The Impact of Parental Attachment and Feelings of Isolation on Adolescent Fear of Crime at School

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Despite recent reports that violent crime has decreased, particularly among juveniles (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004), school shootings at Pearl, Mississippi, Littleton, Colorado, and San Diego, California (among others) have led many to believe that children are more at risk of harm (particularly at school) at present than at any time in the past. Annual descriptive measures of fear of criminal victimization at school suggest, however, that youth are no more likely to be victimized and no more fearful at school in 2004 than they were in the early 1990s (prior to the highly publicized school shootings) (Devoe et al., 2004). As such, it is essential to understand the disjunction between public perceptions and the seemingly low levels of fear of criminal victimization at school.

Until very recently, however, the study of fear of criminal victimization and its antecedents was limited to adults (see Hale, 1996 for discussion). Contemporary research has expanded fear of crime research to adolescent populations (see Schreck & Miller, 2003; May, Vartanian, & Virgo, 2002; May, 2001; May & Dunaway, 2000; Alvarez & Bachman, 1997); this initial work suggests that, while many of the demographic predictors of fear of criminal victimization (e.g., gender, race) are similar among both adolescents and adults, there are significant contextual and theoretical predictors of fear of crime among adolescents heretofore unexplored in adult populations (see May et al., 2002 and Schreck & Miller, 2003, for discussion).

This recent exploration of correlates of fear of crime among adolescents has opened several new and potentially interesting avenues of study. For example, Alvarez and Bachman (1997, p. 77) and Schreck and Miller (2003) determined that a "violent subcultural milieu" was associated with increased levels of fear of criminal victimization both at school and away from school. May et al. (2002) determined that, among incarcerated adolescent males, those youth most attached to their parents were less fearful of criminal victimization than their counterparts without those same attachments. Additionally, May and Dunaway (2000) determined that fear of criminal victimization was contingent upon both the race and gender of the adolescent, while May (2001) determined that fear of nonsexual victimization among adolescents is largely contingent upon their fear of sexual victimization.

Using a sample of approximately 2,000 adolescents from a rural Southern state, we borrow further from the fields of delinquency theory and developmental psychology to assess the relationship between adolescent fear of crime at school and one known insulator (parental attachment) and one known predictor (isolation) of delinquency. Additionally, we extend the work by May et al. (2002) and May and Dunaway (2000) by exploring the impact of race and gender on the relationship between attachment, isolation and adolescent fear of crime at school as well.

Despite over 30 years of research in the area of fear of criminal victimization among adults (see Ferraro, 1995, and Hale, 1996, for reviews), research in the area of fear of crime among adolescents is still lacking. As adolescents are more likely to be victimized by violent crime than any other group (Catalano, 2004), this fact is particularly interesting in that research among adults suggests that fear of crime is heightened when individuals perceive themselves more vulnerable and likely to be victimized. Thus, as May et al. (2002) suggest, if youth accurately assess that they are at greater risk of criminal victimization, it is quite possible that they may be even more fearful of crime than their adult counterparts.

Additionally, despite the fact that there are similarities in the antecedents of fear of criminal victimization among adults and adolescents (see May et al., 2002, for review), recent research efforts suggest that these relationships are not always congruent (Schreck & Miller, 2003; May, 2001; May & Dunaway, 2000; Alvarez & Bachman, 1997; Parker and Onyekwuluje, 1992). …