Academic journal article High School Journal

Relationship between Parents, Peers, Morality, and Theft in an Adolescent Sample

Academic journal article High School Journal

Relationship between Parents, Peers, Morality, and Theft in an Adolescent Sample

Article excerpt

Relationships between attachment to parents, morality, peer theft, and self-reported theft were examined in a sample of 83 male and 91 female high school students. Measures of care and overprotection from the Parental Bonding Instrument contributed to the parental attachment scores. A score for morality was obtained with Rest's Defining Issues Test-Short Form, and measures of theft and peer theft were established through the use of an adapted portion of the National Youth Survey. Adolescents reporting involvement in burglary had significantly lower morality scores than those who reported no involvement in burglary in the past year. Also in support of the hypotheses, peer involvement in theft prevailed as the strongest correlate of adolescent theft. No significant relationships were found between attachment to parents and theft. Implications for school counseling were discussed in relation to this study's findings.

In recent years, the behavior of adolescents has become increasingly problematic and threatening to the well being of our nation. In the adolescent subculture of the 1950s, characteristic "delinquent" behavior consisted of smoking, swearing, and wearing blue jeans (Kett, 1977). Teenagers of the 1960s and 1970s were responsible for an increase in drug use and promiscuity (Mirel, 1991; Uhlenberg & Eggebeen, 1986). Between 1960 and 1980, delinquency in adolescence became more serious and much more pronounced. For ten to seventeen year olds the delinquency rate actually increased by 131% (Mirel, 1991). The growth in the delinquency rate has continued into this decade. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, in 1993, individuals under the age of 18 made up 29.3% of all arrests for serious crimes. For crimes such as arson, motor vehicle theft, and vandalism, juveniles were responsible for a higher percentage of arrests than any other age group (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1995). To some extent, adolescent involvement in problem behaviors can be explained by factors inherent in developmental progression toward adulthood. According to Kennedy (1991), in other societies as well as our own, the adolescent participation rate in delinquent behaviors increases during this turbulent developmental period and decreases as adulthood is achieved. Why is it that most individuals make the transition from childhood to adulthood without participating in criminal activity while increasing numbers fall into a pattern of delinquent behavior? This question has been the focus of a vast amount of research attempting to identify the specific causes of adolescent delinquency (Dishion, Patterson, Stoolmiller, & Skinner, 1991; Kandel, 1996; Warr, 1993a; Warr, 1993b).

When considering the reasons why an adolescent would commit a crime, it may be equally important to examine factors that prevent others from committing the same crime. Theorists from the cognitive-developmental tradition argue that a person's level of moral development affects the ability to resist the temptation to behave immorally (Ward, 1991). While the concept of morality is vague, Schulman (1989) and others agree that behavior can be considered moral if it adheres to the normative standards of the situation at hand and follows an intention to act fairly and considerately (Hogan, 1973; Villegas de Posada, 1994). On the other hand, an immoral act is committed when another person is harmed or put at a disadvantage because of someone else's intentional behavior.

Influence of Morality

Piaget and Kohlberg extensively studied the development of moral reasoning and proposed processes by which they believe moral decisions are made. Lawrence Kohlberg (1984) described three levels (preconventional, conventional, and postconventional) through which an individual is said to progress as a result of her or his cognitive development. These were based upon Piaget's stages of moral realism and moral relativism. Each of Kohlberg's three levels is made up of two stages. …

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