Criminality in Children: Inborn or Acquired?

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The essay will examine the variables in children that lead to criminal activity. Since time immemorial, aggression and crime have existed on the planet and children have been fascinated by what makes a person behave violently or be evil and carry out the unspeakable act. In the past, such people who were referred to as psychopaths were willing to break the law because they lacked the human connection, or lacked the usual emotions. However, because of the negative stereotype that is generated, labeling such individuals as criminals could lead to misjudgment. The essay will also give a deeper psychological, social, and scientific cause of criminal behavior portrayed by children. The paper will give some recommendations on how to reduce the rising cases children engaging in crime.  The paper will rely on the studies that have been conducted by various scholars and psychologists when making the recommendations.

Introduction

When children or youth act violently or purposefully behave in what appears to be anti-social or abnormal behavior for a child that age, we wonder what is motivating such behavior, whether it is coming from inborn genetic factors or learned experiences from the outside world. What is the source of criminal behavior in children? There are numerous theories that explain the origins of juvenile criminality. While some psychologists claim that a child is born with brain deviations that suggest that an individual may develop criminal tendencies or behaviors, others insist that one learns negative behavior from environmental factors and influences rather than being originally born with them.

There is a biological difference between a criminal and a “normal” person. In general, the studies show that the brain of a criminal has less activity. Any harsh trauma to the brain may cause some deviations. Other factors that may have a negative influence on the brain are: lead exposure and alcoholic pregnancy. Another digression from normality that may occur in children is conduct disorder. It is an emotional and behavioral problem that can make a child do violent acts. Another factor that may cause a child to become a criminal is the environment. The neighborhood and community play a big role when raising a child. Another environmental factor that may affect the child is abuse in the family. Children see that abuse is something that is normal and their psyches develop in the wrong way. This knowledge can be used to reduce the level of crime in the world.

Criminality in children: inborn or acquired?

Charles Manson was a killer, a leader of a murderous cult. A compelling question is what triggered him to become a criminal? When children or youth act violently or purposefully behave in what appears to be anti-social or abnormal behavior for a child that age, we wonder what is motivating such behavior, whether it is coming from inborn genetic factors or learned experiences from the outside world. What is the source of criminal behavior in children? Also, I sought the truth about the theory of birth with a "bad seed," meaning that some people are born with a tendency to become a criminal (Conor). According to Franklin, 1989 “The genetic study of criminality has replaced the study of I.Q. as the most controversial area of behavioral genetics. It is also one of the most speculative” (Franklin). The genetics areas remains to be speculative because it is not based on facts rather than making assumption on criminal activities among children. Criminality is, unfortunately, a big part of our world. If people discover how it occurs and why then there is a possibility to reduce the crime rate. It may be a huge step for society. We will be one step closer to a level of security in the whole world.

Criminality in children is a very complex and disturbing issue. There are numerous theories that explain the origins of juvenile criminality. While some psychologists claim that a child is born with brain deviations that suggest that an individual may develop criminal tendencies or behaviors, others insist that one learns negative behavior from environmental factors and influences rather than being originally born with them. I argue that it is impossible to attribute the causes of criminal behavior to only one factor: it is a combination of both - environment and genetics. 

There is a biological difference between a criminal and a “normal” person. Neurocriminology is a sub-discipline of biocriminology and criminology which focuses on studying the brain and determining whether the person is or has the potential of becoming a criminal. In general, the studies show that the brain of a criminal has less activity (Moscowitz). What causes lower activity? Any harsh trauma to the brain may cause some deviations. Other factors that may have a negative influence on the brain are: lead exposure and alcoholic pregnancy. A perfect example for that would be Charles Manson. He was born to a 16-year-old alcoholic (Biography.com). It is hard to prove that an alcoholic mother could be a reason for all the crimes Charles committed; however, it was one of the triggering points, or so we can assume from the studies.  On the other hand, some criminals can have a perfectly normal brain activity. The part of the brain which is responsible for emotions is slightly different. These type of criminals tend to be smarter and have a smaller chance of getting caught (Raine). In that case, it is much harder to scientifically and rightfully determine whether a child will become a criminal or not, as far as it is challenging to link the difference of emotions specifically to criminality. Our world is evolving every day and, hopefully, in our near future, there will be an easy way to determine the specific reasons for brain derangements.

Another digression form of normality that may occur in children is conduct disorder. It is an emotional and behavioral problem that can make a child do violent acts. Usually, it begins in early childhood or can develop in the teen years. Children suffering from this disorder tend to be more aggressive, destructive and delinquent. They have a hard time following rules and being accepted into social groups (Kracke, K. et al, 12). There are several sources of conduct disorder: genetic and environmental. Based on the article The Future Of Children, One particular period of childhood, "middle childhood and early adolescence—are a time of important developmental advances that establish children’s sense of identity” (The Future of Children). (The Future of Children). Children, at their young age, absorb everything around them like a sponge. Whatever a person does or says has a potential to stick to the child's mind. Therefore, it is crucial to act in front of children respectfully and deliberately, as well as make sure to raise them in a healthy environment. There is also a possibility to eliminate the disorder coming from a genetic influence. A child has to be sent to a mental health provider and go through extensive therapy. It will take three months; consequently, it will have a benefit not only for the family but to the whole society. Dr. J.C. Barnes said: "There are likely to be hundreds, if not thousands, of genes that will incrementally increase your likelihood of being involved in a crime...," he said. "It still is a genetic effect. And it's still important" (Life Crime Is in the Genes, Study Claims).

Another factor that may cause a child to become a criminal is the environment. It is important to raise children in a healthy and conscious habitat that will allow them to grow as more cultured and intelligent people: “Having a genetic predisposition for criminal behavior does not determine the actions of an individual, but if they are exposed to the right environment, then their chances are greater for engaging in criminal or antisocial behavior” (Jones). Obstacles that are uncomfortable for children in mental and physical ways can coerce the child to take the wrong path in life. The neighborhood and community play a big role when raising a child. It is crucial to surround your child with the right people who will have a good influence on him. It is also advised to avoid tense contact with people who portray violent or criminal behavior. All that may seem to be general information that everybody knows; however, if people would follow this advice, there would be much less criminality in the world. According to Sampson 1989 “Neighborhoods with high levels of crime are often densely populated with concentrated poverty, a transient population, a high proportion of single-parent households, and dilapidated buildings” (Sampson) such an environment make it hard to raise kids who respect the rule of law. The parents should always guide their children to remain morally upright. The increased level of poverty in this area push kids to resort to crime. It’s hard to predict or make sure that the environment around you child is ideal; in the interim, the role of a parent brings with itself a lot of responsibility, such as making sure that the ambiance around the child is proper.

Another environmental factor that may affect the child is abuse in the family. Children see that abuse is something that is normal and their psyches develop in the wrong way (Farahany). They start having a different perception of reality which may result in an excuse for the child later getting into crime. If they see a parent, someone who they look up to, doing a wrongful act, they will remember it, and it may subconsciously stay in the back of their brain as something acceptable in society. It will completely change their way of thinking and functioning. Children learn from what they see. Therefore, they can acquire a lot of negative experiences from their surroundings. The family environment is critical to the upbringing of a child (Kivi). Children tend to copy what their peers do.  A violent family environment will mean that kids will develop criminal behavior.

Apart from genetics and environment, there may be another cause for criminal activity in children: the bad seed. So what is it exactly? It is not an actual evil seed blooming inside of your stomach. It is a novel by an “... American writer William March, nominated for the 1955 National Book Award for Fiction. The Bad Seed tells the story of a mother's realization that her young daughter has committed a murder, or two” (Showalter). The main idea of the book is nature versus nurture. At this time, teenage crimes started becoming more common, resulting in a battle between opinions whether one [nature] is more important than the other [nurture]. Back then, in 1954, this unexplored topic of criminology was the main theme of a major book (The Bad Seed). This was the time when this issue came into the public’s eye, and scholars began understanding human behavior in the crime world. In response to the novel, a researcher in the field of criminal psychology Robert D. Hare said “… most decent individuals are not by nature suspicious and thus unable to understand or anticipate the acts of evil and depravity that some people are capable of committing.” Perhaps, the actual bad seed does not exist, but some people are born evil. This book is so significant and important as it touches susceptible subjects, brings the attention of the society and encourages more research in the area of child crime. 

Recently, I had an incredible opportunity to talk to Lilya Chaika, a psychologist in an Israeli prison. Her main job consists of having therapeutic sessions with the inmates, trying to understand the roots of their criminal behavior and ways to suppress it. If not looking in closely, there is no difference between a person who inherited his criminal behavior and one who developed them as a result of environmental surroundings. Despite that, there is a significant distinction in the inner state of a person. A person who was affected genetically, usually seems as if he almost has a "cold heart," while a person who learned it just seems lost and at times acts in a violent manner. “It is very hard to establish whether one got his evil side from the environment or with the help of the DNA. It's not that big of a deal in prison" said Lilya. Nobody is as interested in the history of a person; the main job is to get him behind bars, with no time for sentiments and proceedings. Only when she is one-on-one with a prisoner, Lilya looks into his biography and tendencies. Furthermore, she mentioned that there is no one specific cure or medicine for everyone. It is all based on individual approach and personal circumstances. Hundreds of hours of therapy are required for everyone; it's a complete "restoration" inside and out. She finished our interview by saying: "There will never be a perfect society and there will always be bad people" (Chaika). 

The upshot of all this is that criminality is not just inherited or acquired. It's a combination of both factors, and it is important to keep that in mind (Sampson). There are various ways to help children who have developed criminal behavior. Therapy, meditating, bringing the child into a safer environment are some of the ways of ensuring that children stop criminal behavior all these things require a lot of parental control and advisory, but in the end, it will change the child’s future and will lower the crime rate in the world. A child who grows up in total isolation or under the care of abusive parents is likely to acquire certain negative attributes such as engaging in crime or becoming aggressive.

The social learning theory point out the kids do learn behavior from the individuals present in the surrounding such as siblings and parents, and if they witness any form of aggressive behavior around then, that will be normal for them (Frank 24).  The aggressive families in many cases lack monitoring and discipline techniques which at times contribute to antisocial behavior.  The children can also be influenced by the peers as they grow up. When a kid develops a specific antisocial behavior, there is a likelihood that they will be shunned by their friends and colleagues a fact that will reinforce that behavior.  The social theory state that such kids are forced in the midst of such behavior and pushed into engaging in crime by their peers.

The psychologists are of the opinion that there exists abnormality in the central nervous system of the criminals making them unable to feel the emotional arousal, for instance, anxiety, guilt, fear, and empathy.  The lack of psychological arousal is what differentiates a criminal from other individuals.  It is also believed that criminals have an impaired frontal lobe and lesser gray matter, the areas responsible for imposing control and planning, causing impulsivity.  The brain damage can also have an impact on certain parts of the brain l making certain people act in a specific manner.

The biologists have discovered that neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, monoamine oxidase (MAO) are the leading cause of antisocial behavior (Frank 44).  Limited levels of MAO are responsible for antisocial behavior, aggressive and impulsive behavior are also related to dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.  Dauphine is linked to predatory aggressive or emotionally driven behavior.  Some of the disorder for instance Conduct disorder has been linked to some of the violent behavior and are usually found in kids.  The Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects the children ability to focus a factor that drives them to engage in the certain antisocial behavior.  All the disorders arising from the antisocial personality disorder, and as these kids rise to adulthood, they might develop certain criminal attributes. 

The family remains to be the basic socialization agency for children. Kids learn the basic concept of bad and good behavior through the family.  The family can either break or make the personality trait of children.  Most of the children who show the criminal behavior belong to families that failed to give a proper foundation.  Criminal parents or psychological, lack confidence and trust among the parents, broken families can be the main reason behind the increasing criminal behavior in children.  The elder siblings and parents are responsible for molding good behavior in children.  When parents and elder siblings show criminal behavior to the growing kids, they tend to perceive it to be a normal behavior meaning they will adore it even as they rich adulthood (Thorsten 17).  The psychological problems in siblings or parents can also be a risk factor as to why some kids might engage in crime. Psychological problems and mental illnesses like hyper behavior, aggression, frustration, and depression showed by parents can make kids feel inferior or deprived.  Sometimes kids develop anger and depression from elder siblings and the parents.

At times the family or parents have nothing do with criminal cases in children.  There might be personal reasons that cause the criminal and violent behavior.  Some of the negative feelings in an individual can make one commit the crime even if they come from some of the wealthiest families (Franklin).  In the present society, the racial abuses can make a kid become a criminal.  As kids face racial abuses, they become violent and always want to cause harm to those individuals who treated them unequally.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that various studies held in the past could not detach the effects of environment or genetics on determining an individual’s behavior, both sides of nurture versus nature still hold a more significant merit.  There are those individuals who lack morals and the ability to feel guilty for their actions as a result of genotype.  The secondary sociopath can result from the environmental factors that surround an individual, especially how they are raised. Genes have a more considerable influence on the behaviors that are portrayed by individuals.  The inherited genes, when combined with environmental factors, can result in a hardcore criminal.  It is the moral obligation of the entire society to make sure that kids who show personality traits are rehabilitated and treated rather than being stigmatized and shunned.

Works Cited

Baum, Katrina. “Juvenile Victimization and Offending, 1993-2003.” U.S. Department of Justice, no. NCJ 209468, Aug. 2005, www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jvo03.pdf.

Connor, Steve. “Do Your Genes Make You a Criminal?” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 11 Feb. 1995, www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/do-your-genes-make-you-a-criminal-1572714.html. 

Chandre Gould Senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies and research associate, Durban University of Technology. “Why Societies Must Protect Children If They Want Fewer Criminals.” The Conversation, 23 Oct. 2017, theconversation.com/why-societies-must-protect-children-if-they-want-fewer-criminals-64925.

“Charles Manson.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 20 Nov. 2017,    www.biography.com/people/charles-manson-9397912.

Eccles, Jacquelynne S. “The Development of Children Ages 6 to 14.” The Future of Children, vol. 9, no. 2, 1999, p. 30., doi:10.2307/1602703.

Farahany, Nita A., and James E. Coleman. “GENETICS AND RESPONSIBILITY: TO KNOW   THE CRIMINAL FROM THE CRIME.” Duke University, 8 Sept. 2006, scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1378&context=lcp.

Franklin, and Deborah. "WHAT A CHILD IS GIVEN." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 3 Sept. 1989, www.nytimes.com/1989/09/03/magazine/what-a-child-is-given.html?pagewanted.

Frank, C. "PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN AND YOUTH: How social service delivery can prevent crime." South African Crime Quarterly, no. 13, 2016, doi:10.17159/2413-3108/2005/v0i13a1008.

Richard A. Friedman, M.D. "Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, Personal Interview, 12 July 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/health/13mind.html. Personal Interview Accessed 12 July 2010.

Kivi, Rose. “Conduct Disorder.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 22 Feb. 2016, www.healthline.com/health/conduct-disorder#overview1.

Kracke, K., et al. “Facts about Children and Violence.” The United States Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 11 Apr. 2017, www.justice.gov/archives/defendingchildhood/facts-about-children-and-violence.

“Life of Crime Is in the Genes, Study Claims.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 2 Jan.2012,www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/9040997/Life-of-crime-is-in-the-genes-study-claims.html.

March, William. The Bad Seed. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2015.

Moskowitz, Clara. “Criminal Minds Are Different From Yours, Brain Scans Reveal.” LiveScience, Purch, 4 Mar. 2011, www.livescience.com/13083-criminals-brain-neuroscience-ethics.html.

Raine, Adrian. “Biosocial Studies of Antisocial and Violent Behavior in Children and Adults: A Review.” SpringerLink, Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers, Aug. 2002, link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1015754122318.

Raine, Adrian. “The Criminal Mind.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 26 Apr. 2013,  www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323335404578444682892520530.

Sampson, R. J., Groves, W. B. (1989). Community structure and crime: Testing social-disorganization theory. American Journal of Sociology, 94(4), 774-802.

Showalter, Elaine (1997). Insights, Interviews & More. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Thorsten, M. "Part III Other Relevant International Regimes and Issues, 14 Transnational Organised Crime and the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Pornography." International Law and Transnational Organised Crime, 2016, doi:10.1093/law/9780198733737.003.0014.

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