Developmental theory was developed by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck back in the 1930s. With this theory, the authors try to explain the dynamics, in terms of the activity level, of a youth in delinquent behaviors. In other words, developmental theory explains delinquent behavior over time rather than why a youth is misbehaving at a given moment. We will look at the concepts of this theory along with its application in the educational setting.
One of the core tenets of developmental theory is the idea that chaos leads to delinquency. When there is a breakdown in the home through divorce or there is death or loss of a job, any of these adverse childhood experiences can lead to delinquency. Even something as mundane as moving can lead to poor behavioral choices. All of the examples above are examples of problem behavior syndrome which is a term used to describe negative events in a young person’s life.
Naturally, this can spill over into the classroom when students are having negative experiences in their personal life it can lead to behavioral problems in school. One danger to be aware of is antisocial behavior. The danger with antisocial behavior is that it is of link with persistent delinquent behavior.
There are also life experiences that can reduce delinquent behavior. Often these are events associated with maturity such as marriage, having children, starting a career, etc. Essentially what happens is that as the youth matures and becomes invested in something or someone the payoff for delinquent behavior is not worth the risk. Another way to view this is that these life experiences are associated with maturity and impulsive behavior naturally declines with age.
Paths to Delinquency
Developmental theory also addresses various pathways to delinquency. There are at least three and they are authority conflict, covert, and overt. Authority conflict is when a youth defies and avoids authority. Most teachers have dealt with students who simply refuse to comply and or avoid dealing with the teacher altogether. In such instances, the youth is heading towards delinquency through conflict with authority.
The covert pathway involves passive-aggressive behavior that is delinquent in nature. By covert, it includes behavior in which the authority and or the victim is unaware of what happened. For example, a student steals something without the other person being aware. With time, covert actions can lead to more serious offenses like breaking into homes.
The overt pathway is minor aggressions that eventually become violent. For example, a youth starts out by pushing other students which could one day lead to assault.
Types of Delinquents
The overall pattern of delinquency of youth varies. Life course persisters start young and continue into adulthood. Adolescent-limited defenders start young and stop once they mature. Other kids do not begin to misbehave until their teen years and they either stop once they mature or continue with poor behavioral choices.
Teachers have also experienced all of these various types of delinquents. Some kids start young while others do not. Some kids stop while others do not. The age at which a youth begins delinquency and whether or not they stop is at least partially related to the tenets that were discussed above.
As educators, we need to be aware of problem behavior syndrome and the negative experiences that kids are having outside the classroom because this may partially explain their behavior in class. In addition, we also need to be aware of how long the child has been delinquent as this can provide insight into what to do to help them.