When choosing friends in childhood, many young people seem to gravitate toward peers with a history of delinquency or delinquent behavior. Delinquent peer affiliation (DPA) occurs most often during adolescence. Theories on DPA suggest that some teens may choose to associate with delinquent peers because they share similar beliefs and behaviors. Similarly, these children may be rejected by peers who do not engage in delinquent behavior, and therefore may be forced to choose other sources of social support. Along these same lines, some researchers believe that DPA is a result of genetics, causing some people to be predisposed to delinquent behaviors and thus, delinquent peer affiliation.
However, S. Alexandra Burt of the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University wanted to see how environment affected DPA. Using a sample of 726 twin children from a state registry, Burt conducted a study looking at environment, genetic predisposition, and other factors and how each affected DPA.
Burt found that although genetics were somewhat influential of DPA, environment played a much bigger role in the selection of delinquent peer friendships. In fact, the environmental conditions that influenced delinquency in the twins was a significant risk factor for negative behavior in those with strong and robust DPAs compared to participants with few DPAs. This finding suggests that a child’s environment, their family life, and social support within their world may serve as motivators for delinquency and delinquent affiliations. Burt also believes that perhaps these children find reinforcement and positive affirmation for their delinquent behavior from their DPAs, further strengthening the bonds they develop.
Burt also noted that when children have high DPAs, these friendships can increase the environmental risks and elevate their levels of delinquency. In some cases, children who befriend other delinquent children may then experience higher levels of parental disapproval. This can lead to higher stress levels within the home, more conflict and potentially increased delinquency.
In conclusion, this study shows that although genetics may plant the seed for delinquent behavior, environmental influences provide the food and water that allow it to grow. Burt added that this study provides new evidence into the effect of environment, but more research needs to be conducted. She said, “Future research should build on the present findings by examining these associations as they develop from childhood through early adolescence.”
Burt, S. A., and K. L. Klump. (2013). Delinquent peer affiliation as an etiological moderator of childhood delinquency. Psychological Medicine 43.6 (2013): 1269-78. ProQuest. Web.
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