The Impact of Parenting on Conduct Disorder in Jamaican Male Adolescents

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Adolescent violence in Western societies is a serious social and public health problem. In a commentary on the problem in the American Psychological Association's quarterly news report (April 1991), Charles Ewing, professor of law at the University of Buffalo, reported that based on the rate of increase, by the year 2000, American society would be forced to deal with 6,000 or more juvenile homicides per year. It has been suggested that adolescents who exhibit serious behavioral problems such as conduct disorder account for more than half of these crimes in the United States every year (McMahon & Wells, 1991). In the Caribbean, the crime figures are not as stark, in terms of the degree of youth involvement; however, in light of the physical, psychological and economic impact that the behavior of these adolescents (in any society) has on their victims, the victims' families, their own families, and the community, it is imperative that practitioners understand the basis of conduct disorder in adolescence.

Concern with conduct disorder was stimulated while the author was working with violent and emotionally disturbed adolescents in the central New Jersey area of the United States. Perusal of the literature suggested that although a great deal of empirical and theoretical work has been done, there was still no clear understanding of the factors associated with this disorder. Thus, the primary objective here is to examine the feasibility of using a theoretical model developed by this researcher to determine the association between the presence and severity of conduct disorders and parenting factors such as the presence of parents, contact with parents, and the stability of parental arrangements in a group of 140 Jamaican male adolescents. These issues are discussed within the framework of a broader research project which examined family, peer group, and biological factors associated with conduct disorder.

Race as a Confounding Variable

One important factor which emerged in the North American literature is the extent to which race acts as a confounding variable and adds a dimension of complexity to the incidence of conduct disorder in American society, as well as to the analysis of the variables associated with this disorder (Henggeler, 1989). For this reason, the study was conducted on a sample population outside the United States, in Jamaica, West Indies, where there is some degree of cultural and racial homogeneity and where racism is a less significant factor in terms of the social service or correctional system.

Overview of the Major Theoretical Perspectives on Conduct Disorder

Numerous studies have been conducted on juvenile delinquency and conduct disorder. In this study, conduct disorder is defined as a pathological state within which delinquent acts take place (McMahon & Wells, 1991). Many of these studies examine etiological factors (Schior, 1983; Orcutt, 1987), while others have been largely descriptive of the nature of these disorders (McMahon & Wells, 1991). Other studies have attempted to investigate associations between delinquency and a wide variety of variables which include social, such as family relationships (Rutter, 1972; Khron & Massey, 1980), peer group (Hoghugh, 1988), biological (Lewis, 1985) and sociological variables (Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Bandura, 1973; Akers, 1964).

Lack of Conclusive Theoretical Information on Etiology

The major problems in the study of this disorder revolve around a general lack of conclusive information on the etiology of delinquency or "conduct disorder." It is apparent that the literature points to a number of psychological, social, and biological factors which would account for the variables associated with conduct disorders in childhood and adolescence. Rutter and Giller (1983) point out that the factors associated with psychosocial disorders, by their nature, are complex and tend to be characterized by multiple causations. …