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Understanding Children Involved in Crime

A HE H&SCare student with the aspiration to become a Researcher/Psychiatrist with a primary focus on dark psychology and alternative.


Society acceptance and culture determine what is criminal activity and what is acceptable behaviour. When children are involved, there is no exception to this rule; however, an understanding of the child's environment and consideration of the child's perception can assist in viewing if the child remains a victim despite being the perpetrator of the crime. Children look to parental influences to learn how to conduct and mimic behaviour and their environment. As they continue through childhood, learning is primarily from peers and education to understand the environment and learn coping mechanisms as they reach adolescence. It is the most challenging time with hormonal changes and expectations, increased responsibilities, and pressures to develop the future. Therefore, the parental approach can significantly affect the outcome of childhood.

Children with uninvolved parents have no essential boundaries causing them to become independent rapidly, leading to rebellious behaviour and psychological harm as no direction is provided. The unguided child is at an increased risk of mental health concerns and exploitation. Meanwhile, inconsistency and unstructured boundaries for safe exploration can cause regulation concerns. Inconsistent parenting promotes the increased potential of anti-social behaviour, self-entitlement and adjustment problems. In comparison, excessive discipline without flexibility for independence can cause the child to feel a failure and get caught in a loop of constant discipline. A balance between providing the freedom of individuality with healthy boundaries promotes a healthier environment for learning and future health. In addition, providing the boundaries generates awareness of accountability and consequences whilst understanding positive social interaction and exploration. Understandably, each day is different, and being flexible to the child's best interests determines the security and healthier emotional attachments with family.

Crime is a global challenge, with many children involved with gangs or aggressive behaviour leading to breaking laws. So why do children get involved in crime?


What are the potential causes?

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Traumatic events which occur during childhood, affecting the minor psychologically, emotionally, socially, and physically in some circumstances, are known as ACEs. These traumatic experiences could be as severe as exposure and direct involvement with abuse to life-changing situations such as parental separation and long term circumstances, for example, chronic illness and poverty. The accumulation of ACEs has more severe effects on individuals, increasing the chances of involvement in criminal activity, exploitation, and developing mental health conditions.
  • Mental health conditions: 1 in 6 minors are affected by a mental health condition, with 75% receiving inadequate assistance. The psychological effects of trauma can alter the minor's behaviour, leading to the diagnosis of mental health conditions in which violent or aggressive behaviour is a contribution. Due to insufficient research and awareness, adolescents with mood disorders are frequently misunderstood as rebellious or 'out of control'.
  • Head injuries and abnormal brain development: Injuries or abnormal growth may also lead to the development of mental health conditions which display externalising behaviours. The minor may present an 'explosive' temper and an inability to interact appropriately socially. This may also mean the minor is vulnerable to negative influence and prevent the judgement of safety derived from impulsivity leading to involvement in criminal activity.
  • Academic challenges: Children struggling with their education, frequently absent or do not receive adequate support from their school, inclusive of inappropriate education health care plans (EHCP) and exclusions increase the potential of children losing interest in their future, leading to involvement with negative influences and crime.
  • Substance abuse: Out of education and inappropriately supported may lead to substance misuse, including alcohol and drugs. Commonly substance use is associated with gang involvement and exploitation, which the minor cannot withdraw from the connections. As an effect of substance usage, the minor's moods may become erratic and engage in various risky behaviours, including sexual nature.
  • Parental / family conflict: Minors who cannot communicate with their parental figures or are neglected, inclusive of an absence of appropriate boundaries implemented, are more likely to turn to others for validation and attention, which increases the chance of risky behaviours and crime involvement. Lack of adhesion and communication between family members and the community, including professionals, increases the probability of engagement in crime.
  • Financial insecurity: Families who are financially insecure or are essentially homeless increase the probability of criminal activity. Poverty increases exploitation risk to obtain the items of interest or in the attempt to increase their reputation and perceived desirability.
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  • Youth Clubs: The closures of youth centres and places of positive activity have restricted the availability of safe places for children to be children and explore the world productively. Family centres such as Sure Start are limited, leaving children to hang on street corners and in parks with limited structures, enhancing the vulnerability to potential involvement with negative influences. Prices for activity centres and clubs are continuously rising on activities; families in poverty or lower-income remain unable to provide financial coverage leading to boredom and causing them to be involved in crime for thrills.
  • Stigma: Being a teenager has a negative reputation, and many stereotype teenagers to be wild and rebellious, although they may not be so. This negative perception of teenagers causes injustice to the adolescent during times of conflict, reducing the willingness for adults to listen and teenagers to attempt to be heard.
  • Pressures: Everyone has a coping mechanism, whether healthy or not, and most adolescents and young children will want to be with friends to blow steam and hang around to defuse. Sometimes these pressures can cause one to feel low and want an escape leading to substance misuse. Children receive pressure from peers, parents/care providers, school and the general community. Expectations to accept and follow instructions without explaining or justifying the actions' necessity lead to children experiencing frustration, mainly when it is conflicting.
  • Identity: Children explore and form their identities which include their sexuality, expression, clothing choices, music choices, places frequented, and priorities. When understanding their identity and preferences, the child will naturally desire items. However, some things may be out of budget for the family, and the child may seek a means to accommodate to ensure they can blend in with who they associate with; this increases vulnerability to exploitation. In addition, adolescents commonly desire independence and responsibility, wanting to explore the boundaries of rules known or to push to see how far before a consequence occurs.
  • Trauma: Experiencing trauma has various effects on a child. It can quickly feel like there is no escape from the pain of being a child. Some trauma experiences can feel embarrassing for children to express or not taken seriously, allowing the emotions to be internalised longer.
  • Technology: Gaming, social media, calling friends etc. The digital world has provided a double edged sword. In one way, technology enables children to enhance learning, social connection and more although it has also provided easier ability to predatory individuals and inappropriate content.

There are ways which can reduce potential crime involvement including:

  • Early Engagement: Engagement with professionals and developing a supportive relationship between professionals and individuals can prevent escalation and attain opportunities unannounced to the general public. The earlier the correct supporting professionals are involved, the greater the effect of interventions implemented.
  • Communication: Promoting an environment enabling open communication with positive feedback allows minors to express their interests and concerns confidently. Maintaining communication also demonstrates a positive manner of self-regulating emotions and developing healthy coping mechanisms. Provide time to listen to the child and understand from their perception.
  • Family and Community adhesion: Environments with appropriate support promote the development of self-regulation, personal growth, awareness and individuality. Maintaining positive connections with family and community reduces the likelihood of positioning oneself in dangerous circumstances with the potential to affect well-being and increases the possibility of attaining support when challenges occur.
  • Opportunities: Remain open to opportunities and speak to friends and family about available opportunities that may be beneficial to the child. Encourage new adventures and explorations of skills. Listen to the child expressing their interests and search for activities related or which include the interest. Indicate interest in learning about their interests and why?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Sammy Barnett

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