by adolescents is an early sign of youth and family problems and even juvenile delinquency (Bradley 1997). In the United States, the rate of juvenile runaway is about 14% (Baker et el., 2003; Kurtz et el., 2000). In Hong Kong, 51.1% of at-risk youth identified by social workers have the experience of runaway from ages 11 to 18 (Ngai, Cheung, Xie, & Sun, 2001). This growth in prevalence in modern urban societies is a natural consequence of changing family structure (Bradley 1997). It deserves special attention because the runaway adolescent is equally likely to be a victim and troublemaker (Hoyt et el., 1999). Whitbeck and Hoyt (1999) also noted that the experience of runaway can amplify the risk of delinquency for adolescents, and expose them to the risk of victimization. The delinquency amplification process is likely to generate deep concern among about an increase in crime (Stephenson, 2001). Further, since runaway adolescents are at high risk of self-destructive behavior, this also draws public attention (Bass et al., 1992; Ennett et al., 1999). In both cases, the runaway adolescent is influenced by others, such as family members and youth gangs. Thus, it is necessary to focus on adolescents' family, schools, and social circles which are stable enough to provide long-term effects (Karabanow, 2002). These social influences, manifested in parental monitoring, teacher and classmate support, and friend relationships are the focus of the present study of Chinese early adolescents. It highlights the preventive and facilitating effects of these influences on Chinese and adolescents' runaway. At issue is whether social control theory can provide an adequate framework for understanding this problem. Moreover, potential cultural differences in the application of social control theory were investigated because such differences tend to be apparent when adolescents born in Hong Kong and other places (typically on the Chinese mainland), who presumably have different cultural backgrounds, were compared.

Parental Monitoring and Teacher Support as Social Control.

Social control theory has long been used to explain crime and delinquency in general (Parcel & Dufur, 2001; Sampson & Luab, 1993). It regards lack of social control as a determinant of crime and delinquency, including runaway as an early sign. Social control, according to the theory is significant because the individual is prone to commit crime and does not need to learn such behavior. Social control primarily serves to dictate the norms of proper behavior through social support, encouragement, and relationship building. Coercive discipline, though related to social control, is not the key mechanism. Rather, the aim of social control is to bolster social integration into society. With social control and integration, the individual would benefit from mutual support and realize its importance, thus deterring deviant behavior. For this purpose, parental monitoring, and teacher and classmate support serve to maintain social relationships and the individual's attachment to conventional social norms. Social control arising from conventional institutions, such as the family and school, is a necessary condition for eliciting desirable effects. Parents and teachers are important for generating social control conductive to youth development and antithetical to problematic development (Bazemore & Terry, 1997). Parental monitoring and teacher support expedite the adolescent's healthy development (Eccles et al., 1997; Youniss et al., 1997). Further, attachment to an adult provides a stable source of support and helps prevent juvenile delinquency (Lapsley & Edgerton, 2002).

A controversial issue is the role of parental monitoring. Although social control theory views parental monitoring as noncoercive in maintaining the bond between the adolescent and parent, it usually involves some coercion that the adolescent is reluctant to accept. …