The classic longitudinal studies by McCord in Boston (!2) and Robins in St Louis(!3) show that poor parental supervision, harsh discipline, and a rejecting attitude all predict offending. Similar results were obtained in the Cambridge Study. Harsh or erratic parental discipline, cruel, passive, or neglecting parental attitudes, and poor parental supervision, all measured at the age of 8 years, all predicted later juvenile convictions and self-reported delinquency. Generally, the presence of any of these adverse family background features doubled the risk of a later juvenile conviction.
Other studies also show a link between delinquency and parental supervision, discipline, and attitude. In a Birmingham survey, Wilson (!.S followed up nearly 400 boys in 120 large intact families, and concluded that the most important correlate of convictions, cautions, and self-reported delinquency was lax parental supervision at the age of 10 years. In their English national survey of juveniles aged 14 to 15 years and their mothers, Riley and Shaw (!5) found that poor parental supervision was the most important correlate of self-reported delinquency for girls, and that it was the second most important for boys (after delinquent friends). Also, in their follow-up of nearly 700 Nottingham children in intact families, Newson et al.(!6) reported that physical punishment by parents at the ages of 7 and 11 years predicted later convictions.
These results are concordant with a social learning theory of delinquency which suggests that children will learn not to offend if prosocial behaviour is reinforced and antisocial behaviour is punished. Children who receive poor supervision or inconsistent discipline will not tend to build up internal inhibitions against offending.
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