Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian PerspectivChapter 5: Developmental Issues: Juvenile Offending
CHAPTER 5: Developmental Issues: Juvenile Offending
1. Describe the history of juvenile justice in Canada.
2. Differentiate between the theories to explain juvenile offending.
3. Define and list the risk and protective factors associated with juvenile offending.
4. Identify the psychiatric diagnoses and their trajectories relevant to juvenile offenders.
5. Describe the tools used to assess juvenile offenders.
6. Distinguish between primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions for children, youth,
and juvenile offenders
CHAPTER SUMMARY Issues:
The first Canadian legislation to address juvenile offending was the Juvenile Delinquents
Act (JDA) in 1908. In 1984, the Young Offender’s Act (YOA) replaced the JDA with
several major changes to juvenile justice. Although the YOA underwent several
amendments, it was finally replaced in 2003 with the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).
Biological theories focus on genetic and physiological differences between juvenile
offenders and those who do not behave antisocially. Cognitive theories propose a model
of antisocial behaviour that focuses on thought processes that occur in social interactions.
Social theories are based in social learning theory, which proposes that children
learn behaviour from observing others and through reinforcement contingencies.
A risk factor is a variable or factor that, if present, increases the likelihood of
an undesirable outcome such as antisocial behaviour. Risk factors occur across
various domains that include individual (e.g., difficult temperament), familial
(e.g., low parental involvement), school (e.g., low commitment to school), peer
(e.g., associating with antisocial peers), and community (e.g., low-income
A protective factor is a variable or factor that, if present, decreases
the likelihood of an undesirable outcome such as antisocial behaviour. Protective
factors occur across various domains that include individual (e.g., intelligence),
familial (e.g., supportive relationship with parent), school (e.g., commitment to
school), peer (e.g., associating with peers who disapprove of antisocial behaviour),
and community (e.g., strong community infrastructure).
There are three common disorders diagnosed in juvenile offenders: attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct
disorder (CD). Children/youth diagnosed with CD are at greatest risk for juvenile
offending. CD is a precurser to adult antisocial personality disorder.
The instruments used to assess a juvenile offender’s risk generally involve a “checklist”
where items are scored on a scale, the points are summed, and a cutoff value is
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set for either detaining or releasing the juvenile. These instruments collect information
about a set of factors, both static and dynamic, related to reoffending, such as
number of prior arrests, use of a weapon, and presence of a drug problem.
Primary intervention strategies are implemented prior to any violence occurring with
the goal of decreasing the likelihood that violence will occur later on. Secondary
intervention strategies attempt to reduce the frequency of violence. Tertiary intervention
strategies attempt to prevent violence from reoccurring.
Youth crime is often controversial and raises a number of questions for the
criminal justice system and the larger community.
it is assumed that “anyone” who commits an act that is found in the
Canadian Criminal Code will be charged and prosecuted.
This is not the case, however-children under the age of 12 are not charged,
even when they commit violent acts such as murder.
Professionals such as social workers, psychologists, and even police
officers may intervene but the goal is to provide appropriate intervention
or treatment so that these acts do not continue.
In order to be processed through Canada’s criminal justice system, an
offender must be a minimum of 12.
Prior to this age, children’s behaviour is governed by the Child and
Family Services Act.
Once a child is 12, they are assumed to be in sufficient control of their
behaviour such that acts committed against the Canadian Criminal Code
will be pursued by the justice system.
Canada does recognize that youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are
developmentally different than adults (over 18) and outlines provisions for
younger aged “offenders” in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which
provides direction on how youth committing Criminal Code offences
should be “processed.”
2. The History of Juvenile Justice in Canada:
1. Prior to the nineteenth century, children and youth who committed
criminal acts were treated similarly to adult offenders.
2. No provisions or accommodations for age or developmental stage were
made when it came to charging, sentencing, or incarceration.
3. Youth were not even exempted from the death penalty.
4. In 1908, Canada enacted the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) to recognize
the special circumstances inherent with juvenile offenders.
5. This legislation applied to individuals between the ages of 7 and 16
(although in some jurisdictions the upper limit was 18).
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6. These juveniles were termed “delinquents” rather than offenders and were
seen to commit acts of delinquency (e.g., truancy) rather than criminal
7. A separate court was designed for delinquents, with parents encouraged to
take part in the proceedings, which were more informal than was
customary in adult court.
8. Sanctions included adjournment without penalty, fines, probation,
mandatory attendance in an industrial school to learn a skill or trade, and
9. Delinquents who committed serious and violent acts could be transferred
to adult court.
10. Although the enactment of the JDA was a positive first step in juvenile
justice, criticisms included
the informality of youth court denying youth their rights, such as the
right to legal representation and the right to appeal;
that judges could impose open-ended sentences; and the broad
definition of delinquency that included acts that were not illegal for
In 1984, the Young Offenders Act (YOA) replaced the JDA.
Juvenile offenders were recognized as cognitively different than adults
and consequently their level of accountability and the sanctions for their
behaviour should be more commensurate with their developmental stage.
There was also a recognition that the community had a right to be
protected from juvenile offenders while granting these juveniles their
rights as stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
With the YOA came an increase in the minimum age at which an
individual could be charged with a criminal offence, from 7 years old to
12 (and up to 18).
Child and Family Services would intervene with anyone under 12 who
engaged in behaviour that violated the Canadian Criminal Code.
Youth court judgments, with the possibility of a transfer to adult court,
However, in order to be transferred, a youth had to be at least 14
The YOA also allowed youth cases to be diverted.
Diversion is a decision not to prosecute a young offender but rather have
them undergo an educational or community service program.
A young offender would have to plead guilty for diversion to be possible
Other dispositions available for young offenders included
1. absolute discharge (i.e., the young offender received no sentence
other than a guilty verdict),
2. a fine,
3. compensation for loss or damaged property,
4. restitution to the victim,
5. a prohibition order (i.e., no weapons),
6. community service,
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7. probation, and
Custody could be open (placing the youth in a community residential
facility, group home, or childcare facility) or secure (incarceration in a
The YOA was amended a number of times.
In 1986, Bill C-106 section 16 was introduced to combat the problem of
juveniles pleading guilty to avoid transfer to adult court.
Youth court would be required to consider whether the Crown or defence
would like to make an application to transfer.
In 1995, Bill C-37 changed section 16 once again.
Charged with murder, manslaughter, or aggravated sexual assault, 16- and
17-year-olds would automatically be tried in adult court.
However, on application, these cases could stay in youth court if the youth
court felt the objectives of rehabilitation and public protection could be
Also under Bill C-37, youth sentencing changed: for first-degree murder, a
ten-year maximum with a six-year maximum to be served incarcerated
For second-degree murder, a seven-year maximum with a four-year
maximum to be served incarcerated was available.
with the number of amendments regarding transfers to adult court, the
perception was that juvenile offenders received relatively short or light
sentences even if committing seriously violent crimes.
Moreover, the way the YOA was written allowed for discrepancies in the
factors leading to transfer to adult court and how cases were handled.
there was also issue with the overuse of incarceration.
Canada has the highest incarceration rate for youth in the Western world,
including the United States.
On April 1, 2003, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) replaced the
Part of the intent of the YCJA is to keep juvenile offenders out of court
and out of custody.
The three main objectives of the YCJA are:
1. To prevent youth crime
2. To provide meaningful consequences and encourage responsibility
3. To improve rehabilitation and reintegration of youth into the
As a first step when coming into contact with antisocial youth, police are
to consider community options and less serious alternatives before
bringing juveniles to the attention of youth court
These alternatives are called extrajudicial measures and include giving a
warning or making a referral for treatment (with the consent of the
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Once a juvenile is charged, however, they can no longer be transferred to
adult court under the YCJA.
Rather, if a juvenile defendant is found guilty the judge can impose an
adult sentence as long as the defendant is at least 14 years old (may be set
at 15 or 16 depending on jurisdiction).
An adult sentence cannot be applied unless the Crown notifies the youth
court that it will be seeking an adult sentence
A key issue in determining sentencing is that the sentence must be
proportionate to the seriousness of the offence
Expanded sentencing options are also provided for under the YCJA.
Judges can give:
1. a reprimand (i.e., lecture or warning to the juvenile),
2. an intensive support and supervision order,
3. an attendance order (i.e., juvenile must attend a specific program),
4. a deferred custody and supervision order (i.e., juvenile can serve
sentence in community as long as imposed conditions are met), and
an intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision order (i.e.,
juvenile in custody receive intensive services and supervision)
The YCJA also considers the victims of juvenile offenders.
Victims are to be informed of court proceedings and given an opportunity
to participate, and have the right to access youth court records and
participate in community-based dispositions
Youth Crime Rates
Canadian police services reported an approximate 3 percent increase in the
overall crime rate for juveniles from 2005 to 2006.
From 2006 to 2007, Canadian youth courts processed 56 463 cases
involving 179 873 charges—a 26 percent decrease from 2002–2003, the
year prior to the introduction of the YCJA.
legislation may not decrease the number of actual crimes committed by
youth but rather may affect the reporting/recording of crimes.
Following implementation of the YCJA, there was a decrease in property
crime, though violent crime remained fairly stable.
the YCJA seeks to keep juvenile offenders out of the court system and out
Following the YCJA, in 2006 to 2007, about 17 percent (5640) of guilty
offenders received custodial sentences.
In contrast, in 2002 to 2003, 27 percent (13 246) of cases received
Custodial sentences are typically reserved for serious violent crimes
against a person - 2006 to 2007, 15 of the 21 guilty murder cases and 5 of
the 6 attempted murder cases resulted in custodial sentences
The most common sentence for juveniles was probation, awarded to 59
percent of guilty juveniles.
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Of the new sentences available under the YCJA, deferred custody and
supervision orders were used in 3 percent of cases in 2006 to 2007.
in that period, 2 percent of guilty juveniles were given reprimands, 1
percent were ordered into intensive support and supervision programs, and
less than 1 percent were ordered to attend a non-residential program.
In total, in about 7 percent of guilty cases the new sentencing options
found under the YCJA were imposed
Trajectories of Juvenile Offenders
There are two types of juvenile offenders: child-onset, life-course
persistent and adolescent onset, adolescent limited
The histories of these types differ:
For child-onset juvenile offenders, behavioural problems start very
early in childhood.
These juveniles often have histories that include behavioural problems
dating back to daycare and preschool.
As babies, they were difficult to soothe with problematic
temperaments and were aggressive with other children, physically
hitting and throwing temper tantrums.
In contrast, adolescent-onset juvenile offenders begin to show
behavioural problems in their teen years.
These youth may engage in antisocial acts such as truancy, theft, and
Often the adage of “boys will be boys” is used to describe this group.
When examining the trajectory to adult offending, age of onset is a critical
A clear pattern has been found linking early onset of antisocial behaviour
to more serious and persistent antisocial behaviour later in life
In addition, those with a child-onset also may have a number of other
challenges, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning
disabilities, and academic difficulties
The child-onset trajectory is a less frequent occurrence, affecting about 3
to 5 percent of the general population
It is important to remember that most young children with behavioural
difficulties do not go on to become adult offenders.
The adolescent-onset pattern occurs in about 70 percent of the general
Many youth rebel against authority and engage in antisocial acts during
adolescence, but these behaviours are few and limited.
Although it is more common for adolescent-onset youth to desist
antisocial behaviour in early adulthood than for those with a child-onset,
some continue to engage in antisocial acts in adulthood
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3. Theories to Explain Juvenile Offending:
A number of genetic and physiological differences exist between youth
who engage in antisocial behaviour and those who do not.
Genetic studies have found that fathers who engage in antisocial behavoiur
are more likely to have children (a stronger link for sons than daughters)
who also engage in antisocial behavior
Twin and adoption studies further support this conclusion:
Specifically, children who have an antisocial biological father are
more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour, even when raised apart
from the father, suggesting that environment is not the only influence
Along this line, researchers have investigated the brain region
responsible for planning and inhibiting behavior (the frontal lobe), to
explain why some youth engage in antisocial acts - antisocial youth
have less frontal lobe inhibition than youth who do not engage in
thus the likelihood that these youth will act impulsively is increased,
making it more likely that they will make poor behavioural choices.
a model of conduct disordered behaviour focuses on the thought processes
that occur in social interactions begins with thought processes, which start
when individuals pay attention to and interpret social and emotional cues
in their environment.
The next step is to consider alternate responses to the cues.
Finally, a response is chosen and performed.
Conduct-disordered youth demonstrate cognitive deficits and distortions,
often attending to fewer cues and misattributing hostile intent to
conduct-disordered youth demonstrate limited problem-solving skills,
producing few solutions to problems, often solutions that are usually
aggressive in nature.
Cognitive deficits are likely to be present in early childhood and may
contribute to child-onset conduct disorder
Experts also distinguished between two types of aggressive behaviour—
reactive aggression and proactive aggression
Reactive aggression is described as an emotionally aggressive
response to a perceived threat or frustration.
proactive aggression is aggression directed at achieving a goal or
receiving positive reinforcers (e.g., money, goods).
deficiencies in the process occur at different points for reactive and proactive
Reactively aggressive youth are likely to demonstrate deficiencies early in
the cognitive process, such as focusing on only a few social cues and
misattributing hostile intent to ambiguous situations.
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Proactive aggressive youth are likely to have deficiencies in generating
alternate responses and often choose an aggressive response.
reactive and proactive aggressors tend to have different trajectories:
reactive aggressors tend to have an earlier onset of problems
Bandura’s (1965) social learning theory suggests that children learn their
behaviour from observing others.
Children are more likely to imitate behaviour that receives positive
reinforcement than behaviour that receives negative reinforcement or
As children develop, numerous models are available to imitate, including
parents, siblings, peers, and media personalities.
Studies have found that children who are highly aggressive and engage in
antisocial behaviour have often witnessed parents, siblings, or
grandparents engage in similar behaviour
This is a pattern of intergenerational aggression, in which one aggressive
generation produces the next
Consistent with this view is Patterson’s (1982) coercive family process
model, where aggressive behaviour among youth develops from imitation
of parents and reinforcement.
Other aspects of Patterson’s model include the role of inadequate parental
supervision and inconsistent disciplining of children.
The combination of these factors increases the likelihood of youth
behaving in antisocial ways
Researchers at Simon Fraser University, found that adolescents who
witness inter-parental violence are at risk for aggression
Watching extremely violent television and movies in which actors are
rewarded for aggression also increases children’s likelihood of acting
Aggressive videogames present a forum for youth to be reinforced for
their aggression, which may increase their likelihood of acting
aggressively in real life
some data indicate a link between violent video exposure and aggressive
behaviour to brain processes believed to be associated with desensitization
to real-world violence
4. Risk Factors for Juvenile Offending:
The term risk factor refers to a variable that, if present, poses an
increased likelihood of an undesirable outcome such as delinquency or
The presence of several criminological risk factors increases a youth’s
likelihood of offending (Hawkins et al. 1998).
Rarely will one risk factor be sufficient to lead to offending, nor does the
presence of numerous risk factors guarantee a youth will become a
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When several risk factors are present, they may interact and have a
multiplicative influence, thereby compounding the likelihood of
behavioural, and biological level—how systems unfold over time is
There is limited understanding of how some individuals are able to turn
adversity into opportunity or minimize the impact of risk exposure”
Risk factors occur across various domains: individual, familial, school,
peer, and community
A number of prenatal complications can predispose a fetus to behavioural
problems in childhood and potential juvenile offending.
offenders are more likely to have had delivery/birth complications
compared to non-offenders
even before delivery, a mother’s use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarette
smoking during pregnancy increases the fetus’s risk for later behavioural
Once a child is born, their own temperament can present a risk factor for
Hyperactivity, attention problems, impulsivity, and risk-taking have been
associated with later juvenile
Substance abuse, especially starting at a young age (before the teen years),
has received substantial support as a risk factor for juvenile offending
Low verbal intelligence and delayed language development also have been
associated with behavioural problems
the strongest predictor of juvenile offending is the presence of aggressive
behaviour before the age of 13.
A number of parental factors are risk factors for later antisocial behaviour.
Researchers have found that poor parental supervision, low parental
involvement, parental conflict, and parental aggression are related to later
Child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment are also risk factors for
Abuse factors may pose a greater risk to boys, who may respond by acting
aggressively and later engaging in spousal abuse – research found that
abused or neglected children were 38 percent more likely to be arrested for
a violent offence than children who had not been abused or neglected.
Children who do not attach securely to their parents, parental loss, and
divorce are risk factors for later behavioural problems
Other risk factors for delinquency include low socioeconomic status, large
family size, and parental mental health problems
Parents who are heavy drinkers increase the likelihood that their children
will act in antisocial ways, possibly because when parents drink, they are
unable to provide adequate parenting and supervision
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A number of school-related risk factors, such as poor academic
performance, particularly in elementary school; low commitment to
school; and low educational aspirations have been found to be associated
with delinquent behaviour
Truancy or not attending school is also a risk factor.
How academic difficulties are handled can be a risk factor as well.
suspension and expulsion may not reduce delinquent behaviour.
Risk factors related to peers are perhaps the most important during
adolescence, when the peer group reigns paramount over family
A consistent relation exists between associating with delinquent peers and
engaging in delinquent behaviour.
This association is true even at a very young age - young children who
play with aggressive peers at an early age are at risk for behavioural
peer approval of delinquent behaviour, allegiance to delinquent peers, time
spent with delinquent peers, and peer pressure for delinquency are also
associated with juvenile antisocial behaviour
Taking this risk factor one step further, gang membership is more
predictive of antisocial behaviour than associating with delinquent peers
Peer influence may compound when parents are uninvolved with their
the presence of delinquent siblings acts much like the presence of
delinquent peers in that it is predictive of violent juvenile offending.
Social disapproval and being rejected are likely to occur with aggressive
children and adolescents and rejected, aggressive children are at risk for
Juveniles who are socially isolated or withdrawn (e.g., low involvement in
traditional, structured social activities) are at an increased risk for
engaging in antisocial behaviour.
Where one is raised can be a risk factor for juvenile offending.
Just as parental income (i.e., lower socio-economic status) is a familial
risk factor, so is living in a low-income neighbourhood
Assault when committing a felony or robbery are twice as common among
juveniles raised in low-income/subsidized neighbourhoods than juveniles
raised in middle-class areas
Lower-income neighbourhoods also give rise to the opportunity to witness
exposure to community violence is related to juvenile offending.
disadvantaged neighbourhoods provide an opportunity to learn delinquent
behaviour, associate with delinquent peers, and possibly have delinquent
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having access to weapons also increases the risk for violence.
The National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) of Public Safety Canada is
the federal organization responsible for providing direction on how to deal
with the problem of youth gangs in Canada.
There are three key elements to a youth gang:
1. The individuals involved must identify themselves as a group (they
may have a group name, group colours, etc.).
2. Other people see the members as a distinct group.
3. Group members commit “delinquent” acts, often imposing on the rights
of others in the community.
Although anyone can be a gang member, gangs are often comprised of
individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who belong to a
minority ethnic group.
In Canada, the largest proportion of youth gang members are African-
Canadian, at 25 percent, then First Nations at 21 percent, and Caucasian at
An overwhelming proportion of gang members are male
What Do Canadian Youth Report?
The Department of Justice Canada conducted a study to examine the
factors related to self-reported delinquency between the ages of 12 and 15
using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth
Slightly less than 40 percent of youth reported engaging in at least one
antisocial act in the 12-month period prior to the survey.
This percentage translated into more than 540 000 youth across Canada
reporting having committed at least one delinquent act in the previous
It is important to note that the majority of these acts would be considered
The five main correlates of delinquency for male and female youth were:
1. inconsistent and inadequate parenting;
2. history of victimization;
3. antisocial peer involvement;
4. negative school attachment; and
These correlates are consistent with the risk factors described above.
there is an increasing trend for female Aboriginal gang membership in
it is not uncommon for gang members to have a preexisting substance
abuse problem and to have engaged in violent juvenile offending prior to
Often the motivation to join a gang involves a desire to gain prestige,
status, protection, and an opportunity to make money.
A Canadian police survey conducted in 2002 estimated that there are
approximately 434 youth gangs in Canada with a total membership
slightly over 7000.
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The top three provinces with absolute number of gangs and gang
membership (not taking population into account) are Ontario,
Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.
Erickson and Butters (2006) examined the relation between gangs, guns,
and drugs in Toronto and Montreal.
A total of 904 male high school students, school dropouts, and young
offenders were interviewed.
The researchers found that as gang presence in schools increased, so
did the number of guns and amount of drugs.
Almost 19 percent of boys aged 14 to 17 in Toronto and 15 percent in
Montreal brought a gun to school.
Dropouts who sell drugs are more likely to be engaged in gun violence
than dropouts who do not sell drugs.
5. Protective Factors:
Although children may experience similar environments and sets of risk
factors, their responses and outcomes vary, with some children prevailing
and prospering and others encountering a number of difficulties and
The child who has multiple risk factors but who can overcome them and
prevail has been termed resilient - Resilience is described as the ability to
overcome stress and adversity
resilient children may have “protective” factors that allow them to
persevere in the face of adversity.
The notion of protective factors was introduced in the early 1980s - a
number of areas were identified where protectiveness can be present:
genetic variables, personality dispositions, supportive family
environments, and community supports.
There is some debate over the definition of protective factors and how
Many agree that they help improve or sustain some part of an individual’s
protective factors are defined as variables or factors that, if present,
decrease the likelihood of a negative outcome such as antisocial behaviour
and juvenile offending or increase the likelihood of a positive outcome
there are four ways that protective factors are effective:
1. They reduce negative outcomes by changing the level of the child’s
exposure to a risk factor.
2. They change the negative chain reaction following exposure to risk.
3. They help develop and maintain self-esteem and self-efficacy.
4. They avail opportunities to children they would not otherwise have.
As with risk factors, protective factors occur across various domains:
individual, familial, school, peer, and community
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Factors that reside within an individual can serve to protect against acting
in antisocial ways.
intelligence and a commitment to education serve as protective factors for
juveniles at risk for antisocial behaviour - by focusing on schoolwork,
there is less time available to engage in antisocial behaviour.
exceptional social skills, child competencies, confident perceptions,
values, attitudes, and beliefs can serve to protect a child from engaging in
Research from twin studies suggests that social support may have a
heritable component that is influenced by personality.
likeable children may respond to good role models in a positive manner,
thus promoting a positive and continuing relationship.
Perhaps one of the strongest protective individual factors is having an
intolerant attitude toward antisocial behaviour
This may also reflect a commitment to social norms and a rejection of
An intolerant attitude may decrease the likelihood that a youth would
associate with antisocial peers, hence further reducing the likelihood of
Being female and a perception that peers disapprove of antisocial
behaviour have also been identified as protective factors by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services (2001)
Other protective factors include sociability, positive temperament, the
ability to seek social support, and acting in a reflective (not impulsive)
Resilient adolescents typically utilize flexible coping strategies.
Having a sense of control over one’s environment may be associated with
a decreased risk for antisocial behaviour.
The acquisition of various skill sets such as problem solving, conflict
resolution, anger management, and critical thinking also are seen as
The presence of certain internalizing disorders, such as nervousness and
anxiety, may have a modest negative correlation with juvenile offending
Protective familial factors are the positive qualities of parents and home
a child having a supportive relationship with an adult protects against the
child engaging in antisocial behavior
This protective factor is generally effective regardless of whether the adult
caregiver is a parent, teacher, or volunteer in a mentoring program
High levels of parental supervision and secure parent–child attachment are
also protective factors.
Providing clear and consistent norms for behaviour can reduce the
likelihood that youth will engage in antisocial behaviour.
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Commitment to school and achieving academically is a protective factor
for children at risk for juvenile offending (
Children who are committed to school may be less likely to commit
antisocial acts for fear of reducing their academic potential
Over the years, many have argued that providing at-risk youth with adult
mentoring reduces the likelihood that they will engage in antisocial
Perhaps one of the oldest and most