Family Correlates of Social Skill Deficits in Incarcerated and Nonincarcerated Adolescents

Article excerpt

The alarming increase in the incarceration of adolescents for delinquent and criminal behaviors propounds one of society's most complex and intractable social problems. With this inimical trend comes an increasing disintegration in human relations and of our humanity itself. Constructing prisons and other vast, unwieldy institutions to segregate these delinquents from opportunities to develop social skills, merely compounds the problem of rehabilitation. In order to facilitate rehabilitation through enhancing social skills, an understanding of the variables affecting the development of social skills is essential.

Family factors have been examined for their role in fostering anti-social behaviors in children and adults through distortions in normal emotional bonds within the family unit. In her discussion of family and delinquency, Hirschi (1969) theorized that attachment to parents forms the basis of conforming behavior in children. Rather than linking conformity to internalization, Hirschi posited that it is attachment that is the most important mechanism through which conformity is established. "The more strongly a child is attached to his parents, the more strongly he is bound to their expectations and therefore, the more strongly he is bound to conformity with the legal norms of the larger system." (Hirschi, 1969, p. 299). Hirschi further submitted, that the family is the major control agency, and that an adverse influence on that process reduces its ability to "... react consistently to transgressions ..." (Shoham et al., 1986, p. 84). Further, if a juvenile's attachment to family is disrupted, any such process "... may be considered a delinquency--or deviance-inducing process". Overall, it can be maintained that there is a direct relationship between delinquent behavior and the strength of one's bond "... through attachments, commitments, involvements, and beliefs" (Denno, 1985, p. 713). More precisely, Shoham et al. (1986) stated that "delinquency is essentially the outcome of a differential socialization process. Therefore, because the broken or malfunctioning family fails to socialize a child to the acceptance of social norms, it contributes to the child's socialization into alternative, deviant norms...".

The social interactional perspective takes a more direct view of family influence in that family members are believed to have "... trained the child to perform antisocial behaviors ..." (Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989). Patterson has asserted that inconsistent parental discipline and ineffectual parental monitoring foster adolescent transgressive behavior (Patterson et al., 1989). Such family interaction patterns have, in effect, produced children characterized by beth antisocial symptoms and a lack of social skills. Patterson et al. (1989) theorize that it is inconsistent discipline which leads to problem behavior and subsequently peer rejection and poor social skills during the elementary school years. By adolescence, one would expect to see beth the problematic family interaction patterns and social skills deficits as problems among incarcerated individuals.

Thus far, the family research literature points to problems in terms of greater marital discord (i.e., greater conflict, aggression, and unpleasant interaction) in spousal relationships of the parents of delinquent children (Heatherington & Martin, 1979; Rutter & Siller, 1983). Such parent-child relationships have been found to provide greater reward for deviant behavior and punishment for prosocial behavior (Patterson, 1982), and more distant relationships between parent and child (e.g., fewer rules regarding curfews and activities) (Wilson, 1980). Social skills deficits of delinquent children have also been found in areas of social skills behaviors (Freedman, Donahoe, Rosenthal, Schluvdt, & Mcfall, 1983), and effective empathy and cognitive inter-personal negotiation strategies (Ledbetter, Hellner, Allen, & Abar, 1989). …