Examining the Correlation between Single-Parent Homes and the Rate of Juvenile Delinquency

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Juvenile delinquency is a problem that continues to affect families and society as a whole. Although most teenagers are not involved in criminal acts during adolescence, those that commit offenses spend years involved in our legal system. To date, most research on juvenile delinquency seeks to focus on the environmental influences that can cause a juvenile to become involved in criminal activity. However, further research is needed to examine how a single-parent home can affect a teenager and lead the adolescent to commit theft, assault, or destruction of property. Single-parent homes can be defined as a household with one parent, where the mother was never married, the parents divorced and one parent moved out, or a household in which a spouse has had no contact with the adolescent for two to five years.

To investigate this issue, the research should address the following questions: Does a lack of parental involvement in single-parent homes increase an adolescent’s chance to become involved in acts of juvenile delinquency? Does a lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent increase the likelihood that the juvenile will commit theft, assault, or destruction of property? Does a lack of supervision and discipline in single-parent homes increase the likelihood that a juvenile will commit acts of delinquency? After examining the literature on this topic, this research will confirm that juveniles who come from single-parent homes are more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction of property.

Literature Review

Historically, research on juvenile delinquency has shown that adolescents commit minor offenses for a series of reasons. These reasons include peer influence, substance abuse, and anger and aggression. However, there have been limited studies that seek to find an interrelationship between juvenile delinquency and broken homes. Although some studies have shown that living in a broken home can influence an adolescent to become involved in criminal activity, more research is needed to determine how being raised in a single-parent home can cause a juvenile to display criminal behaviors.

This project seeks to determine if juveniles who come from single-parent homes are more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction to property. This topic is important because these days, the dynamics of the family unit have changed, as many children are being raised in single-parent households. Single-parent households are a result of a mother or father never marrying, a divorce, or a mother or father leaving the household for an extended period of time. Consequently, the lack of structure in the household can lead to lower levels of parental involvement, attachment, and discipline. Therefore, research is needed to investigate how a single-parent household can mold an adolescent into a life of criminal activity and behaviors.

To explore this problem, three objectives have been created. These objectives are based on the research questions of the study. First, this study seeks to determine if a lack of parental involvement in single-parent homes increases an adolescent’s chance to become involved in acts of juvenile delinquency. Next, the second objective of the study is to confirm if a lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent increases the likelihood that the juvenile will commit theft, assault, or destruction of property. Finally, the third objective of this study is to examine whether a lack of supervision and discipline in single-parent homes increases the likelihood that a juvenile will commit acts of delinquency.

The objectives of the study will be achieved by investigating three hypotheses. The first hypothesis is this study will find a high correlation between low parental involvement in single-parent homes and juvenile delinquency. The second hypothesis that will be examined is that there will be a high correlation between the lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent and high rates of juvenile delinquency. The third hypothesis to be explored is there will be a high correlation between the lack of supervision and discipline in a single-parent home and juvenile delinquency.

The methodology for this study will consist of a review of the literature. Twenty articles have been selected that relate to family structure, parental involvement, attachment, supervision, and discipline. The findings of these articles will be extracted, and then the results will be compared to each of the three hypotheses of the study. As a result, the objectives of the study will be achieved, and any future developments or research opportunities can then be recommended.

In all, the topic of this project was selected since several people in this life have been involved in juvenile delinquency. Therefore, this topic was selected to determine if the structure of their families factored into their criminal behaviors. To accomplish this task, articles in the library were chosen that focused on juvenile delinquency. However, since writing this proposal, this topic had to be narrowed down several times since so many factors were found that could lead an adolescent into a life of criminal activity. Therefore, this project will now focus on how the lack of parental involvement, attachment, and discipline in single-parent homes can cause criminal behaviors in juveniles.

Analysis

This study investigated the research question are juveniles who come from single-parent homes more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction of property? To derive at an answer to this problem, this study first examined the structure of a single-parent home to determine if this variable could cause maladaptive behaviors in adolescents. In this study, single-parent homes were defined as a household with one parent, where the mother was never married, the parents divorced and one parent moved out, or a household in which a spouse has had no contact with the adolescent for five years.

The findings in this study confirmed that the structure of a family can cause maladaptive behaviors in adolescents. When assessing the influence of a household with one parent, Kierkus and Hewitt (2009) found that living in a nontraditional family leads to more criminal acts by juveniles. Juveniles engage in acts of delinquency due to a lack of functioning in the family. As a result, the study confirmed that living in a non-traditional family unit leads to high rates of violent acts and property damage (Kierkus & Hewitt, 2009). Interestingly, race and socioeconomic status did not influence the results of this study, as the structure of the family was a more important factor than any other in the study.

Once this study confirmed that in general, the structure of a nontraditional family can cause maladaptive behaviors, the study investigated how a single mother who was never married could play a role in an adolescent committing acts of juvenile delinquency. Research conducted by Demuth and Brown (2004) determined that “adolescents in single-parent homes are more delinquent than their counterparts” (p. 58). However, the findings of this study were surprising because the results focused on single father households more than those run by single mothers.

Demuth and Brown (2004) confirmed that “higher levels of delinquency were exhibited by adolescents from single father versus single mother families” (p. 58). The higher rates of delinquency may be due to a lack of attachment between the father and the adolescent, and this variable was investigated later in the study.

Although households run by single mothers and single fathers can contribute to juveniles committing acts of delinquency, this study also sought to determine how divorce can affect an adolescent. Dare and Mallet (2009) found that one parent families were not predictors of juvenile delinquency. The subjects in this study did not experience maladjustment in a single-parent household since the subjects had a strong relationship with one parent. Instead, the research confirmed that divorce influenced an adolescent more than any other variable to participate in criminal behavior (Dare & Mallet, 2009). Divorce is an important influence in criminal behavior, as the anger and resentment that a child of a divorce may feel may be exhibited through anger and criminal activity.

Furthermore, households that have been broken up by a divorce also results in the creation of delinquent adolescents since the adolescent may develop maladaptive tools for handling problems. VanderValk et al. (2005) determined that adolescents and children from divorced families show more internalizing and externalizing problem behavior than those children from intact families. Internalized behaviors can include depression and anxiety, while externalized behaviors include criminal acts, such as theft and property destruction. As a result, when an adolescent cannot properly process and handle the divorce, they are more likely to commit acts of juvenile delinquency and to display more aggressive behaviors (VanderValk et al. 2005). Therefore, divorce was determined to be a strong predictor of juvenile delinquency in adolescents.

Interestingly, this research uncovered results concerning divorced families that were not expected. Rebellon (2002) found that rates of juvenile delinquency are the highest in a single-parent home when a parent is divorced and then remarries. This finding was surprising, as most would speculate that adding another parent into the household would improve the structure of the family and provide stability to the adolescent’s life. Further, Rebellon (2002) confirmed that “the long term presence of a stepparent appears related to violent offending” (p. 125). Although violent crimes do not fall under the category, juvenile delinquency, since this term relates to minor offenses, it can be speculated that the adolescent’s feelings from the divorce and the remarriage may be externalized through violent acts of aggression and destruction.

While divorce was determined to be an important factor in predicting criminal behavior in adolescents, this study also sought to find a link between households that had a parent absent for a duration of two to five years and juvenile delinquency. Many adolescents display problematic behaviors immediately after a parent leaves a household. However, this study sought to determine if an adolescent’s behavior remained troubled over the duration of a five year period. Research by Thornberry, Freeman-Gallant, and Lovegrove (2008) confirmed that the absence of a parent influenced an adolescent’s behavior. For example, when a parent leaves a household, the adolescent will internalize the problem and antisocial behaviors will result. However, the authors discovered that as contact between the parent and the juvenile decreased overtime, the antisocial and problematic behaviors decreased (Thornberry et al., 2008). These findings confirm that the absence of a parent impacts an adolescent more after two years of absence than five years.

Interestingly, while investigating the impact of an absent parent on an adolescent, the study uncovered surprising results. Thornberry et al. (2008) found that fatherless families have less influence on an adolescent than the absence of a mother. The difference in the influence of a mother and father may be due to several factors, including the level of parental involvement. As a result, the next step in this study was to investigate if a lack of parental involvement could contribute to a juvenile committing acts of delinquency.

Investigating Hypothesis One

This project predetermined that there would be a high correlation between low parent involvement and juvenile delinquency in single-parent homes. For this study, parental involvement relates to a parent playing an active role in their child’s life by actively communicating, listening, supporting, and influencing the adolescent. After analyzing the research, it has been confirmed that low levels of parental involvement in single-parent homes can lead to increased rates of criminal acts committed by juveniles. Deutsh et al. (2012) found that in 2008, “juveniles accounted for 15% of all violent crime arrest (e.g., murder, theft, assault) and 24% of all property crime arrests (e.g., larceny, vandalism, and motor vehicle theft)” (p. 1078). Interestingly, the authors discovered one key factor when analyzing the data from the subjects in the study. Those subjects who were involved in minor and major offenses all had low levels of maternal support (Deutsh et al., 2012).

This finding is important when examining single-parent homes since an adolescent who solely lives with his/her mother and has no contact with the father would then have no support from either parent. As a result, the lack of support and parental involvement leaves the adolescent in charge of making their own decisions, and since adolescents are easily influenced by peers, they may have made the poor choice to commit crimes. Although these findings were observed in the study, it can be speculated that high rates of maternal involvement may decrease the chances that an adolescent will commit acts of delinquency since the parental influence may be greater than that of peers.

Parental influence is important for reducing rates of delinquent acts committed by adolescents from single-parent homes for several reasons. First, Johnson et al. (2011) found that “early monitoring and ongoing parental support are associated with lower offending in young adulthood” (p. 786). It is important to highlight the fact that the support must be early during the adolescent’s life and ongoing. This means that if one parent is involved in a teenager’s life throughout childhood and adolescence, the adolescent may resist temptation to commit a delinquent act due to fear of punishment from the parent or fear of letting the parent down. While this is just an opinion, Johnson et al. (2011) did confirm that the results of the study “suggest the importance of examining multiple ways in which parental resources and support influence early adult behavior and well-being” (p. 786). If parents are involved in molding their child’s well-being, the child should be secure enough to not commit acts of delinquency throughout adolescence.

Interestingly, while this opinion was that juveniles may not commit delinquent acts due to fear of punishment or fear of letting down a parent, one of these factors were confirmed in this project. Intravia, Jones, and Piquero (2012) found that high levels of parental involvement decrease the likelihood that a juvenile will engage in delinquent acts due to the fact that adolescent does not want to get caught. When parental involvement is high in a teenager’s life, the adolescent will know what the punishment will be if caught. Therefore, this could act as a deterrent for partaking in acts of juvenile delinquency.

In contrast, although juveniles may fear what would happen if they get caught committing an offense, research confirmed that adolescents do not care about letting a parent down. Research conducted by Intravia, Jones, and Piquero (2012) determined that “losing respect of parents” was not a reason to not be involved in juvenile crimes (p. 1195). These findings are interesting, as one can speculate that even when parental involvement is high, teenagers still do not care about the opinions of others. Further, this position may also depend on the attachment levels between a parent and an adolescent, which was a variable in the second hypothesis of this study.

Investigating Hypothesis Two

The second hypothesis in this study predetermined that there would be a high correlation between the lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent and high rates of juvenile delinquency. According to Overbeek et al. (2005), “the term attachment refers to a close and enduring affectional bond between parents and their children, which has its origins in early childhood” (p. 40). High levels of attachment between an adolescent and a parent improve the teenager’s self-esteem, self-worth, and provides a positive influence in the teenager’s life. In contrast, when low levels of attachment are present in a single-parent household, the adolescent may have low levels of self-esteem, anger, and resentment toward the parent, and the adolescent can easily succumb to peer influences. In turn, these factors may predict that an adolescent will be more likely to commit juvenile acts of delinquency.

This study found an extremely high correlation between low levels of attachment and high rates of juvenile delinquency in single-parent homes. Research by Rankin and Wells (1990) determined that there was a strong correlation between low levels of parental attachment and rates of juvenile delinquency. However, the study revealed that communication was a factor in the lower levels of attachment, as a lack of communication between a parent and an adolescent causes a barrier in the relationship. Therefore, it can be speculated that if a parent and adolescent do not communicate, the parent would essentially have low involvement in the life of the adolescent, which would predict higher rates of juvenile delinquency.

As Rankin continued his research on the correlations between parental attachment and rates of juvenile delinquency, the author made a surprising finding. Rankin and Kern (1994) found that “children living in single-parent homes who are strongly attached to the custodial parent generally have a greater probability of committing delinquent acts than children living in intact homes who are attached to both parents” (p. 495). These findings have been observed throughout the literature, providing more support to our second hypothesis. However, Rankin and Kern (1994) discovered that if a second parental figure enters the life of an adolescent living in a single-parent home, the influence of the parent does not reduce the risk of committing delinquent acts. This outcome is unexpected, as the presence of a second parent should influence the adolescent to reduce the rates of criminal behavior. In this opinion, this finding may be due to the fact that if a parent is absent for a period of two years or greater, the adolescent may no longer have any forms of attachment or respect for the parent.

After this research found that the level of attachment to a single-parent was more important than the attachment to a single-parent and a parent who renters one’s life after an extended absence, this research decided to determine if the sex of an absent parent or adolescent correlated to these findings. Surprisingly, Austin (1978) found that “high levels of a mother’s affection are significantly related to juvenile delinquency for all girls” (p. 502). When levels of affection and attachment are high between a mother and their child, the rates of juvenile delinquency are lower. However, Austin (1978) confirmed that when a father is absent, rates of juvenile delinquency do not increase in girls. Therefore, it can be speculated that the absence of a mother in a female juvenile’s life would be a greater influence for committing acts of juvenile delinquency than the absence of a father since attachment to a mother has a greater influence on a female than attachment to a father.

Moreover, when boys are raised in single-parent homes, the sex of the parent will also influence their rate of criminal activity. May, Vartanian, and Virgo (2002) found when a boy is raised by both parents, attachment levels increase, and the rate of crimes committed during adolescence decreases. However, when a father is absent due to incarceration, delinquent behaviors in juvenile boys will stay consistent or increase due to weak attachments. Since a father in prison may be misinterpreted by some males to be a role model, the father’s behavior may be copied and the attachment to this parent may decrease throughout their absence (May et al., 2002). As a result, if the boy’s mother does not increase her affection and attachment with her son, it can be speculated that the boy could end up in jail like his father.

Interestingly, research has shown that not all boys will be influenced by their fathers during adolescence. McCord (1991) found that a “father’s interaction with his family becomes less important during the juvenile years” (p. 412). These findings contrast that of May, Vartanian, and Virgo (2002), and they may suggest that a father’s absence will not influence levels of adolescent criminal activity. Ultimately, it can be posited that the attachment level between the father and son before the absence would factor into how the boy externalized the absence. Furthermore, if the father provided the discipline in the household and then became absent from the household, the lack of supervision and new freedom for the adolescent may lead to the adolescent becoming involved in criminal activity.

Investigating Hypothesis Three

The third hypothesis in this study aimed at exploring the correlation between a lack of supervision and discipline in a single-parent home and juvenile delinquency. Historically, the amount of supervision, control, and discipline set forth by a parent depends on their parenting style. According to Hoeve et al. (2007), four parenting styles have been identified: authoritarian (low support, high control), authoritative (high support, high control), permissive (high support, low control), and neglectful (low support, low control)” (p. 166). These parenting styles play an important role in single-parent homes since one parent is responsible for providing support and for controlling their child.

This study found a high correlation between the lack of supervision and discipline in a single-parent home and juvenile delinquency. Hoeve et al. (2007) explained that “a family climate that lacks order and structure seems to be robust at predicting young adult’s criminal behavior” (p. 186). When the dynamics of a family change and the household loses a parent, the structure of the family will change. As a result, there will be less control and discipline in the family. The parenting style will essentially now be permissive or neglectful, which can result in poor supervision and discipline practices for adolescents in the home.

Further research has examined how a lack of discipline and supervision in a household can affect both girls and boys. Research conducted by Kierkus and Baer (2003) determined that family disruption and a lack of control affects boys more than girls. Since boys will externalize the problem, they will become more aggressive and angry. As a result, boys are more likely than girls to partake in criminal activities when there are low levels of supervision and discipline in a single-parent household.

While most research has examined how a broken home affects an adolescent’s behavior, this study also sought to determine how the level of supervision and discipline of a single-parent could affect an adolescent’s behavior. Today, in some households, a single mother will have a baby and raise the child through adulthood without a partner. As a result, the child will not experience a change in the structure of the family since they will be accustomed to living with one parent by adolescence. After investigating this factor in the study, the findings revealed that “a lack of consistent discipline and enforcement of rules” lead to adolescents being involved in criminal activity (Grinberg et al., 2005, p. 597). Therefore, if a single mother does not consistently enforce rules and discipline her children, they are more likely to also be involved exhibit criminal behaviors.

Interestingly, while seeking to confirm the hypothesis that a lack of supervision and discipline in a single-parent home is highly correlated to juvenile delinquency, a surprising finding arose. This research discovered that those adolescents whose parents lacked supervision and discipline while raising them had trouble respecting authority (Grinberg et al., 2005). This finding was overlooked during this research proposal, as an authority figure is usually depicted as a policeman or a judge. However, in the context of this study, the authority figure can be viewed as the single-parent. Nonetheless, if a single-parent does not discipline their child, then it can be speculated that the juvenile will not respect their parent, and they will also encounter conflicts with authority figures throughout adolescence.

Results and Recommendations

The findings of this study first determined that adolescents who are raised in households with single-parents are more likely to commit acts of juvenile delinquency than those teenagers raised in intact homes. The households in this study included those with a single-parent who was never married, those children of divorce, and those homes who had a parent absent for two to five years. Short term, these results are reliable and valid since the research proved that a lack of structure in a family can lead to juvenile delinquency. However, in the long term, the variables that constitute a household will need to be adjusted, as nontraditional families are now the mainstream. Therefore, it is recommended that future research will need to focus on how the divorce or loss of a parent in a same-sex household can affect a teenager and lead to criminal behaviors.

Next, the findings of the study confirmed our first hypothesis. This study found a high correlation between low parental involvement in single-parent homes and juvenile delinquency. Regarding short term aspects to these results, the results are valid, as low parental involvement was found to cause delinquent behaviors in adolescents. Furthermore, over the long term, these results will also be reliable, as research has proven that low parental involvement is a consistent factor in predicting juvenile behaviors.

However, it is recommended for future research to investigate how parental involvement can help a juvenile to stop committing acts of delinquency after the juvenile has been charged for the crimes by our legal system. Dowen and Andrews (2003) explained that family and juvenile delinquency programs are effective at reducing rates of recidivism in juvenile offenders. Nonetheless, it is recommended that a study is conducted to follow-up on the subjects in the Dowen and Andrews study to determine if family interventions were an effective method for reducing rates of reoffending over a long period of time.

Then, the results of our study verified our second hypothesis. This study determined that a high correlation existed between the lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent and high rates of juvenile delinquency. Short term, these results can be used to educate parents on the importance of establishing a close bond with their children at an early age in order to prevent criminal activity during adolescence. Unfortunately, in the long term, future research may need to focus on how communication factors into attachment, as this study revealed that communication was an important aspect of a strong bond between a parent and child. As a result, it is recommended for future studies to investigate the importance of communication in establishing close bonds in parent-child relationships.

Finally, the findings in our study confirmed our third hypothesis. The third hypothesis validated that a high correlation existed between the lack of supervision and discipline in a single-parent home and juvenile delinquency. In the short term, these results are reliable, as they can help parents to understand how their parenting styles could lead to their adolescent being involved in criminal activities. However, in the long term, the results of this study need to be re-examined to determine who really is responsible for an adolescent’s criminal behaviors.

Nonetheless, since a gap in this research does exist, it is recommended for future research to investigate who to hold responsible when an adolescent commits theft, assault, and property damage. Geis and Binder (1991) argued that parents should be punished when an adolescent commits acts of juvenile delinquency since parents are responsible for disciplining their children and for deterring them from breaking the law. As a result, future research needs to investigate whether parents should be punished for their children’s criminal actions since adolescents are less likely to commit acts of juvenile delinquency when parents exert high levels of supervision, discipline, and control.

Discussion

This project determined that juveniles who come from single-parent homes are more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction to property. The research in this study confirmed that when an adolescent is raised by a single mother, a divorced parent, or by a parent who was left by a spouse for an extended period of time, the juvenile is more likely to become involved in criminal acts and to exhibit criminal behaviors. The factors that influence juvenile delinquency were confirmed to be low parental involvement, a lack of attachment between the adolescent and the parent, and a lack of discipline and supervision in the household. In all, when a teenager is raised in a broken home and there is no one supporting him/her, watching their every move, and providing guidance, they are more likely to commit criminal acts.

While examining this topic, several research opportunities were uncovered due to either unexpected outcomes or gaps in the literature. First, it is recommended for future studies to investigate why adolescents commit violent crimes when a single-parent remarries. This topic is interesting to examine since a violent crime does not constitute juvenile delinquency, which is considered a minor offense. Instead, the adolescent is now involved in major offenses that can be considered felonies and carry a hefty prison sentence if the adolescent is tried as an adult. Nonetheless, the findings of this study could help single-parents who are considering remarriage to identify possible warning signs for violence in their adolescents.

Next, it is recommended for future studies to examine why fathers have less of an influence on their children than mothers. This research revealed that the presence and absence of a father do not influence criminal activity in adolescents. This information was surprising, as it was assumed that most boys are closer to their fathers and vise versa in adolescents. Therefore, it is recommended that a future study investigates this issue to determine why a father’s absence does not negatively affect an adolescent. As a result, the findings could help researchers discover the influence of gender on parental involvement, attachment, and discipline.

Then, a third recommendation for a future study on this topic could explore why adolescents do not care about letting parents down when they commit acts of juvenile delinquency. Although juvenile’s feared punishment in this study, it was surprising to find that letting a parent down was not a deterrent for committing criminal acts. Nevertheless, it is recommended for future studies to examine why parental approval is not important to an adolescent. Consequently, the results of this study could determine if the lack of parental respect correlates to being raised by a single-parent instead of by an intact family.

Finally, it is recommended that future studies explore why adolescents who commit acts of juvenile delinquency lack respect for figures of authority. While this research proved that adolescents who are involved in criminal activity have little to no respect for authoritarian figures such as judges and police officers, it would be useful to determine if this behavior correlates to being raised in a single-parent home. For instance, many times when a single mother raises a son, the son may become resentful toward the mother if the mother divorced his father. As a result, the son would begin to act out and to not respect the mother. Therefore, future research could examine whether this resentment toward a single-parent carries over to other figures of authority in our society. By researching this topic, the information could be used to educate single-parents on how to change their child’s attitudes and behaviors towards them and other important figures in society.

Research Summary

This study investigated the research question are juveniles who come from single-parent homes more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction of property? To arrive at answer to this question, the research examined the following subproblems: Does a lack of parental involvement in single-parent homes increase an adolescent’s chance to become involved in acts of juvenile delinquency? Does a lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent increase the likelihood that the juvenile will commit theft, assault, or destruction of property? Does a lack of supervision and discipline in single-parent homes increase the likelihood that a juvenile will commit acts of delinquency?

After analyzing the data from this study, it can be confirmed that each of the research questions in this study was answered. The findings of this study verified that juveniles who come from single-parent homes are more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction of property. In addition, the study found that a high correlation was present between low parental involvement in single-parent homes and juvenile delinquency. Further, the study determined that there was a high correlation between the lack of attachment between a single-parent and an adolescent and high rates of juvenile delinquency. Finally, our study confirmed that a high correlation existed between the lack of supervision and discipline in a single-parent home and juvenile delinquency.

Conclusion

To conclude, the findings of this study confirmed that juveniles who come from single-parent homes are more likely to commit theft, assault, or destruction of property. All three hypotheses in the study were valid, as single-parents who were not involved in the lives of their children, who were not attached to their children, and those who did not discipline their children raised adolescents who were involved in criminal activities. The aspects of the results can be applied to the short term and long term to examine how family interventions can help juveniles from reoffending and to understand how single-parents could be held responsible for the criminal actions of their children. Overall, future recommendations for this study include investigating how remarriage can influence an adolescent to commit violent crimes, determining why a father’s presence or absence does not correlate to juvenile delinquency and examining why adolescents do not care about letting down their parents and disrespecting authority.

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