Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile delinquency is the term applied to chronic antisocial behavior by persons 18 years of age or younger that is beyond parental control and is often subjected to legal and punitive action.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—
A common childhood school-related disorder that is characterized by inattentiveness, inability to concentrate, lack of impulse control, and hyperactivity.
Conduct disorder—
A behavioral and emotional disorder of childhood and adolescence in which children display physical aggression and infringe on or violate the rights of others. Youths diagnosed with conduct disorder may set fires, exhibit cruelty toward animals or other children, sexually assault others, or lie and steal for personal gain.
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)—
A behavior pattern of anger, arguing, defiance, and vindictiveness lasting more than six months and directed against someone other than a sibling.

Despite the emotional turbulence associated with adolescence, most teenagers find legal, nonviolent ways to express feelings of anger and frustration and to establish self-esteem. Other teenagers turn to criminal activity for these purposes and as a reaction to peer pressure.

A number of factors have been linked to teen crime, including family violence. Parents who physically or verbally abuse each other or their children are much more likely to raise children who will commit crimes, as are children raised in a family with a substance abuser. Poverty is also linked to juvenile crime. Black youths were twice as likely to live in poverty as white youths. In addition, children of all races living in single-parent families were more likely to live in poverty. The anger and frustration of low-income youths excluded from the affluent lives depicted in the mass media, coupled with the lack of visible opportunities to find productive paths for themselves, can lead to crime. A substantial link has been found between drug use and criminal activity.

Research in the 2010s has shown that the brains of all adolescents, especially males, do not fully mature until the early twenties. This, when coupled with environmental stressors such as poverty or parental abuse, likely plays a role in the development of juvenile delinquency. Adolescents, who commit crimes are more likely to have the following characteristics:

In addition, many juvenile delinquents suffer from psychiatric conditions such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

See also Antisocial behavior ; Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) .



Agnew, Robert, and Timothy Brezina. Juvenile Delinquency: Causes and Control. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Bartollas, Clemens, and Frank Schmalleger. Juvenile Delinquency, 2nd ed. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

Siegel, Larry, and Brandon Walsh. Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law, 12th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.


Loughran, Thomas, et al. “Studying Deterrence Among High-risk Adolescents.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/248617.pdf (accessed August 17, 2015).


Kostic, Miomira. “Biological and Psychological Theories on Juvenile Delinquency.” http://facta.junis.ni.ac.rs/lap/lap201301/lap201301-01.pdf (accessed August 17, 2015).

Ritter, Malcolm. “Experts Link Teen Brain's Immaturity, Juvenile Crime.” http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3943187 (accessed August 17, 2015).


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 3615 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20016-3007, (202) 966-7300, Fax: (202) 966-2891, http://www.aacap.org .

United States Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 810 7th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20531, (202) 307-5911, www.ojjdp.gov .