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Integrated Theory of the Adolescent Peak in Offending

NCJ Number
Youth & Society Volume: 34 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2003 Pages: 263-299
Robert Agnew
Kathryn G. Herr
Date Published
March 2003
37 pages
This article draws on leading crime theories and literature on adolescence to develop an integrated theory of the adolescent peak in offending.
Several theories have been offered to explain the adolescent peak in offending, but none fully explain the peak in offending. In an attempt to develop an integrated theory of the adolescent peak in offending, this article draws on crime theories and on the developed literature on adolescence. This theory argues that the peak in offending stems largely from the key feature of adolescence in modern, industrialized societies: the extension of some adult privileges and responsibilities to adolescents. The article is comprised of three sections: (1) a brief overview of the major theories of the adolescent peak in offending (strain, social learning, social control, and individual-trait theories); (2) a presentation of the integrated theory; and (3) a brief discussion of the extent to which individual, group, and temporal factors influence the applicability of the theory. The central thrust of the theory is that adolescent offending is deeply rooted in the essential features of adolescence: adolescents are extended some but not all of the privileges and responsibilities of adults with certain consequences that increase offending, such as reduced supervision, increased demands, participation in a larger, more diverse, peer-oriented social world, and increased desire for adult privileges. The theory offers strategies to reduce offending. However, these efforts will not eliminate the forces promoting the adolescent peak of offending since they are rooted in the nature of modern industrialized societies where adolescents are excluded from major work and family responsibilities. They will, however, help to better manage the negative consequences of such forces. References