Female Adolescent Friendship and Delinquent Behavior

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ABSTRACT

Young female offenders (n = 29) and female high school students (n. = 47) were compared in terms of delinquent behavior, and relationships with their best female friend and peer group. Young offenders exhibited significantly more delinquent behavior than did high school students in the past year. Delinquents and nondelinquents did not significantly differ in amount of companionship, conflict, help, security, and closeness with their best female friend, and amount of trust, alienation, and perceived intimacy in their peer group. Less communication and more perceived peer pressure in the peer group distinguished delinquent females from nondelinquent females. Perceived peer pressure significantly predicted delinquent behavior in female adolescents. In short, friendships of delinquent and nondelinquent female adolescents are essentially similar despite higher levels of peer pressure among delinquents.

The relationship between delinquency and quality of friendship in adolescent females is a question of current interest, since the incidence of female delinquency is reported to be increasing. A deviant peer group is the strongest predicator of female adolescent delinquency when parents, school, and other interpersonal factors are controlled for (Aseltine, 1995; Brownfield & Thompson, 1991; Gomme, 1985), and friendship is an important aspect of peer relationships. The emotional and attachment aspects of the peer group are, however, unclear because there are confounding notions of delinquent friendships as "intimate" versus "nonintimate." Essentially, the two portraits of adolescent friendship are the products of two theories of delinquency: social control theory (nonintimate) and social learning theory (intimate delinquent peer relationships).

Social control theorists propose that individuals are delinquent because controls are absent or defective (Shoemaker, 1996). According to Hirschi (1969), these controls are either intraindividual (e.g., impulse control) or interpersonal (e.g., attachment, commitment, and involvement with regard to family, school, peers, and religion). Hirschi suggests that there is a negative relationship between attachment/commitment and delinquency. Social control theory also sees delinquent friendships as conflicted, troubled, unstable, and marked by feelings of less trust and lower security. Poor social skills, weak familial relations, and overall low attachment to social institutions do not allow for healthful friendships between delinquents. Such disturbed relationships between female delinquents--relationships that are less trusting and more conflicted--have been reported by Brownfield and Thompson (1991), Giordano, Cernkovich, and Pugh (1986), Marcus (1996), Windle (1994), and Yates, Hecht-Lewis, Fritsch, and Goodric h (1993).

In contrast, social learning theorists propose that delinquent friendships are close, intimate, and essentially similar to those of nondelinquents. According to social learning theory, an individual cannot be influenced by someone or something unless there is some vested interest or attachment (Cotterell, 1996; Sutherland & Cressey, 1978). Thus, the stronger the attachment, the stronger the potential influence. If delinquents are encouraged, taught, or pressured to be delinquent by other delinquents, there must be some level of attachment. Several researchers have noted that attachment to female peers is positively associated with delinquency (Brownfield & Thompson, 1991; Bowker & Klein, 1983; Claes & Simard, 1992; Elliot, Huizinga, & Ageton, 1985; Erickson & Jensen, 1977; Gardner & Shoemaker, 1989; Giordano, 1978). These researchers have looked at aspects of trust, self-esteem, identity, intimacy, conflict, and peer pressure in relation to delinquency, and have reported mixed results regarding trust in deli nquent friendships. According to Giordano et al. (1986), there are no differences between delinquents and nondelinquents in caring and trust, although females display higher levels of both. …