Parents swear, and children suffer 2

Adolescents due to the developmental crisis that they are prone to face a myriad of psychosocial challenges. Among the major challenges are:

• Juvenile delinquency
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Early pregnancy
• Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS

These are considered in this unit.


Juvenile delinquency refers to the predisposition to and indulgence in criminal or unlawful activities by children under the age of 18. According to the U.S Bureau of the census [1992] when just serious crimes are considered 28% of these were committed by persons under age 18. This included:

• 14% of all murders
• 15% of all rape cases
• 24% of all robberies
• 43% of car thefts

In the Malawian scenario, theft, vandalism, teasing and bullying are extremely rampant.


A myriad of factors have been postulated as causing delinquency among adolescents. However there are three major categories of factors namely:

• Psychological
• Sociological
• Biological


There have been efforts to determine whether certain personality factors predispose the adolescent to delinquency [Holcomb et. al, 1991]. Generally speaking, no one personality type is associated with delinquency, but those who become delinquent are more likely to be impulsive, destructive, suspicious, hostile, resentful, ambivalent to authority, defiant, socially assertive and lack self control [Ashfort et. al, 1990]. Aggressive conduct is associated with delinquent behavior. Delinquency is sometimes a manifestation of hostilities, anxieties, fears or deeper neurosis. In some cases, delinquency is the result of poor socialization that results in adolescents not developing proper impulse control [Sagi, 1982]. Health adolescents may also be mislead by others into delinquency.


Family factors, such as strained family relationships and lack of family cohesion, are important sources of delinquency [Kroupa, 1988]. Broken, dysfunctional homes have been associated with delinquency, but are no worse than, and sometimes not as detrimental as, intact but unhappy or disturbed family relationships. Family environment is more important in delinquency than family structure [Leflore, 1988]. One study demonstrated that parental controls are significant inhibitors of delinquency.

Juvenile delinquency is distributed through all socio-economic status levels.
Tygart [1988] for example found that youths of high socio-economic status [SES] were more likely to be involved in school vandalism than youth of low SES. Community and neighborhood influence are also important. Most larger communities have areas in which delinquency rates are higher than in other neighborhoods e.g. shanty towns. Shanty towns are typified by antisocial behaviors as gambling, prostitution, theft and robberies, alcoholism and drug abuse. In Malawi such communities include Ndirande in Blantyre; Chinsapo and Mchesi in Lilongwe; and Masasa in Mzuzu. Some adolescents become delinquent because of antisocial influences of peers.

A high degree of peer orientation is sometimes associated with a high level of delinquency. Modern youth are also influenced by affluent and hedonistic [pleasure seeking] values and lifestyles in their culture. Youth may be encouraged to keep late hours, get into mischief and become involved in vandalism or delinquent acts just for adventure [Renner, 1981]. Violent youth may also have been influenced by the violence they see in the media. May [1986] found that youths who behave in a violent manner give more selective attention to violent cues. They tend to choose to attend movies that are more violent, and imitate what they have seen and heard. Today’s adolescents are also living in a period of unrest, disorganization, and rapid cultural change, all of which tend to increase delinquency rates. Alcohol and drug abuse tends to be strongly correlated with delinquency [Stuck, 1985].

The level of school performance is also correlated with delinquency. Inability getting along with teachers and administrators, difficulty adjusting to the school program, classroom misconduct, poor grades and a lack of school success are associated with delinquency.


Biological causes may play a role in delinquency [Anolik, 1983].
Mednick and Christiansen [1977], showed that the autonomic nervous system in criminals recovers more slowly from environmental stimulation as compared to that of non-criminals. Slow recovery time reduces the ability to alter their behavior through punishment; thus it becomes more difficult to unlearn delinquent behavior. There is also a possibility that a maturational lag in the development of the frontal lobe of the brain results in neuro-physiological dysfunction and delinquent behavior [Vooless, 1985]. The prefrontal area of the brain is responsible for impulse control. Juveniles are not able to act on the basis of the knowledge they have- they are unable to control their impulses.

According to Sheppard [1974], at least 25% of delinquency can be blamed on organic causes. Hyper-activity from hyper-thyrodism, hyper-glycemia and Diabetes mellitus or Type 2 diabetes can also result in delinquency.
Other research indicates a definite relationship between delinquency and health problems such as neurological, speech, hearing, and visual abnormalities.


There are several strategies that can be used to mitigate delinquency among adolescents:

• One way to prevent delinquency is to identify children [such as hyperactive ones] who may be predisposed to getting into trouble during adolescence and then plan intervention programs to help.

• Another preventive measure is to focus on dysfunctional family relationships and assist parents in learning more effective parenting skills.

• Anti-social youth may be placed in groups of pro-social peers, such as at day camps where their behavior is influenced positively.

• Young children may be placed in pre-school settings before problems arise.

• Social skills training may be helpful with some offenders.


Drug and alcohol abuse is one of the risky-taking behaviors among adolescents. Drugs are capable of providing pleasure by giving relaxation and prolonged heightened sensation. Alcohol for example is posited to reduce anxiety. It is argued that this anxiolytic effect works in three dimensions-

• By impairing the encoding of information in terms of self-relevance—intoxication decreases self-awareness.
• By effecting on attentional capacity.
• By effecting on the initial appraisal of stressful information [Sayette, 1993].

Needless to say drug and alcohol abuse stand as a high correlate in other risk behaviors like delinquency and promiscuity. Drugs most commonly abused may be grouped into a number of categories:
• Narcotics
• Stimulants
• Depressants
• Hallucinogens
• Inhalants

Out of these groups the most frequently abused drugs and substances are alcohol, tobacco, marijuana in that order as well as cocaine although not very commonly abused.

A number of psychological theories have been developed to explain alcohol use and alcoholism. Generally, these theories state that people drink alcohol to increase pleasant feelings [positive reinforcement] or to decrease unpleasant feelings [negative reinforcement]. An attributional self-handicapping model asserts that alcohol can be used in some cases as an excuse for undesirable behavior or negative outcomes.

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