Volume 1, Issue 2 • Spring 2012

Table of Contents

Foreword

General Strain Predictors of Arrest History Among Homeless Youths from Four United States Cities

Students’ Perceptions of School Learning Climate in a Rural Juvenile Detention Educational Facility

Transitions of Truants: Community Truancy Board as a Turning Point in the Lives of Adolescents

Family Warmth and Delinquency among Mexican American and White Youth: Detailing the Causal Variables

Polygraph Testing for Juveniles in Treatment for Sexual Behavior Problems: An Exploratory Study

The 10-Question Tool: A Novel Screening Instrument for Runaway Youth

Applying a Developmental Lens to Juvenile Reentry and Reintegration

Commentary: Assessing Client Outcomes in Youth Justice Services: Current Status and Future Directions

Family Warmth and Delinquency among Mexican American and White Youth: Detailing the Causal Variables

Albert M. Kopak and F. Frederick Hawley
Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina

Albert M. Kopak, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina; and F. Frederick Hawley, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Albert M. Kopak, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Western Carolina University, Belk 413A, 1 University Way, Cullowhee, North Carolina 28723; E-mail: amkopak@wcu.edu

Keywords: attachment, delinquency prevention, family effects, families, juvenile delinquency

Abstract

This study investigates the complex relationships between family factors and delinquency among Mexican American and White youth. We examined parental attachment, family cohesion, and parental control to determine whether these factors serve to prevent or reduce adolescent delinquency. Analyses of Wave I and Wave II from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (n = 8,430) demonstrate certain family variables were associated with multiple levels of delinquency involvement. None of the family-related items in this survey either predicted delinquency or seemed to protect against delinquency for Mexican American youth; however, for White youth, stronger family cohesion was related to a reduced likelihood of delinquent involvement while stronger parental attachment was associated with lower levels of delinquency. Tests for gender effects indicate these results were similar for both White males and White females. These results have implications for enhancing family parent-child relations to prevent and reduce adolescent delinquency, especially among White youth.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy
family is unhappy in its own way.

– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Introduction

The concept that “attachment”—the notion that high-quality, close family relationships characteristic of happy families constitutes a strong protective factor against delinquency—has been posited by a number of prominent criminologists. Most notably, Hirschi (1969) held that attachment, in conjunction with commitment, involvement, and belief, is critical and “foundational” (Mutchnick, Martin, & Austin, 2009) to creating and maintaining the social bond. Although all facets of the social bond are important, Hirschi stressed that attachment is the most critical element in the creation and maintenance of a positive parent-child relationship.

Within the concept of attachment, which includes relations with peers, siblings, teachers, and parents, the link to parents is the most critical aspect of attachment itself (Hirschi, 1969; Nye, 1958). Young people who are unable, by dint of disposition or circumstance, to attach to parents will presumably have an impaired ability to attach to significant others outside the immediate parental orbit and may find that involvement in conventional activities, commitment to conventional goals, and belief in the validity and relevance of the greater social system is also impaired.

Hirschi was far from the first to identify attachment as a key element of the social bond. Piaget (1932) noted the crucial importance of this social connection in what he termed “the moral judgment of the child.” The Gluecks (1950) also inferred parental attachment as a critical influence on desistance from delinquency from their interviews with parents and their sons. The McCords (1958) also examined the significant influences of parents and the family on delinquency, finding that a lack of cohesion and low levels of domestic affection were linked to higher rates of delinquency among boys in the Cambridge-Somerville Study. Nye’s (1958) seminal work also focused heavily on the family as the pivotal factor in adolescent social control. Most of the delinquent youth in Nye’s study, which included 780 high school boys and girls, held high levels of disrespect for parents and could be said to have poor relations with them. In fact, the most delinquent youth felt rejected by their parents. The least delinquent children, in contrast, enjoyed a good relationship with their parents, spent recreational time with them, and respected their advice on issues emerging from their status as adolescents.

The clear theme that emerges from this early research is that young people, as well as conformist adolescents whom Hirschi later studied in his own research, accepted their status as parental wards, accepted their status as children, and were also attached to parents in what seems to be almost an idealized 1950s Leave it to Beaver-ish way. In fact, Hirschi “reports an inverse relationship between delinquency and bonds or attachment within the family…” and treats this relationship as a “core truth” (Mutchnick et al., 2009, p. 289). In early formulations of his ideas, Hirschi focused on indirect controls, such as emotional attachment, since they are operative when the child is not under direct parental observation or potential intervention. As Hirschi stated:

“The more the child is accustomed to sharing his mental life with his parents, the more he is accustomed to seeking or getting their opinion about his activities, the more likely he is to perceive them as part of his social and psychological field, and the less likely he would be to neglect their opinion when considering an act contrary to law—which is, after all, a potential source of embarrassment and/or inconvenience to them.” (1969, p. 90).

Attachment to parents has a strong indirect influence that deters the child from deviant acts. “The stronger this bond, the more likely the person is to take it into account when and if he contemplates a criminal act” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 82) and would then, presumably, desist. Thus, in a high-quality relationship between child and parent, the parent is a truly significant other whose opinion and regard are taken seriously; the notion of attachment, therefore, binds the parent and child in the bonds of a mutual filial-parental (dare we say it?) love.

A sound parent-child relationship that fosters positive family interaction appears to be the basis for the most effective efforts aimed at delinquency prevention, although parental control, both direct and indirect, are also important. Parental control describes the extent to which parents are attentive to children’s behavior both inside and outside of the home. Nye (1958) pointed out that indirect controls are critically important, and that “affection for parents and other conforming individuals plays a major role in the suppression of deviant behavior” (p. 6). He ultimately stated that indirect control is effective “only when there is an affectional relationship to conforming individuals,” (p. 6) be they peers or parents, but especially when they are parents.

The importance of familial warmth as protective against deviance is one of the strongest relationships in the entire study of juvenile delinquency. Yet while many criminologists seem to recognize the importance of a close family bond in theoretical considerations of delinquency prevention, few have concentrated empirical attention toward the multidimensional relationship between familial warmth and juvenile delinquency. Researchers in the social work field, on the other hand, have recognized and highlighted the effects of the family on promoting prosocial behavior through a strength-based approach to family counseling. High-functioning families have strong bonds that serve as significant resources that allow adolescents to succeed and flourish (Saleebey, 1996). Adolescents receive support and encouragement through those that hold the most important roles in their lives: their parents, other family members, and guardians. Nurturing relationships give adolescents the ability to develop positive values, prompting them to engage in prosocial activities and decreasing their likelihood of delinquency (Saleebey, 1996).

Specifying and operationalizing family variables in the context of warm and cohesive families is crucial for fostering protective relationships between parents and children. Research has found that when parents are responsive and when strong affection is present, delinquency desistance is much more significant than when only one of these factors is present (Conger, 1976). This suggests that the positive aspects of the family should be disaggregated and examined in greater detail. Going back to Tolstoy: this may suggest that happy families may not all be alike and we should strive to find the areas of warmth that reinforce nondelinquent sentiments and behaviors.

Specifying the relations between family warmth, parental attachment, and delinquency

Family warmth is a general concept that refers to a variety of features characterizing high functioning families, including trust, support, emotional closeness, open and honest communication, empathy, cooperation, parental responsiveness and attentiveness to children’s needs, and mutual respect. Together, these factors foster the development of parental-child attachment, high levels of communication between parents and children, and a cohesive family environment, which can serve important roles in delinquency prevention.

Several features of family warmth result in parent-child attachment, such as parental responsiveness to their children’s needs. Adolescents are most likely to form positive attachments to their parents based on the extent to which they feel emotionally close to them. Rankin and Kern (1994), for example, found a child’s strong attachment to both parents had a greater protective effect against several forms of delinquency than attachment to only one or neither parent. Similarly, in their analysis of the Gluecks’ data, Laub and Sampson (1988) found the emotional ties adolescent boys had with their parents, including a warm association and expressions of admiration for their parents, were associated with a lower likelihood of becoming involved in delinquent activity. Empirical evidence also shows that a warm parent-child relationship promotes adolescents’ honestly communicating with their parents about their activities, and that adolescents reporting poor relations with their parents are more likely to lie about their activities outside the home (Warr, 2007). Taken together, the research indicates that parents who are responsive to their children’s needs are likely to elicit a greater sense of attachment from their children than are neglectful parents.

Parents who place reasonable demands on children’s behavior while fostering their children’s respect and cooperation may have greater opportunities to prevent delinquency than parents who do not. It may come as no surprise that a fairly consistent inverse relationship has been established between parents’ efforts to control adolescent behavior and their children’s involvement in delinquency (Hoeve et al., 2009). The assumption is that adolescents are significantly less likely to engage in delinquency if their parents are actively making decisions about adolescents’ activities in key areas of their lives. Parents may use this technique as an immediate form of directly controlling their child’s behavior, but it has also been found to have lasting protective effects against delinquency involvement (Fletcher, Steinberg, & Williams-Wheeler, 2004).

Another vitally important yet understudied factor in delinquency prevention is family cohesion, which refers to the degree to which adolescents generally experience positive interaction with their parents. Cohesive families are likely have positive relationships, enjoy each other’s company, and spend quality time together. During familial interactions adolescents from cohesive families are likely to internalize conventional social norms, which can keep them from engaging in delinquent activities. Family cohesion can help to prevent delinquency by increasing the likelihood that adolescents will want to participate in family-based activities, which can help them avoid becoming involved with delinquent peers (Church et al., 2009). Adolescents who experience a strong connection to their families are also likely to receive increased attention from their parents, providing beneficial effects for delinquent and aggressive behavior, as well as reducing children’s likelihood of being withdrawn, anxious, or depressed (Lucia & Breslau, 2006).

Differences in family warmth and parental attachment between Latino and White youth

Family relationships are important for encouraging positive behavior among all youth, but it is important to recognize the traditional Latino cultural values that specifically emphasize strong family relationships. These bonds are intricately connected to “familism,” which involves ‘‘feelings of loyalty, reciprocity, and solidarity towards members of the family, as well as to the notion of the family as an extension of self’’ (Cortez, 1995, p. 249). Latino families who maintain close emotional ties, healthy parent-child relationships, and high levels of family cohesion can develop a strong foundation for minimizing tension within the family. Avoiding or effectively addressing family-related stress can similarly reduce conflicts between parents and children, fostering a healthier family climate. Preventing the erosion of familism is perhaps one of the most effective ways to decrease Latino adolescents’ vulnerability to anti-social behaviors, including substance abuse (Vega & Gil, 1999) and aggression (Smokowski & Bacallao, 2006).

A fair amount of research has examined potential ethnic differences in family relations between Latino and White youth, with special attention paid to how adolescents relate to their families. For instance, Latino youth have been found to have greater expectations to assist, respect, and support their families than White youth (Fuligni, Tseng, & Lam, 1999). Beyond expectations of family relations, Latino youth have also been found to spend more time helping their families than White youth (Hardway & Fuligni, 2006). The higher levels of respect and support among Latino youth can lead to greater likelihood of turning to their parents for advice (Harwood, Leyendecker, Carlson, Ascenio, & Muller, 2002) and to developing significant levels of trust in their parents, increasing the likelihood that they will openly discuss personal problems with them (Crockett et al., 2007).

Despite our knowledge of how family relations can vary by ethnic group, the vast majority of studies in this area have not investigated differential family factors as protection against delinquency. The few studies that have been conducted have produced mixed and sometimes conflicting results. Cernkovich and Giordano (1987) found that multiple forms of family attachment predicted a greater amount of the variance in delinquency among Whites in their sample compared with nonwhites. Perez-McCluskey and Tovar (2003) demonstrated that although parental attachment, parental supervision, and family involvement served as protection against delinquency among White youth, only parental supervision reduced delinquency among Latino youth. Other researchers found family involvement had a greater protective influence on delinquency among Latino adolescents than on their White and African American peers, among whom supervisory techniques, such as parental control (Smith & Krohn, 1995), had a greater impact on reducing delinquency. Given the emphasis on honoring the family over the individual in traditional Latino culture (de la Rosa, 2002), Latino adolescents may develop stronger attachment to their parents, respond well to these relationships, and subsequently experience less delinquent involvement compared with White adolescents, who may be more independent from their parents and families by comparison.

The purpose of the current study is twofold. The first is to advance the knowledge of how several family factors, including parent-child attachment, family cohesion, and parental control can decrease delinquency among Mexican American and White adolescents. To achieve this objective, the current study focuses solely on Mexican American and White adolescents to minimize the complications that can emerge from grouping many different Latino subgroups into a single sample. The second purpose of this study is to investigate whether these family factors serve multiple protective functions. In other words, this study has examined whether these variables serve to (1) prevent delinquent involvement and (2) reduce delinquent involvement among adolescents who have a self-reported history of delinquency. Our primary hypothesis was that parent-child attachment, family cohesion, and parental control would prevent delinquent involvement and reduce levels of delinquency among Mexican American and White youth. Given the evidence emphasizing the importance of the family in traditional Latino culture compared with youth from mainstream Euro-American traditions, we expected to find strong protective effects against delinquency resulting from parent-child attachment, family cohesion, and parental control among Mexican American youth.

Methods

Background

Data for this study were part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative, school-based study examining health-related and risk behavior among 20,745 adolescents in grades 7–12 in Wave I (1994-1995) (Mullan et al., 2008). The analyses presented here used data collected from parent reports and in-home interviews collected at Waves I (1994-1995) and II (1996). An interviewer-assisted questionnaire was administered to parents, and the parents entered their responses directly onto computers. One-on-one interviews were conducted with the adolescents. Interviewers read non-sensitive questions to the adolescents and entered the adolescents’ responses directly onto a computer. For sensitive questions, adolescents listened to pre-recorded questions via earphones and entered their own responses directly onto a computer to help ensure confidentiality. Participants in the Wave II sample are the same as those who participated in Wave I, with the exception of those in the disabled sample and those who were in grade 12. A detailed description of the clustered sampling design is available on the study Web site: (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/design). We conducted all multivariate analyses using Stata 11 (StataCorp, 2009) to account for the nationally representative stratified sampling design of the Add Health study.

Sample

The study sample included a total of 8,430 respondents between the ages of 11 and 20 (Mean age = 14.94) at Wave I. Eighty-nine percent of the sample self-identified as White and 11% self-identified as Mexican American. All respondents in the study sample reported they lived with a parent or guardian at Wave I. Table 1 includes sociodemographic characteristics of the sample.

Measures

The dependent variable in the study, involvement in delinquency, was assessed with a series of 13 questions at Wave II (a complete list of items is provided in Appendix A). Participants were asked about a range of delinquent activities, with each item beginning with the statement, “In the past 12 months, how often did you…” followed by items such as “…paint graffiti or signs on someone else’s property or in a public place?” “…take something from a store without paying for it?” and “…sell marijuana or other drugs?” The original response scale for each of these items was 0 = ‘never,’ 1 = ‘1 or 2 times,’ 2 = ‘3 or 4 times,’ and 3 = ‘5 or more times.’ We then recoded these items to indicate whether the adolescent had reported no involvement in the delinquent activity (coded ‘0’) or some involvement in the activity (coded ‘1’). We then summed these items to create a count of the number of delinquent activities the adolescent had been involved in (ranging from 0–13, α = 0.77 for the aggregate sample, α = 0.77 for the White sample, and α = 0.78 for the Mexican American sample).

A principal components factor analysis confirmed that a three-factor solution fit the items comprising these three family-related variables, which we measured at Wave I. The first family-related factor was parent-child attachment, which assessed adolescents’ feelings about their relationship with their parents with three questions that included, “Overall, you are satisfied with your relationship with your mother/father,” “Most of the time your mother/father is warm and loving toward you.” We scored each item on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 = ‘strongly disagree’ to 5 = ‘strongly agree’ (factor loadings for the three parent-child relationship questions ranged from 0.55–0.93; α = 0.84 for the aggregate sample, α = 0.84 for the White sample, and α = 0.85 for the Mexican American sample).

Family cohesion assessed the extent to which adolescents felt that family members enjoy, love, and care about one another. It was assessed by four items that begin with the item “How much do you feel that…” followed by items such as “your parents care about you” and “you and your family have fun together.” We scored each item on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 = ‘not at all’ to 5 = ‘very much’ (factor loadings for the family cohesion items ranged from 0.36–0.84; α = 0.77 for the aggregate sample, α = 0.77 for the White sample, and α = 0.75 for the Mexican American sample).

Parental control, which was assessed with seven items, measured the extent to which adolescents believed their parents set rules and monitored their behavior. The items begin with the statement “Do your parents let you make your own decisions about…” followed by items such as “…the time you must be home on weekend nights” and “…the people you hang around with.” Each item was scored as a dichotomy, with 0 = ‘No’ and 1 = ‘Yes’ (factor loadings for the parental control items ranged from 0.38–0.54; α = 0.59 for the aggregate sample, α = 0.59 for the White sample, and α = 0.61 for the Mexican American sample).

These three family-related variables measured distinct constructs, but they were correlated with each other. Parent-child attachment was moderately correlated with family cohesion (r = 0.56, p < .01) and weakly negatively correlated with parental control (r = -.04, p < .01). Family cohesion was also weakly negatively correlated with parental control (r = -.08, p < .01).

We also included in the analyses several control variables likely to be associated with delinquency and family dynamics. Adolescents’ gender was measured as male (coded ‘0’) and female (coded ‘1’). Ethnicity was a dichotomous measure, with “Mexican American” representing adolescents who self-reported being Latino with Mexican background (coded ‘1’) and “White” representing adolescents who self-reported being non-Latino White (coded ‘0’).

We also included family structure, which is likely related to family factors, parenting practices, and delinquency (Rosen, 1985) as a control variable. We coded adolescents coming from a single-parent family as ‘0’ and those coming from a two-parent family as ‘1.’

Because researchers also have associated adolescents’ academic performance with delinquency (Maguin & Loeber, 1996) and parenting practices (Amato & Fowler, 2002), we statistically controlled for these relationships by including a measure of adolescents’ self-reported grades. We assessed their grades with four items asking for their most recent grades in (a) English or language arts, (b) mathematics, (c) history or social studies, and (d) science. Responses ranged from 1 = ‘D or lower’ to 4 = ‘A.’

We coded parents’ highest level of education, a proximal assessment of socioeconomic status, into three categories: parents who had ‘less than high school completion,’ those who ‘completed high school,’ and those who had ‘formal education beyond high school.’ We treated the group with ‘less than high school completion’ as the comparison group in the multivariate analyses.

We also included a continuous measure of age as a control to address the variability within the sample and the likely association between age and delinquency observed in prior research (Farrington, 1986).

Empirical evidence also shows that past delinquent involvement is one of the most potent predictors of subsequent delinquency (Nagin & Paternoster, 1991). We included a measure of self-reported delinquency assessed at Wave I to control for prior delinquency. The Wave I control measure of delinquency was based on the same 13 items as the Wave II outcome measure (α = 0.78 for the aggregate sample, α = 0.78 for the White sample, α = 0.81 for the Mexican American sample).

Results

Descriptive analyses

Table 1 provides descriptive statistics by racial/ethnic group. Preliminary analyses indicated the Mexican American adolescents were, on average, slightly older than the White adolescents (t = -8.04, p < .001). White adolescents earned higher grades than their Mexican American peers (t = 9.65, p < .001), reported higher mean levels of parental attachment (t = 2.28, p < .05), and higher levels of parental control (t = 6.24, p < .001). Parents of Mexican American adolescents were less educated than parents of White adolescents (χ2 =355.51, p < .001). Although Mexican American adolescents reported higher mean levels of Wave I delinquent involvement than White adolescents (t = -5.67, p < .001), mean levels of delinquency assessed at Wave II were not statistically different from one another across these racial/ethnic groups.


Table 1. Descriptive statistics of study sample by ethnic group

 

White sample
n=7,509

Mexican American sample
n=921
Variable Percentage M(SD) Range Percentage M(SD) Range

Female

51%     51%    

Two-parent household

59%     62%    

Parent education

           

Less than high school

9%     46%    

Graduated high school

31%     26%    

More than high school

60%     28%    

Age

  15.18(1.57)

11–20

 

15.63(1.60)

11–20

Grades

  2.86(.78) 1–4   2.59(.77) 1–4

Prior delinquency

  2.31(2.34) 0–13   2.78(2.74) 0–13

Parental attachment

  4.25(.77) 1–5   4.19(.80) 1–5

Family cohesion

  4.01(.66) 1–5   4.04(.70) 1–5

Parental control

  5.14(1.49) 0–7   4.81(1.66) 0–7

Dependent Variable

           

Delinquency (Wave II)

  1.92(2.19) 0–13   2.07(2.33) 0–13

 

Multivariate analyses

Given that we drew the study sample from a nationally representative dataset, occurrences of delinquency were far fewer than in samples of at-risk youth. This preponderance of zero involvement in delinquency resulted in the overdispersion of the dependent variable. To properly address this issue, we analyzed the distribution of the Wave II delinquency measure with Stata 11 (StataCorp, 2009) to determine which regression model was most appropriate for this analysis. Tests indicated that zero-inflated negative binomial regression was better suited for this application than poisson regression (LR = 511.90, p = 0.06) or negative binomial regression (Vuong = 11.52, p < .001) (Bulsara, Holman, Davis, & Jones, 2004; Cameron & Trivedi, 1998; Hilbe, 2007).

This regression model is ideally suited for analyzing the effects that family factors can have on the prevention and reduction of delinquency because it produces results in two parts. The first part represents a logistic regression predicting the likelihood of adolescents engaging in any delinquency and is expressed in the form of an odds ratio (Sheu, Hu, Keeler, Ong, & Sung, 2004). The second part represents a rate (or level) of involvement in delinquency only for the adolescents who reported some delinquency involvement. In other words, the ‘counts’ portion of the model indicates the extent to which the independent variables predict the level of delinquent activity for those adolescents reporting involvement in at least one of the activities included in the delinquency scale.

Table 2 contains the results of the first zero-inflated negative binomial regression model that we estimated with the aggregate study sample. In the logistic portion of the model, girls had higher odds of delinquent involvement than boys (OR = 1.39, p < 0.05) and prior delinquent involvement predicted delinquency at Wave II (OR = 5.19, p < 0.01). Age approached significance, with older adolescents less likely to be involved in delinquency (OR = 0.91, p < 0.10). The only family factor that predicted the likelihood of delinquency involvement was family cohesion. Greater family cohesion predicted a lower probability of being involved in delinquency (OR = 0.59, p < 0.01). Gender and age were also significant in the counts portion of the model. Although girls had higher odds of delinquent involvement in the logistic portion of the model, girls who reported delinquent activity had lower levels of delinquency than boys who reported delinquent activity (IRR = 0.93, p <0.01). Age was also negatively correlated with delinquency involvement. Older adolescents involved in delinquency were involved at lower levels than younger adolescents (IRR = 0.93, p < 0.01). Higher grades in school predicted less delinquency involvement (IRR = 0.94, p < 0.01), and higher levels of prior delinquency predicted higher levels of subsequent delinquency (IRR = 1.17, p < 0.01). Parent-child attachment was the sole significant family variable in this portion of the model, predicting lower rates of delinquency involvement in the aggregate sample of White and Mexican heritage youth (IRR = 0.95, p < 0.05).

 


Table 2. Results of zero-inflated negative binomial regression models

 

Logistic portion of model

Counts portion of model
Variable Odds of use 1/(expb) SE IRR
(expb)
SE

Gender

1.39* 0.16 0.93** 0.03

Age

0.91 0.06 0.93** 0.01

Ethnicity

1.35 0.38 1.00 0.05

Two-parent household

1.01 0.17 0.98

0.03

Grades

0.85 0.12 0.94** 0.02

Parent education: HS grad

1.37 0.30 0.95 0.05

Parent education: More than HS

1.39 0.29 1.01 0.05

Prior delinquency

5.19** 0.19 1.17** 0.01
         

Parent-child attachement

0.89 0.15 0.95* 0.02

Family cohesion

0.59** 0.19 0.99 0.03

Parental control

1.01 0.05 1.01 0.01

Note: p < 0.10, *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
Ethnicity: White youth are coded ‘0’ and treated as the comparison group

The results from the next set of zero-inflated negative binomial models, which we estimated within the two racial/ethnic groups, are presented in Table 3. There were two significant predictors in the Mexican American sample and both were in the counts portion of the model. Age was inversely associated with levels of delinquency (IRR = 0.88, p < 0.01) and prior delinquency was positively associated with Wave II delinquency (IRR = 1.15, p < 0.01). None of the family factors were significant in this model for the Mexican American sample.

 


Table 3. Results of zero-inflated negative binomial regression models by racial/ethnic group

 

Mexican American Sample

White Sample
  Logistic portion of model Counts portion of model Logistic portion of model Counts portion of model
Variable Odds of use 1/(expb) SE IRR
(expb)
SE Odds of use 1/(expb) SE IRR
(expb)
SE

Gender

0.79 0.44 0.91 0.09 1.48* 0.16 0.93** 0.03

Age

1.20 0.16 0.88** 0.02 0.89* 0.06 0.93** 0.01

Two-parent household

0.90 0.73 1.05 0.10 1.03 0.17 0.97 0.03

Grades

0.63 0.77 0.89 0.07 0.82† 0.12 0.95* 0.02

Parent education: HS grad

0.36 1.01 1.00 0.13 1.81† 0.35 0.95 0.07

Parent education: More than HS

1.40 0.99 0.93 0.12 1.71 0.35 1.01 0.07

Prior delinquency

3.11 0.59 1.15** 0.02 5.32** 0.21 1.17** 0.01

Parent-child attachement

0.89 0.56 1.05 0.07 0.91 0.17 0.94* 0.02

Family cohesion

1.97 0.97 0.93 0.12 0.56** 0.20 0.99 0.03

Parental control

1.05 0.21 1.02 0.03 1.02 0.06 1.00 0.01

Note: p < 0.10, *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01

In the White sample, however, family cohesion predicted a lower probability of delinquent involvement (OR = 0.56, p < 0.01) and parent-child attachment predicted lower levels of delinquency for White adolescents who had reported some delinquency previously (IRR = 0.94, p< 0.05). In other words, family cohesion was associated with lower odds of White youth engaging in delinquent activities, while parent-child attachment suppressed the level of delinquency for those who did engage in these activities. Prior delinquency remained a significant predictor for delinquency among White adolescents in the logistic portion of the model (OR = 5.32, p < 0.01) and the counts portion of the model (IRR = 1.17, p < 0.01). Older White adolescents had a lower probability of being involved in delinquency (OR = 0.89, p < 0.05) and lower levels of delinquency when family cohesion and attachment to parents was strong (IRR = 0.93, p < 0.01). White females had a higher probability of becoming involved in delinquency (OR = 1.48, p < 0.05) than White males, but females involved in delinquency were involved at lower levels than their male counterparts (IRR = 0.93, p < 0.01) when parental attachment was strong. In addition, higher academic performance predicted reduced levels of delinquency for White adolescents (IRR = 0.95, p < 0.05).

 


Table 4. Results of zero-inflated negative binomial regression models with interaction terms in the White sample

 

Logistic portion of model

Counts portion of model
Variable Odds of use 1/(expb) SE IRR
(expb)
SE

Gender

1.43 0.20 0.93* 0.03

Age

0.89* 0.06 0.93** 0.01

Two-parent household

1.03 0.18 0.97 0.03

Grades

0.81 0.12 0.95* 0.02

Parent education: HS grad

1.76 0.36 0.96 0.07

Parent education: More than HS

1.72 0.35 1.01 0.07

Prior delinquency

5.42** 0.22 1.17** 0.01

Parent-child attachement

0.75 0.26 0.97 0.04
         

Family cohesion

0.63 0.29 0.95 0.04

Parental control

1.06 0.07 1.00 0.02

Gender x Parental attachment

1.44 0.30 0.94 0.05

Gender x Family cohesion

0.76 0.36 1.09 0.06

Gender x Parental control

0.93 0.10 1.01 0.02

Note: p < 0.10, *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01

Observing the effects of gender on delinquency involvement and levels of delinquency in the White sample prompted us to investigate further to determine whether the family factors may have had differential effects for females and males (results are presented in Table 4). None of the gender-by-family factor interaction terms were significant, however, suggesting that family cohesion prevented delinquency involvement and that parent-child attachment reduced levels of delinquency equally among males and females in the White sample.

Discussion

Nye (1958) and Hirschi (1969) emphasized the crucial importance of the family as a primary source of learning conventional social behavior that could diminish adolescents’ likelihood of becoming involved in delinquent activities. Despite the level of importance that the family unit assumed within this social control framework, there were few details offered in these early writings about the relative importance of certain elements of family connections and parenting processes. Nye (1958) highlighted the significance of parenting practices to ensure that children were prevented from becoming involved in delinquency, while Hirschi (1969) concentrated on the bond between parents and children to direct adolescents toward conventional behaviors to lower their likelihood of delinquency involvement.

From this social control perspective, the current study examined the relationships between several different, yet related, family factors to determine (1) their viability in preventing adolescents’ future delinquent involvement, and (2) their ability to reduce adolescents’ levels of delinquency involvement, especially for those who had reported some experience with delinquency. Family cohesion emerged as a significant factor in preventing White adolescents from becoming involved in future delinquency. A healthy family environment can be characterized as parents and children who spend time together engaged in recreational activities, openly and honestly communicating with each another, and enjoying each other’s company. These positive family attributes are likely to divert adolescents from engaging in delinquency by fostering the development of certain traits, such as high self-esteem, which research has demonstrated protects adolescents from antisocial behaviors (Parker & Benson, 2004).

One important finding that emerged from this study is that parent-child attachment predicted lower levels of delinquency for adolescents already involved in delinquent behavior. Prior research has shown similar family processes may have beneficial effects on delinquency involvement. Similar to our measure of parent-child attachment, Demuth and Brown’s (2004) measure of parental closeness proved to have desired effects on adolescents’ levels of delinquency. This research supports Hirschi’s (1969) conception that the creation and maintenance of a positive social bond can reduce future delinquency. Although adolescents may become involved in delinquency, this evidence suggests parents should continue efforts to maintain a positive relationship with them. Building and sustaining strong relationships with their children may serve to indirectly limit adolescents’ levels of delinquency involvement at the most crucial moments, especially when parents cannot directly supervise them (Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987).

The results of the current study offer partial support for the effect of ethnic differences in family factors on delinquency. Similarly, prior research suggests that parent-child relationships may differentially predict delinquency by racial or ethnic group (e.g., Perez-McCluskey & Tover, 2003). These researchers suggest that family cohesion and parent-child attachment prevents and reduces delinquency involvement among White adolescents, but the same effects are not experienced by Mexican American adolescents. One explanation for this difference may be related to the socioeconomic position of Mexican American families in the United States. Mexican Americans disproportionately occupy lower socioeconomic strata than their White counterparts, evidenced by the larger proportions of Mexican American parents with lower levels of education in our sample. For example, less than 10% of White adolescents’ parents in our sample did not finish high school, while 46% of Mexican American adolescents’ parents did not complete high school. As a consequence, Mexican American families are more likely to experience high levels of financial hardship and neighborhood danger, two chronic unavoidable stressors that economically disadvantaged families may encounter on a daily basis (Attar, Guerra, & Tolan, 1994; McLoyd, 1990). These stressful conditions have, in turn, been found to increase depression and negatively impact parental warmth and attentiveness toward children among some Mexican American parents (White, Roosa, Weaver, & Nair, 2009). In the context of delinquency prevention in a stressful social environment, it is possible that some Mexican American parents may be preoccupied with providing their families with basic necessities while their children are also exposed to greater neighborhood disorganization favorable to delinquency. This array of social conditions may make it more difficult for Mexican American families to contend with the pull of the neighborhood toward delinquency.

In addition to economic strain, Mexican American families may also be suffering from acculturation-related stress (Samaniego & Gonzales, 1999). Acculturative stress includes, but is not limited to, tension stemming from discrimination, difficulties related to language use, general feelings associated with being an outsider, and challenges related to reconciling norms, values, and customs from one’s cultural heritage within a dominant culture (Hovey, 2000). Mexican American adolescents, for example, may be become more adept than their parents at developing bicultural adaptation techniques, such as speaking English and speaking Spanish; their parents may continue to speak primarily Spanish as one example of honoring traditional Latino cultural values. Adolescents may become more oriented toward mainstream American culture than their parents through forced assimilation in school and significant periods of time spent with American-oriented peers. Such a situation could create an acculturation gap between adolescents and parents, reducing adolescents’ sense of familial obligations and decreasing parenting effectiveness. Adolescents in this position may experience less protection from family warmth due to acculturation-related tension while simultaneously being exposed to more frequent opportunities for delinquency.

Contrary to previous research showing significant gender differences in the way in which family ties protect against delinquency (e.g. Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Griffin, Botvin, Scheier, Diaz, & Miller, 2000), similar findings did not emerge in this study. Instead, we found family cohesion and parental attachment to be the key family variables to reduce delinquency for White males and females alike. In their study of gender differences in risk and protective factors, Fagan et al. (2007) also found protective family factors, such as maternal and paternal attachment, receipt of rewards for positive behaviors, and the availability of prosocial opportunities in the family to be equally important delinquency prevention measures for males and females. This evidence clearly highlights the relevance of Hirschi’s (1969) conception of the social bond, especially in the form of high levels of family cohesion and parent-child attachment, as effective measures to prevent and reduce adolescent delinquency, especially for White males and females.

Limitations and Conclusion

Although this study offers a detailed examination of the ways in which certain elements of the family bond can help to prevent or reduce adolescent delinquency, we acknowledge several limitations. This study was based on a large population-based survey, which left us unable to ascertain the influence of particular family factors that are likely related to delinquency for the subgroups analyzed here. Using culturally specific measures relevant to Mexican heritage family traditions, such as familism, respeto, and simpatia (Castro & Alarcón, 2002), could serve as important sources of delinquency prevention for this group compared with the ethnically generic measures included in these data.

In addition to including these culturally relevant family factors, future studies should assess the role of acculturation-related stress and how it may operate to place Mexican American youth at greater risk for delinquency that was not captured by this study. It is also possible that adolescent males and females react differently to parent-child interactions (Cernkovich & Giordano, 1987; Miller & White, 2003), creating a qualitatively different protective experience for each gender group that is not fully captured in the measures used in the current study. Future research should take this into account and assess the nature and extent to which adolescent boys’ and girls’ experiences with familial warmth provide long-term protections from delinquent involvement.

After acknowledging these limitations, this study contributes a more detailed explication of the various family-related dimensions underlying the all-important social bond. Attachment to the family unit, represented by positive engagement with family members and close connections with parents, emerged as two critical elements for delinquency reduction among White adolescents. The positive reinforcement these adolescents receive from their parents and family through these strong bonds has the encouraging effect of helping them to avoid and minimize their involvement in delinquent activities.

About the Authors

Albert M. Kopak, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina. His research focuses on the relation between cultural factors, drug use, and delinquency among ethnic minority youth.

Francis Frederick Hawley, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina. His research focuses on deviance, drug use, crime in the South, and the history of crime.

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Appendix A

Items included in the delinquency and family scales

Variable and Responses Items

Delinquency
(0) Never
(1) 1 or 2 times
(2) 3 or 4 times
(3) 5 or more times


  1. In the past 12 months, how often did you paint graffiti or signs on someone else’s property or in a public place?
  2. In the past 12 months, how often did you deliberately damage property that didn’t belong to you?
  3. In the past 12 months, how often did you lie to your parents or guardians about where you had been were or whom you were with?
  4. In the past 12 months, how often did you take something from a store without paying for it?
  5. In the past 12 months, how often did you run away from home?
  6. In the past 12 months, how often did you drive a car without the owner’s permission?
  7. In the past 12 months, how often did you steal something worth more than $50?
  8. In the past 12 months, how often did you go into a house or building to steal something?
  9. In the past 12 months, how often did you use or threaten to use a weapon to get something from someone?
  10. In the past 12 months, how often did you sell marijuana or other drugs?
  11. In the past 12 months, how often did you steal something worth less than $50?
  12. In the past 12 months, how often did you act loud, rowdy, or unruly in a public place?
  13. In the past 12 months, how often did you take part in a fight where a group of your friends was against another group?

Parent-child attachment
(1) Strongly disagree
(2) Disagree
(3) Neither agree nor disagree
(4) Agree
(5) Strongly agree


  1. Most of the time your mother/father is warm and loving toward you
  2. You are satisfied with the way your mother/father and you communicate with each other.
  3. Overall, you are satisfied with your relationship with your mother/father

Parental control
(1) Yes
(0) No


  1. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about the time you must be home on weekend nights?
  2. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about the people you hang around with?
  3. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about what you wear?
  4. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about how much television you watch?
  5. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about which television programs you watch?
  6. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about what time you go to bed on week nights?
  7. Do your parents let you make your own decisions about what you eat?

Family Cohesion
(1) Not at all
(2) Very little
(3) Somewhat
(4) Quite a bit
(5) Very much


  1. How much do you feel that your parents care about you?
  2. How much do you feel that people in your family understand you?
  3. How much do you feel that you and your family have fun together?
  4. How much do you feel that your family pays attention to you?
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