How to help kids avoid becoming Delinquents

Shane asks: What are the factors for a child to become a delinquent?

Hi Shane –


If I’m being really specific with words, anyone can be a delinquent.  After all, when you return a library book a few days late, they charge you for “delinquent return!”  Based on that, every kid I’m sure will be a delinquent at some time!


But I’m assuming you’re referring to the term “Juvenile Delinquent,” which was very common in the 1950s, referring to tough teenagers who broke the rules of society.  I guess the best-remembered image of Juvenile Delinquents would be James Dean’s performance in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause.”


It’s a very good movie, but the title really sums up all I would tell you, to answer your question.  See, there’s a big change that happens in most kids, where they change from children who usually want to stay out of trouble into teenagers who want to rebel more.  And that’s a good thing – it’s a major part of growing up and becoming an adult.  The question is how much of a sense of themselves, and a moral core, a kid has.  If a boy rebels against the injustice he sees in his home, his school, or his community, that’s a really positive trait.  But if he instead puts all that rebellious energy into just hurting himself and others, he truly is “without a cause” and is just a… well, a Delinquent!


So what can you do with a child to help them avoid this?  I think it comes down to a few simple (but not easy) pointers:


1)    Give the child a sense of their own worth.  Kids who are ignored, put down, or abused develop a very poor sense of themselves.  Kids who don’t feel good about themselves also won’t feel good about others or the world as a whole, so they’re more inclined to lack empathy or a sense of responsibility.


2)    Discipline should be clear, straightforward, immediate, and fair.  Children don’t need a lot of punishment (and certainly don’t need abusive shaming), but they do need training in behavior.  If a child learns simple consequences for bad actions, it will be easier for them to develop a sense of right and wrong than if their actions are always met with indecisive negativity.  (However, it also can help build a child’s self-esteem if occasionally there’s some leniency on rules, honoring their feelings).


3)    Better yet, though, whenever possible, train kids with positive rewards.  Instead of punishing her for getting a bad grade, reward her every time she gets an A.  Make life an optimistic adventure with joys around most corners, rather than a pessimistic test full of fears.


4)    And most important of all, Model.  Kids learn far more from what they see the important adults do than from what they’re told.  Are you delinquent?!  Do you follow society’s rules when you can?  How are you with speed limits and turn signals?!  Do you treat others with respect (even when they’re not there)?  Do you use substances to a degree that they get in your way (and that’s not just alcohol or drugs – what about cigarettes, coffee, even sugar or food!)?  If you treat yourself, others, and society as a whole with respect, the odds are your kid is going to learn to do the same.


Now that doesn’t mean your child won’t rebel.  Again, we want that to happen.  It’s just that, when they do, they’ll be doing it for better reasons.  And it’s those reasons that will mean that your child is not a Delinquent!


Good Luck!






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