PARENT-ADOLESCENT RELATIONSHIP AND JUVENILE DELINQUENCY IN KERALA, INDIA: A QUALITATIVE STUDY
Adolescence is a transitional period from childhood to adulthood and relationship between adolescents and their parents are vital. Lack of intimacy, lack of parental involvement, lack of guidance, lack of parental attachment, blaming, and anger can lead to delinquent behavior among adolescents. In India, in 2010 alone, there were 34,527cases of reported adolescent delinquency. There was a substantial difference in the number of crimes committed by boys (95%) and girls (5%) of the total crimes committed by adolescents.
The purpose of this study was to explore and compare, from the adolescent’s perspective, the parent-adolescent relationship among adolescents who have engaged in delinquent behavior and those who have not. Participants were adolescent boys in the state of Kerala, India, who discussed the environment they experienced in their home: their relationship with their father and mother; and the control, guidance, and pressure from their parents.
Framed by social control theory and general strain theory, the study used a constructivist paradigm to explore the lived experiences of 21 adolescent boys between the ages of 14 to 17: 12 boys who were nondelinquent and 9 who were delinquent. Each participated in an in-depth interview for 30 minutes to 1 hour and one of two focus groups which lasted for 45 minutes.
The results indicated that parental attitudes and behaviors likely contributed, directly and indirectly, to adolescent behavior. The adolescents with delinquent behavior
were living in a family where parental fights were common, where the father was alcoholic and/or abusive, and where the adolescents experienced severe parental punishment from their childhood. The interviews revealed the lack of parenting skills among the parents of adolescents with delinquent behavior. Adolescents without delinquent behavior experienced higher parental involvement, parental guidance, and attachment. These adolescents were living in a happier family environment with fewer family fights and greater communication.
It is clear that delinquent and nondelinquent behavior adolescents experienced their family life quite differently, and that their respective home and family environments directly influenced behavior patterns. Implications of the research findings for social work practice, policy, and research are presented, as well as the study’s strengths and limitations.
Young people who are at risk of becoming delinquent often live in difficult circumstances. Children who for various reasons—including parental alcoholism, poverty, breakdown of the family, overcrowding, abusive conditions in the home, the growing HIV/AIDS scourge, or the death of parents during armed conflicts—are orphans or unaccompanied and are without the means of subsistence, housing, and other basic necessities are at greatest risk of falling into juvenile delinquency. The number of children in especially difficult circumstances is estimated to have increased from 80 million to 150 million between 1992 and 2000. (UN World Youth Report, 2003)
Adolescence is a transitional period of development from childhood to adulthood with evident biological and emotional changes. These changes bring transformation and reorganization in family relationships (Steinberg, 1990). Moreover, adolescents start viewing themselves as adults and, on the contrary, parents may find it difficult to adapt to this perception. There may also be a shift in the unilateral authority enjoyed by the parents towards a mutual authority in which adolescents share decision-making power and increasing amounts of personal jurisdiction (Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Furthermore, interactions between the adolescent and parents can lead to conflict (Steinberg, 1990). Among adolescents, early adolescence (ages 10-15) has been associated with
higher levels of conflict with parents (Laursen, Coy, & Collins, 1998), and adolescent- parent relationships may be transformed dramatically during this period.
When considering the development of an adolescent, the quality of parent-adolescent relationships is vital. In a study by Chao (2001), the closeness of parent-adolescent relationships explained the beneficial effect of authoritative control. Yet another study by Dekovic, Janssens, and Van As (2003), demonstrated that the quality of parent-adolescent relationships explains adolescent antisocial behavior. The quality of relationships could be defined as a constellation of attitudes toward the child that are communicated to the child in the long history of the relationships (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Dekovic (1999) found that the negative quality of relationships between adolescents and their parents is related to higher levels of externalizing problems, such as disturbing others, verbal and physical aggression, and acts of violence (Nelson, Rutherford, & Wolford, 1996). Research has found that the relationships between adolescents with antisocial behavior and their parents are characterized by a lack of intimacy, mutuality, and by more blaming and anger (Dekovic et al., 2003).
Furthermore, research has found that conflicting quality of parent-adolescent relationships leads to adolescent maladjustment (Inge, Maja, & Anne, 2006). Adolescent deviant behavior from the social norms is also associated with parents’ relationship with adolescents. In a study conducted by Krohn and colleagues in 1992 (as cited by Alexander & Daniel, 1997), they identified three major factors of the family process. They are parental guidance, parental involvement, and parental attachment that have effects on delinquent behavior.
Juvenile Crime in India In India, crimes are usually classified into crimes under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and crimes under the Special and Local Laws (SLL). There was a substantial increase in crimes committed by adolescents in India from 1997 to 2007 on the national level under IPC. In this period there was an increase from 0.5% to 1.1% in the total crimes committed under IPC. Crimes committed by adolescents under the Indian Penal Code increased by 8.4% from 2006 to 2007, with a reported registration of 22,865 cases in 2007 (Crime in India, 2007). But in 2010 there was a small decrease in the reported cases of crime under the IPC: 22,740 cases (Crime in India, 2010). Adolescent crimes under the SLL have shown a 12% decrease from 2006 to 2007 (Crime in India, 2007). This was further decreased in 2010 with 2,558 cases (Crime in India, 2010), while in 2007 there were 4,163 reported cases. There are substantial differences in the number of crimes committed by boys and girls in India. In 2007, a total of 34,527 crimes were committed by adolescents alone, and 32,671 were committed by boys and only 1,856 crimes were committed by girls. Thus, girls contributed only 5.4% of the total crimes committed by adolescents in India in 2007 (Crime in India, 2007). Additionally, the ratio of girls to boys arrested for committing IPC crimes in 2010 was 1:20, and the ratio of girls arrested for committing SLL crimes in 2010 was 1:11. Considering this gender disparity in crime in India, I explored only boys with delinquent behavior in this study.
The present study did not investigate the adolescents who were in the justice system; rather, it included adolescents who have shown minor antisocial behavior and tried to compare the results with adolescents who have no reported delinquent behavior cases. Kauffman (2001) found that only 3% of delinquent behaviors are adjudicated in
the United States. Therefore, the majority of delinquent behaviors are not reported in the judicial system. In this study, parent-adolescent relationships are being explored from the perspective of adolescence. The present study explored parent-adolescent attachment; adolescent views towards parental guidance; adolescent perception about parental control; adolescent views of parental pressure; and the type of communication between the adolescent and the parent from a relationship perspective. Additionally, the study investigated differences between adolescents who had been involved in delinquent behavior and those who had not.
Following are the research questions that guided the study:
1. What are the demographic characteristics of adolescent boys involved in delinquent behavior as compared to adolescent boys who are not involved in delinquent behaviors?
2. Do adolescent boys involved in delinquent behaviors perceive their relationship with their mother differently than adolescent boys who are not involved in delinquent behaviors?
3. Do adolescent boys involved in delinquent behaviors perceive their relationship with their father differently than adolescent boys who are not involved in delinquent behaviors?
4. Do adolescent boys involved in delinquent behaviors react differently towards parental control, guidance, and pressure when compared to adolescent boys who are not involved in delinquent behaviors?
Using qualitative research methods, the above-mentioned research questions were explored in this research. For the purpose of data collection, 21 early adolescents ages 1416 were recruited for the study. Participants were observed, interviewed individually, and participated in focus groups. Interviews and focus groups were conducted in the language called, Malayalam. Later, these interviews and focus group discussions were transcribed into Malayalam. All the narratives from the interviews and focus groups were not translated into English, but those that were in the storyline of the findings were translated into English. This translation was done by me and was cross-checked by a person who reads, writes, and understands both Malayalam and English. For the purpose of detailed analysis, I used line-by-line coding to identify major themes. I identified students showing delinquent behavior (burglary, theft, arson, peer fights, destruction of property, school norm violation, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse) and not showing delinquent behavior, based on teachers’ reports. A Higher Secondary School in Kochi, India was the location for recruiting the participants in the study. Volunteers were contacted through the school. Prior to the recruitment of the participants, IRB approval was granted for the study from the Institutional Review Board at the University of Utah.
Significance of the Study The purpose of this study was to investigate the parent-adolescent relationships of early teenagers with delinquent behavior and compare that with the parent-adolescent relationships of early teenagers who had not shown any reported cases of delinquent behavior. In this study, adolescents’ perception of their parents and how the parents react
to various adolescent, problems were explored with early adolescent boys of Kerala, India. Study findings have implications for social workers, teachers, and other professionals working in the field of delinquency prevention and intervention, as well as for policymakers at the local and state level in India. The study sought to provide direction for policy development, as well as to inform families, schools, communities, and juvenile justice agencies in modifying existing services or developing new services for the adolescents of Kerala and India..