PSYCHOLOGICAL / SOCIAL THEORY

OF PARENTING BEHAVIOR

A GENERAL MODEL FOR CRIME REDUCTION

 

A theory of human nature

This theory is based on the idea that humans are basically good, but must believe that they are in order to behave in a consistently positive manner. The key to proper behavior is habit. Habits are developed early and as behavior develops, it is easy to maintain. Although, we do not have all the answers to criminal behavior, what we do know is that, in general, the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior.

The main idea is that concepts are developed in our mind, and the most important of these is a strong self-concept, along with moral developments. Such concepts are not inherent, rather they are learned values and begin developing early on in life. The power of the mind is the key to our behavior because our mind controls all decision-making behavior.

I find it perplexing how people make decisions in their life. I believe that the concepts learned by their parents (or primary care-givers) provide the necessary tools for this. I believe that too often people blame society. I do believe the real responsibility is with the parents. To a great extent, their actions determine the success of their children.

 

Explanation of the major cause(s) of crime

I believe the best indication of a well developed mind, which controls behavior, comes from influences early in life. They must be stable and positive. Although, this is not a new idea, it is an important one that needs more attention. The focus is on the parent/child relationship. Because of the very nature of the relationship and the amount of dependency involved, a very large part of the child’s personality can be attributed to the direction from their parents.

If a parent/child relationship is strong, most criminal activity would cease. It is almost the sole responsibility of parents to instill the values and morals into their children. From there, children, when given the opportunity, will choose the most desirable society to surrounded them, by either enhancement or abstention of certain elements. Their own self-esteem will shape their peer groups and social activities.

It is hard to deny that the bottom line of most behavior comes down to one’s free will and the decision to act. If people have been afforded proper role models throughout early development, there will be no reason for them to make poor decisions, in this case, to commit crime. They simply will not want to, they will lack the desire.

Studies have shown that early development of a strong parent/child relationship and strong family ties, will likely lead one to engage in appropriate decision making even throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Furthermore, I believe that there must exist strong maintenance of values and self-esteem. Parents, not society, need to be relied upon to educate and provide the cognitions, the thought development, for their children. Children will believe what they learn. What they learn comes from their parents. It is in this way that I think Children learn to engage in lawful behaviors.

This theory draws mainly from the ideas with psychological and sociological disciplines.

From Cognitive Theory:

States that the internal mapping of a person’s world consists of elements of knowledge called cognitions. There is a strong tendency for people to maintain consonance in their lives. This relates directly to ideas proposed by Heider’s Balance Theory. Balance of cognitions is the most pleasant, desirable state to be in. People tend to assume and prefer balanced over imbalanced relations. Accumulated research has supported this idea. There seems to be a desire to maintain cognitive consistency, or what is considered "logical" consistency among one’s beliefs. (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981).

From Learning Theory:

The learning perspective has exerted an enormous impact on the study of deviant behavior. Burgess and Akers explain the basic principles of operant psychology. They provide a social-psychological framework. Operant conditioning is associated with the research done by B.F. Skinner and explains human behavior as being shaped by the consequences they produce. (Pfohl, 1994). I believe that the idea of positive reinforcement fits in well with my model. In my belief, it is through reinforcements that self-concepts are formed. (Pfohl, 1994).

From Modeling Theory:

Observational learning plays a big part in the development of children. Albert Bandura is the pioneer in observational learning. For example, this model would help explain why abusive parents might have aggressive children. The lessons we learn early are not easily unlearned as adults. Models are most effective when their actions and their words are consistent. Experiments have shown that when children are exposed to a hypocrite, they later tend to imitate the hypocrisy. (Myers, 1986). This clearly fits in with my hypothesis that consistency is necessary in parent/child relationships.

 

 

 

From Control Theory:

Walter Reckless has identified a social-psychological theory, Containment Theory, surrounding the process of socialization. He termed two factors: inner containment and outer containment. Inner containment consists of factors such as self-control and good self-concept. Reckless contends that strong inner containment factors may shield people from deviance. (Pfohl, 1990). Again, this relates to my belief that a strong self-concept will block poor decision-making choices.

Discussion of the types of crimes this model best explains

In general terms, most types of crimes could be explained by this model. More particularly drug use, all levels of theft and, although I believe violent crimes generally fall into another category, this model could explain certain violent acts, for example, hate crimes.

This is not a model directed at identifying who will likely commit crime; instead, it explains those who will not engage in crime. For example, simply because many lack strong family relations, it does not imply that the stage is set for criminal activity.

 

Examples of the types of crimes this model has most difficulty accounting for

Any type of deviant sexual offense, predatory crimes, offenses committed due to a severe personality disorder, and/or any type of psychopathic criminal activity could not be explained by this general model. I believe that something else is going on in these such instances which is unrelated and unexplainable by any measure of learning or social influences.

 

Best programs to prevent crime based upon this model

Because I am stating that crime prevention begins with the parents and it begins early, education and counseling within the family unit would be beneficial. This could include parenting courses as well as marital counseling. Parents must supervise their children closely and provide sufficient discipline while promoting a positive self-concept. Their role is significant and this is where prevention starts.

Time spent with children is necessary to develop a strong relationship. I don’t agree with the quality versus quantity argument regarding this issue. With respect to child rearing, the bottom line is that any time with children is quality, and the more the better.

During adolescent years, peers become a more powerful influence. Juvenile tendencies are inevitable….. but better controlled through proper parenting. During this brief, but important, time in a child’s life, other challenges become a concern, such as rebellious behavior. They will eventually grow out of this, but, with the proper home environment, they will be less likely to fall into peer traps. The mind games inherent during that time period will be less influential on morally strong children.

There are other ways in which adolescents can express their behavior and still satisfy their personality tendencies while at the same time keeping them out of trouble legally and morally. For example, for those with a proclivity towards excitement, a variety of alternative behaviors may be acceptable. Instead of looking for the "thrill" by committing violations, they will seek the "thrill" through other recreation such as sky-diving or mountain climbing. Their temptations and thrill-seeing will be satisfied this way, through non-criminal activities. Or, instead of getting "high" on drugs, they will get "high" from, for example, athletic competition and/or other activities. The whole attractiveness behind drug use is the feeling of being "out of control" or out of touch with realty. I would argue that these children would not have the desire to be out of control. It would not be an appealing choice.

Types of punishment or treatment programs that would do the most to lower crime

For starters, birth control and family planning would be most beneficial. The general idea would be not to have children until after marriage. That aside, family counseling, or if necessary, removal from the family unit into a more appropriate setting may be beneficial. Or, any programs that deal with parent/child interaction, relationship development, and the importance of monitoring of child’s needs will be worthwhile.

Most importantly, to be effective, prevention needs to happen early. I attended a conference last year and heard Dr. Del Elliot indicate that research shows us the relevance of time and age appropriateness, especially during developmental years and in intervention processes. For example, it is not effective to place a child back into a home at age 17 and expect his or her behavior to change. This process must begin at young age – most adults do not decide to begin a life of crime.

I know that along with these general assumptions, a lot of criticism regarding how and who determines "proper" parenting is of issue. For now, I am not arguing what constitutes proper parenting. However, I am arguing that, in general, there is a consensus among the majority of society about what is appropriate behavior and what is not. And because crime is simply a form of behavior, this is directly related.

Furthermore, I realize that a very prevalent problem in our society is one of child abuse. Studies on the affect this has on children only strengthens my conviction, but the problems with how to control it are virtually endless and very controversial. Because I later argue for less state authority in the home, some may claim that this would allow for more discretion in the home, which could lead to more child abuse. So, I realize that a very limited state authority can only happen in an "ideal" situation, which of course is impossible in this society. However, my conviction that the parents, not society, should carry the responsibility remains.

 

Role of police, courts, and corrections in a society in which crime is explained by this model

Ideally, the role of police would be minimal. Any correctional programs would involve family counseling and any necessary behavior modification. Courts would be involved only when intervention is required and parents are unable to fulfill their obligations. Programs such as foster homes, adoption services, or Big Brother programs would be most beneficial according to this model. However, in general and whenever possible, all the responsibility remains with the parents, not the state.

I do think that punishment needs to be implemented for those who commit serious and/or violent offenses. Although, we know that our punishment system does not always deter behavior or reform individuals, I think that it is important for victims to know that this crime did not go unnoticed or unpunished. In other words, the most important functions of our penal system is the knowledge that we do not condone criminal behavior and we feel safer when a dangerous offender is not free to harm again.

 

Types of studies that would need to be carried out to prove or disprove this model; including populations to be studied, research techniques employed, and expected findings

Studies of behaviors, motivations, attitudes, drug use and other criminal activity of young adults and their ability of transition to adulthood would be areas for research. This may determine any causal relationships between parent/child relationships and criminal activity.

I do believe that the most significant and informative research, however, would stem from longitudinal studies examining parenting issues and parent/child relationships over time with regards to criminal activity. This would be the most valuable, because I am hypothesizing that consistency is one of the key elements to this model.

I would expect to find those with continual and strong parent/child relationships to be very unlikely to fall into a life of crime. Of course, there are always exceptions. It is most important to remember that I am not explaining who will commit crime. There are vast examples of those who were not raised according to the model I have described and do not commit criminal behavior. Instead, this model serves to predict who will not engage in criminal behavior. I would expect to find that number, those who have been exposed to the parent/child influence and relationship I have outlined, to be very insignificant.

REFERENCES

 

Petty, Richard E. and Cacioppo, John T. (1981). Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary Approaches. Iowa: Wm. C. brown company Publishers.

Pfohl, Stephen. (1994). Images of Deviance and Social Control: As Sociological History: Second Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Myers, David G. (1989). Psychology: Second Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, Inc.