Hispanic Adolescent Delinquency and the Family: A Discussion of Sociocultural Influences

By Pabon, Edward | Adolescence, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Hispanic Adolescent Delinquency and the Family: A Discussion of Sociocultural Influences


Pabon, Edward, Adolescence


The evidence is clear and compelling that Hispanic youth are especially threatened by the rising tide of involvement in delinquent behavior which has so galvanized national and local attention. The high-risk status of Hispanic youth is exacerbated by the fact that, for generations of Hispanic youth, unchecked involvement in delinquent behavior, especially of a violent nature, has posed a problem far more severe than for the majority population (National Hispanic Family Against Drug Abuse, 1988). Moreover, concern has been heightened by the apparent intractability of such patterns of behavior once established. These considerations have led to an examination of factors associated with involvement in delinquent behavior among Hispanic youth, especially sociocultural influences, and to a resurgence of policy and program interest in culturally revelant prevention, as distinct from treatment, of involvement in delinquent behavior.

A limited number of ethnographic studies have sought to explore the impact of sociocultural influences on involvement in delinquent behavior of specific ethnic groups (Sommers, Fagan, & Baskin, 1992; Rodriguez & Zayas, 1989; Rodriguez & Weisburd, 1991). In general, they have found that sociocultural aspects of family bonding have a more powerful influence on delinquency among Hispanic adolescents than in the more mainstream American youths (Rodriguez & Weisburd, 1991). Yet, much of the research on these sociocultural familial influences has been rather general, neglecting exploration of the specific sociopsychological aspects of the concept of family bonding and neglecting the diversities of groups that are members of the Hispanic population. Is the impact of such sociocultural familial values as familism as strong among Puerto Rican adolescents as among Mexican-Americans or Cuban-Americans?

While it has been argued that members of the Hispanic population share some common basic cultural values that make them members of a clearly identifiable group (Marin & Marin, 1991), the impact and importance of such cultural values on behavior within the Hispanic population should be mediated by other factors (i.e., historical and cultural diversity as well as wide variations in terms of employment, income, educational attainment, health status, utilization of health and social services, origin within current U.S. borders or conditions of arrival, and acculturation). Moreover, it is the operational nature of these values which impact on behavior, not just adherence or belief. Clarification of such aspects can help us better understand the nature of interaction between the individual and the family. And, in turn, these aspects can guide design directives for prevention and intervention services for Hispanic youth.

This study uses data from a survey of inner-city Puerto Rican adolescents to examine the impact of aspects of the concept of family bonding, including the sociocultural, as they relate to involvement in delinquent behavior. However, it goes beyond general aspects of involvements, solidarity, and value of the family unit to explore which specific elements of these aspects are significant.

Hispanic Youth Population

Hispanics are the second largest minority group in the nation, and because of their unique birth and fertility patterns, they are expected to become the largest early in the 21st century. According to Census Bureau estimates, the number of 10- to 24-year-olds in the United States will remain almost the same between now and the year 2030. But the population as a whole will increase by 21% with the elderly population doubling. As a result, youths will make up a declining proportion of Americans. Today fewer than one of four Americans is in the 10- to 24-year-old age group. By 2030, the proportion will decrease to one of six. But this proportionally smaller youth population will be more heavily minority. Between now and 2030, the Hispanic youth population will grow by almost 80% - to 10 million in number (Children Defense Fund, 1990). …

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