Family Violence, Abuse, and Related Family Issues of Incarcerated Delinquents with Alcoholic Parents Compared to Those with Nonalcoholic Parents

By McGaha, Johnny E.; Leoni, Edward L. | Adolescence, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Family Violence, Abuse, and Related Family Issues of Incarcerated Delinquents with Alcoholic Parents Compared to Those with Nonalcoholic Parents


McGaha, Johnny E., Leoni, Edward L., Adolescence


Family-related variables consistently have been shown to be factors in the absence or presence of criminality. Travis Hirschi, the theorist most closely identified with Social Control or Bonding Theory, links delinquent behavior to the quality of the social bond. In Herschi's (1969) text on delinquency causation he argues that basic impulses motivate people to become involved in crime and delinquency unless there is a reason not to. He theorized that individuals who are most tightly bonded to social groups such as family, school, and church are less likely to commit delinquent acts. He states that attachment and bonding to others through ties of affection and respect for parents, teachers, and others relates to their ability to internalize norms and develop a conscience. The stronger the attachment, the less likelihood of committing a delinquent act. He also maintains that the most important variable that insulates a child against delinquent behavior is the attachment to parents. Even if a family is broken by divorce or separation, the child needs to maintain attachments to one or both parents. He goes further to assert that if the child is alienated from the parent, he will not develop an adequate conscience or superego.

Family Structure and Relationships

The relationship between divorce and breakdown of family structure and delinquency has been extensively investigated by researchers. Most of the studies have found that delinquents do come from broken homes significantly more often than do nondelinquents. The Gluecks' classic 1950 study comparing 500 delinquents and 500 nondelinquents found that over 60% of the delinquents came from broken homes as compared to a little over a third of the nondelinquents. More recent studies by Haskell and Yablonsky (1982) and others have found clear evidence of the association between delinquency and broken homes. Many researchers, however, have questioned the real importance of the broken home and have focused instead on the quality of the relationships and general atmosphere in the home. Yablonsky and Haskell (1988) found that the internal patterns of interaction within the family were more important than the family structure in explaining delinquency. In a study of self-reported delinquency among 500 youth, Hindelang (1973) concluded that attachment to parents was inversely related to delinquency, while Cernkovich and Giordano (1987) in a survey of 900 youths found that it was the quality of the relationships in the home, not the structure of the family, that was most important.

The modern American family has become more and more isolated and fragile with urbanization, mobilization, and the decline of the traditional extended family unit. Even in intact families the stress and problems can create a pressure cooker type of environment. Alcoholism and drug abuse as ways of coping are causing major problems for many American families.

Alcoholism: Families at Risk

It has been estimated that approximately 20 million children in the United States live in homes with at least one alcoholic or drug-addicted parent. Research has consistently documented that children growing up in an alcoholic or chemically dependent environment are at substantially greater risk for a variety of disorders than those from nonabusing homes. The dynamics of dysfunctional family systems such as these may severely disrupt the attachment formation between parent and child. Krois, (1987) found that children of alcoholics are more likely to be expelled from school, become drop-outs, or be referred to the school psychologist for psychological and emotional problems. In comparing youth from alcoholic homes to a control group of disadvantaged youth, Wegscheider (1981) reported that on every variable studied, children of alcoholics fared worse than disadvantaged youth; they were three times more likely to be placed in foster homes, twice as likely to be married under the age of 16, had a much higher incidence of juvenile delinquency and mental illness, and were more likely to attempt suicide. …

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Family Violence, Abuse, and Related Family Issues of Incarcerated Delinquents with Alcoholic Parents Compared to Those with Nonalcoholic Parents
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