Forensic Psych

History as Teacher: Societal Impact on Juvenile Delinquency

Hello everyone! This is a reaction paper I wrote after I read a book called “The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager” by Thomas Hine. It was very informative and interesting. In this paper I discuss how Hine seems to imply that American society has helped lead to juvenile delinquency and I discuss to what extent I agree with his suggestions. As always, please be kind and do not steal! This is my work. Thank you very much. Hope you enjoy! God bless.


American society implemented a mandatory school attendance in the early 1900s in order to provide a productive environment where young people could avoid crime. This seemed to be the best option at the time to reduce delinquency and keep juveniles off of the streets and out of adult jobs. It was a decision based on the culmination of many societal changes and factors, many of which involved the country’s youth. ThroughoutAmerica’s history, society has evolved and it has adapted to these changes with the policies and rules that seemed best at the time. Hine (1999) describes this history and shows the reader that American society has aided in the increase of juvenile delinquency. He goes on to suggest that it is time to change again. If history provides the reader with any idea of how the future may go, Hine may be correct in saying thatAmericashould not and will not continue to deal with teenagers as it does now, but his suggestion may not be the best way to go about making this change. With this knowledge from the past about how society has often negatively impacted juvenile delinquency, American society can again attempt to develop a time-appropriate change that will help reduce juvenile delinquency and help young people to reach their potentials via legitimate means rather than illegitimate ones.

Keywords: society, delinquency, teenager, adolescence, high school,America

History as Teacher: Societal Impact on Juvenile Delinquency

            American society tends to have mixed feelings about its younger people. In some cases teenagers are admired for their youth while they are despised in other cases. The trouble is that no one seems to know where they fit in or what their function within society is or should be. One thing that Thomas Hine (1999) addresses in his book, “The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager,” is that this has not always been the case. Young people in theUnited Stateswere not classified as their own unique group and labeled ‘teenagers’ until around the 1930s. After this, American society assumed that teenagers were inherently different than adults and that they needed to be treated and labeled as their own group. The idea of this distinction between adulthood, childhood and the teenage years is nothing more than a social construction according to Hine. Hine seems to suggest that just as society has constructed the teenager, it has aided in producing juvenile delinquency. It may not have been deliberate, but society has helped produce it nonetheless. The main avenues or groups within society that have been involved in influencing juvenile delinquency according to Hine seem to be the economy and job market, parents, and high schools. Hine seems to put most of the blame on high schools in saying that high schools create an atmosphere that may not be appropriate for every single young person. His points are all very valid and thoughtful, but some of them may not be applicable to today’s young people.

The economy and job market certainly affect many people, not just teenagers. It is financially difficult for the majority of Americans when the economy is bad, especially as bad as it was during the Great Depression. During the Depression, the government removed a lot of working teenagers and replaced them with adults who had families to feed. This caused many young people to look elsewhere for work and for an income. Sometimes they would have to resort to illegitimate means of attaining that income, like stealing or prostitution, in order to help provide for their families. One boy mentioned by Hine had to “scavenge” for food and coal for the fire, and many times this seemed to imply that he would have to steal in order to get those things. Many young people were originally working to help provide for their families. The government and society as a whole decided to remove them from their employment in order to help families survive, but instead it may have led to more young people on the streets searching for ways to spend their time and ways to help provide for their families. On the other hand, it has also been found that when students have more adult-like jobs, or simply have more money, they are more likely to indulge in more adult-like activities, such as drinking alcohol, gambling, and having more sex. Hine (1999) quoted one young teenager who talked about how he went to saloons and gambled with his earned money all night long when he was able to. It was also implied that there were prostitutes involved in other situations, even among people in their early teen years. These sorts of activities could get a young person in trouble and placed in jail. Regardless of whether a young person has an income or not, there is always a chance that he or she will get in trouble with the law if he or she is participating in illegal activities. If theUnited Stateslegalized some of these activities, such as removing or lowering the drinking age or legalizing certain drugs, then there would be one less chance for teenagers to get in trouble. However, this suggestion is more than likely not the best solution to juvenile delinquency because many people may not be able to responsibly handle such liberties. There may be no compromise to be made in such situations. There will always be some young people who are breaking laws for one reason or another, whether legitimate or not. There may not be a solution to this economic aspect of societal influence on delinquency. The economy, poverty, and lack of jobs have historically helped lead to juvenile delinquency, but, in actuality, there are no solutions to this; there have always been financial struggles and there probably always will be. If we cannot permanently eliminate financial struggles, then we must develop other ways of helping to decrease delinquency, which is exactly what the government attempted to do around the time of the Great Depression when all of these problems were real and had to be quickly dealt with.

Hine (1999) discusses this period and tells the reader that high schools were developed in order to start getting displaced teenage workers off of the street and out of the reach of criminal activities. While this seemed to be a good idea at the time, Hine argues that high schools also create an environment that can lead to juvenile delinquency. Once all teenagers were required to attend high school, this meant that they were spending more time with their peers than they were with their parents at home or with other adults in a work environment. This has historically led students into experiencing peer pressure and taking on the interests and values of their peers rather than those of their parents, and usually their peers are less conservative and more open to experimentation with delinquent activities. Hine mentions that there is evidence that when there is parental supervision and involvement in a child’s life, the child is less likely to be involved in or commit crimes. However, the mix of different social classes and backgrounds in the schools may still lead to students with delinquent tendencies influencing other students who would have never been involved in delinquent activities otherwise.

It is not just peer pressure in high school that influences juvenile delinquency. The structure of the high school also has an impact, according to Hine (1999). When the size of school is too large, it is difficult to handle all of the students and to be able to teach them all well. In the first years following the development of mandatory high school attendance, the plan was to keep young people off of the streets and out of trouble, but many of the schools were overcrowded which made this nearly impossible. This, therefore, meant that because high schools were overcrowded, some students were likely going to skip school and may be on the streets where they are even more likely to get into trouble with the law. Hine also tells the reader that it is not just the streets where young people could get into trouble; high schools with unstructured time during the day also allow for delinquent behaviors to occur on school grounds. During these unstructured times, like lunch periods, for example, students are not monitored as well and this may create an environment where students can deal drugs, smoke cigarettes, organize gang activities, and participate in other delinquent activities. These are essentially some of the same illegal or delinquent activities that they could participate in on the street. While these are good points, research has shown that the organizational structure of the school plays less of a role in delinquent behavior than the students that attend the high school (LeBlanc, Swisher, Vitaro, & Tremblay, 2008). This essentially means that the way that the school is structured and run plays only a small role in creating delinquency while the student composition plays a much larger role in creating delinquency. When students with delinquent tendencies are placed together, they will influence each other. There have always been, and probably always will be, those young people of high school age who will get into trouble in any situation. There may not be anything that can be done to prevent these delinquent behaviors from occurring.

Hine (1999) goes on to mention that nowadays if a person does not have a high school education he or she will not have many job opportunities to choose from. Many places will not even consider a person without a high school degree except those jobs that pay minimum wage. This may lead to the individual looking elsewhere for an income, and sometimes the only means of attaining an income are illegitimate or illegal. If times were desperate now and a teenager who had not finished high school needed to help provide for his or her family, he or she would not be able to get a job that added a significant amount to the family income. Hine (1999) says on page 301 that teenagers have “few avenues for bearing real responsibility to improve their situation” when or if it is necessary, especially in regards to their ability to find a solid job with a good salary. This sort of situation could very well lead the teenager to seek other means of income on the street. This is a good point that Hine is making, but most families would not be supportive of their child using illegitimate means and would do anything in their power to prevent that from happening nowadays. However, one thing that Hine does not bring up is the internet.

There are many opportunities for people of all ages to commit crimes on the internet; crimes like fraud, identity theft, stalking, bullying, and others. Hine (1999) makes many good observations from history, but he did not take today’s technology into account. Young people do not have to be on the street in order to get into trouble and as of now there are not many efficient ways to keep young people or adults from committing crimes over the internet and over the phone. Hine seems to put a lot of focus and blame for juvenile delinquency on high schools and the problems that are caused by mandatory high school attendance, overcrowded conditions, and a lack of adult supervision within the high school. However, high schools are not the only place where juveniles can get into trouble. Even if young people were allowed to choose a path other than high school, there would still be plenty of teenagers doing this who would spend time doing other things as long as they could get by with it. Many young people would still end up on the street participating in delinquent behaviors or would still participate in delinquent behaviors over the internet regardless of whether or not they attend high school. Society may continue to attempt to reduce juvenile delinquency, but it cannot be eliminated. In fact, Hine has showed us that society has indeed implemented institutions and rules that have led to more juvenile delinquency rather than eliminating it. This is a trial and error process and theUnited Statesstill has much to learn.

American society implemented a mandatory school attendance in the early 1900s because it seemed to be the best option at the time. This was a decision based on the culmination of many societal changes and factors, many of which involved the country’s youth. Our society will more than likely continue to make future decisions based on what seems realistic, efficient, and most beneficial for its people. Hine brings up many valid, thought-provoking points in his book, but making the change he suggests, namely allowing students to choose their path, may not be truly beneficial, efficient or realistic for today’s young people. For example, if American society implemented Hine’s change, many youths could choose not to attend high school, but of that group there would likely still be quite a few who would then choose an illegitimate path that society would look down upon, just as they now look down upon youths who drop out of high school for various reasons. This is not a situation that can be

changed quickly because the beliefs behind it are so deeply ingrained in American society. Americans will continue to decide what is best for youths as a whole based on what the current events and situations are. Society will continue to impact juvenile delinquency in negative ways, but it may help it to decrease as well. If history provides the reader with any idea of how the future may go, Hine may be correct in saying thatAmericashould not and will not continue to deal with teenagers as it does now, but his suggestion may not be the best way to go about makingthis change. With this knowledge from the past about how society has often negatively impacted juvenile delinquency, American society can again attempt to develop a time-appropriate change that will help reduce juvenile delinquency and help young people to reach their potentials via legitimate means in all sorts of situations. Society can learn from its mistakes and successes and make changes accordingly, just as Hine (1999) implied throughout his book.



Hine, T. (1999). The rise and fall of the American teenager.New York: HarperCollins.

LeBlanc, L., Swisher, R., Vitaro, F., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). High school social climate and antisocial behavior: A 10 year longitudinal and multilevel study. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18, 395-419.

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