Criminal Behavior and Developmental Factors: Can Parental Influence Increase or Decrease the Risks?

Is criminal behavior, or at least the tendency toward criminal acts, a result of the interplay between both “nature” and “nurture”? I believe that it is.

Although I would agree with the majority of Americans who believe that that criminal behavior, or at least the tendency toward criminal acts, is a result of the interplay between both nature and nurture, or a combination of both genetic and environmental influences, in my opinion it is the learned behavior, or environmental factors that play the greatest part.

Much of learned behavior is culturally-based and defined as normal or acceptable across a wide variety of sub-cultural contexts. We develop our values from our parents, our teachers, our small community groups, our spiritual influences or religious disciplines, and so on. Whether we are considering what accounts for a “normal” display of anger- is it a harsh word? A slap or a swear word, or is throwing something across the room acceptable? Or perhaps a display of anger includes even more dramatic violence..- or a display of a more positive emotion such as love and affection- is it a smile? A positive word or encouragement? Kissing in public, or a hug between a father and son?  What we learn, and what we view as normal and acceptable behavior can be greatly attributed to what we see as we develop.

For instance, if a child is raised in an environment where lying, stealing, or assault are considered normal activities (from anything to failing to return incorrect change and bragging about “getting over” on the cashier, to cheating on income taxes, committing fraud on insurance, whatever…to using or selling illicit drugs, trafficking in stolen identities, or just beating the crap out of someone you disagree with) this child is more likely to view this as acceptable behavior.

Obviously, there are many degrees of criminal behavior. I believe that if you are raised to feel that the laws of society apply to YOU, meaning you don’t speed, you return the library books you check out, you don’t shoplift, you don’t do illegal drugs, you don’t drive under the influence of alcohol, you don’t beat your children or spouse, you don’t leave the scene of an accident, and you don’t cheat, lie, steal or any of those other things, then you are have learned along the way the difference between right, or wrong. If you are able to control your frustration when someone cuts you off on the freeway, you can also learn to control your frustration when other negative situations arise. You have to learn and accept the “little no-no’s” before you can learn the big taboos.

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  1. Susan,
    I agree with most of your article, but what about the person who only commits a crime in late life. Maybe he/she did have a good up bringing or he/she didn’t, what then?

    What about the man/woman who has a drinking problem and is in and out of jail because they constantly drink and drive? I don’t know much about American laws, but in Canada it’s sickening as to how many people do get back behind the wheel to drive, while suspended. Recently one man in Quebec, where I live was arrested for a hit and run. He was driving without a valid licence, this was his 19th time of being charged with drinking and driving. Having studied the drinking and drug problems of my fellow man, I found out that a lot of people who use drugs or drink, their parents didn’t use either drug, more so they came from good familys. It’s something to make a person wonder.

    Good Article though,

  2. Paul, I think that in a case such as you’ve described, where someone is clearly an alcoholic, unable to stop drinking even though alcohol was having seriously negative consequences in his life ( pretty much the definition of an alcoholic) we have to accept that this is a result of his disease of alcoholism. It doens’t excuse his illegal actions, but it does explain them.

    Alcoholism, like mental illness, doesn’t care how decent your family is, or if your parents drank or not, although there are genetic components, heredity is not a requirement.

    Thanks for sharing,

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