Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Genesis of Adolescent Risk-Taking: Pathways through Family, School, and Peers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Genesis of Adolescent Risk-Taking: Pathways through Family, School, and Peers

Article excerpt

* An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in Chicago, Illinois, November 1996. The data for this study come from the 1993 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey. Funding was provided to Terrance J. Wade by a Doctoral Fellowship from the Ontario Ministry of Health, Health Research Personnel Development Program. The authors would like to thank Edward M. Adlaf and the Addiction Research Foundation for making this data available. We would also like to thank Evelyn Vingilis, William R. Avison and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper.

Abstract: This paper presents an empirical examination of Sampson and Laub's social control theory. It tests the effects of family structure, family attachment, school attachment and peer attachment on a generalized form of risk-taking behaviour which includes delinquency and drug use. The data come from a single stratified sample of 1,075 high school students in Ontario. The findings suggest that the effect of family attachment on risk-taking is moderated by both school and peer involvement. When family attachment is low, school attachment inhibits risk-taking and strong peer attachment reinforces it.

Resume: Cette etude presente un examen empirique de la theorie du controle social de Sampson et Laub. Cette theorie verifie les effets de la structure de la famille, l'attachement a la famile, a l'ecole et aux pairs sur une forme generalisee de comportements a risques ci-inclus la delinquance et l'usage de drogue. L'information vient d'un echantillon de 1075 ecole secondaires de l'Ontario. Les resultats suggerent que l'effet de l'attachement a la famille sur les comportements a risques est modere par l'implication de l'ecole et des pairs. Quand l'attachement a la famille est faible, l'attachement a l'ecole inhibe les comportements a risques alors que l'attachement aux pairs les renforce.

Recent research has established the centrality of the family as an institutional crucible in the formation of delinquent conduct and attitudes (Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; McCord, 1979; Riley and Shaw, 1985; West and Farrington, 1977). The influence of family structure appears to derive from the informal social control it provides over children and adolescents. In their General Theory of Crime, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) stress the role of parental supervision in establishing strong internal self control. They argue further that other socializing institutions are largely inconsequential when the effects of the family are identified. Thus, the school system and peer groups have little additive or independent effect on one's likelihood of criminal behaviour beyond the family. This view is in contrast to the conclusions drawn by Sampson and Laub (1993) in their re-analysis of the historic Glueck and Glueck delinquency data. While acknowledging the central importance of the family as a socializing mechanism, Sampson and Laub argue that "social capital" (i.e. social embeddedness and personal interdependencies) can mediate the influence of families, mitigating the negative influences of criminogenic families where it exists and exposing the off-spring from non-criminogenic backgrounds to delinquent opportunities in its absence. In this analysis we examine some of the central tenets of these theories in order to better specify the determinants of adolescent risk-taking behaviours.

Control Theories

The concept of `criminality' is the positive disposition which makes delinquent choices attractive. Hirschi's (1969) earlier "social bond" theory had outlined the developmental correlates of conformity -- attachment, commitment, involvement and belief -- without which the risk of crime increased. Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990: 85ff) concept of `criminality' attempts to spell out that underlying disposition affirmatively. The relatively stable, long term disposition based on impulsiveness or low self control is an individual property characterized by the need for immediate gratification of desires through the utilization of simple means ("money without work, sex without courtship, revenge without court delays"). …

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