Terminal Core Values Associated with Adolescent Problem Behaviors

By Goff, Brent G.; Goddard, H. Wallace | Adolescence, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
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Terminal Core Values Associated with Adolescent Problem Behaviors


Goff, Brent G., Goddard, H. Wallace, Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

According to several theories, delinquency is related, directly or indirectly, to terminal core values (such as security and sense of belonging). It has been suggested that problem behavior is the result of deviant self-image, which arises from the values adopted as "guiding principles" (Grube, Weir, Getzlaf, & Rokeach, 1984). Delinquency may be an attempt to mimic deviant referents and to repudiate nondeviant referents (Grube et al., 1984). Further, by subscribing to the values of deviant peers, adolescents select a delinquent identity (Simons, Whitbeck, Conger, & Conger, 1991).

The subculture-of-violence thesis (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967) proposes that some groups are accepting of violence. Members are thought to assimilate the values of the group, which guides violent behavior. Values are also thought to mediate the relationship between sociodemographic variables and violent behavior (Felson, Liska, South, & McNulty, 1994).

Some believe that the development of a delinquent lifestyle is a matter of conscious choice based on values (Kennedy & Baron, 1993). An individual may choose to engage in a predatory crime after considering personal values, such as the need for peer approval or, expressed in values language, being well-respected (Seigal & Senna, 1991). Maintaining honor, which is related to being well-respected, also seems to be strongly related to violence (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967). Violence may thus be viewed as a "prestige-conferring behavior" (Kennedy & Baron, 1993, p. 91). Further, delinquency is likely to be related to such values as toughness, excitement, and risk taking (Miller, 1958). In addition, Hurrelmann and Engel (1992) claim that delinquency is a symptom of adolescents' orientation toward success (sense of accomplishment) and status (being well-respected). Consequently, problem behavior may be a rational choice for individuals whose goals are frustrated (Felson et al., 1994). This is consistent with the position that delinquency results when success and achievement are desired but unattainable through socially acceptable means (Cloward & Olin, 1960).

Strain theory proposes that strain is produced when there is a gap between security needs and the means to fulfill those needs (Bernard, 1984). Security and delinquency are linked: "people are driven to do things they do not want to do" (Bernard, 1984, p. 357). Revised strain theory suggests that adolescents focus on multiple goals (desired end states) and that blockage of those goals may result in delinquency (Agnew, 1985). Delinquent behavior seems to be an illegitimate means of fulfilling desired end states (values), which may explain why delinquency is found across social classes.

One widely used measure of terminal values is Kahle's (1986) List of Values (LOV), which can be arranged so as to be congruent with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A values-hierarchy approach may explain anomalies in delinquency theory. For example, some adolescents go for long periods of time without committing delinquent acts (Hirschi, 1969), behavior that is understandable if these adolescents have found alternative means of fulfilling their desired end states, or values. This approach may also explain, in part, why most abandon delinquent behavior in late adolescence (e.g., Greenberg, 1977; Hirschi, 1969), a time when they more likely have sorted out their values (prioritized) and found better means of fulfilling them.

Values are related to how people reason about social issues (e.g., Tetlock, 1986; Kristiansen & Matheson, 1990), to attitude formation (Homer & Kahle, 1988), and to behavior (Williams, 1979). Delinquents are likely to perceive positive consequences from problem behavior, are less likely to perceive their behavior in terms of moral issues, and tend to hold beliefs that neutralize the moral consequences of delinquent behavior (Guerra, 1989). A link between fun and enjoyment (positive consequence) and delinquency implies a lack of social control: "people are freed to do what they want" (Bernard, 1984, p.

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