Family Structure versus Parental Attachment in Controlling Adolescent Deviant Behavior: A Social Control Model

By Sokol-Katz, Jan; Dunham, Roger et al. | Adolescence, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Family Structure versus Parental Attachment in Controlling Adolescent Deviant Behavior: A Social Control Model


Sokol-Katz, Jan, Dunham, Roger, Zimmerman, Rick, Adolescence


This research examined the relationship between family characteristics and adolescent deviant behavior in order to determine the effect of social control through family structure and parental attachment. In addition, differences in the effects on male and female adolescents were examined.

Generally, the role of family variables in the major theories on deviance has been minimal, mainly for ideological reasons. As Hirschi (1983) points out, criminologists become interested in people only after they have committed criminal acts, and then it is too late to learn much about the family situation, especially during the child-rearing years. He notes, as a result, many theories of criminal behavior ignore the family and thus do not explain specific problems in child rearing that may be associated with a likelihood of later deviant behavior.

Hirschi (1983) also argues that a major reason for this neglect of the family is "metaphysical" - criminologists suggest that people would not turn to crime in the first place if something better were available. Thus, they suggest that faulty training or other family shortcomings have nothing to do with crime.

Control Theory and the Family

The basic premise of social control theory is that humans engage in deviant behavior because norm violation is attractive and exciting. It is natural for youths to strive to meet their needs in the easiest, most direct manner, and they are free to engage in deviant behavior when social controls are either ineffective or absent. According to Elliot, Huizinga, & Ageton (1985), weak social control may be due to (1) "the failure to develop internal controls during childhood; (2) the breakdown or reawakening of previously established internal controls, particularly during adolescence; and (3) social disorganization, in particular social units (i.e., family) that results in weak external controls." Thus, the family is an important source of both internal and external control. Not only is it important in defining norms for conventional behavior, but family relationships provide an external source of social control (Hirschi, 1969; Nye, 1958).

There are many ways the family can restrain deviant behaviors. According to Umberson (1987), it can discourage risk-taking behaviors. The lack of family roles and relationships implies an absence of control which increases the probability of engaging in compromising behaviors. Hirschi (1969) and Nye (1958) state that the role of family ties contributes to the internalization of norms for conventional behavior. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) note that adolescents who become offenders appear to have little control over their desires, and that this lack is largely rooted in family child-rearing practices. In fact, they use this notion as the basis of their general theory of crime. Wells (1978) describes this phenomenon as a type of "socialization-control" where self-control develops with the internalization of social constraints. Further, persons involved in relationships such as the family are more likely to conform to norms because deviation threatens the relationship. Thus, the structure of family life and the quality of parental attachment determines the likelihood of adolescent engagement in deviant behavior.

Family Structure

According to Tienda and Angel (1982), we now have a "two-tiered system of childrearing" in the United States. One tier consists of two-parent households in which domestic and economic roles are shared by two adults. The second consists of single-headed households in which the entire burden is often borne by one adult. The single parent, usually a woman, has all of the responsibility for maintaining a household and lacks the psychological or social support inherent in a two-parent family. As a result, she may not be able to devote the time necessary to monitor her children's behavior.

Angel and Worobey (1988) believe that the two-tiered system of child rearing in the United States has potentially serious implications for the emotional and social well-being of the children. …

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Family Structure versus Parental Attachment in Controlling Adolescent Deviant Behavior: A Social Control Model
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