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The Cognitive Theory in Juvenile Delinquency Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2021


The theory of cognitive development stems from the different stages under which a child develops and how he perceives the world at that stage.

The person credited with one of the studies about cognitive development theories was Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980). He divided the schemes that children use to understand the world into four major stages (Huitt & Hummel, 2003):

  • Sensory-motor period (children of 0- 2 years)
  • Preoperational period (2 – 7 years)
  • Concrete operational period (7 – 11 years)
  • Formal operational period (11 years and above)

In the sensorimotor period, the child’s actions are mostly reflex in nature. The reflex development actions may include sucking of objects, following objects with eyes, and even clasping the objects.

After the reflex developments, a child undergoes a second stage within the sensorimotor stage. This is habitual development. In this stage, a child will develop certain habits, which are done repeatedly. This stage leads to the secondary circular stage that a child will develop the ability to coordinate his actions and the pretensions of the actions. At this stage, a child can perform certain actions repeatedly and also be able to differentiate the means of doing actions.

The stage that follows is when a child develops logic to coordinate the secondary actions. This stage leads to the stage where a child tries to experiment with things i.e. the new means to which he can meet the ends. And, finally, the stage within sensorimotor is when a child develops the issue of trial and error in his actions.

The preoperational period can well be determined by how a child can mentally act on objects. This period may include processes such as:

  • Symbolic functioning: – in this process, a child can represent an object that is not physically present by the use of mental words, symbols, or objects.
  • Centration: – this stage characterizes a stage at which a child concentrates on only one stimulus or action.
  • Interactive thoughts: – a stage that a child believes in action without knowing why he/she has that belief.
  • Egocentric: – this stage is when a child sees an object in his version and not any other version. For instance, a child who is left in the house alone might do a certain thing and think that no one will know since he is alone in the house.
  • Inability to conserve: – In this stage, it is perceived that a child is not able to conserve mass, volume, and number after the original has changed. This can be demonstrated by what a child may perceive to be correct according to her teacher’s teaching and not otherwise what the parent says.
  • Animism: – in this stage, a child plays with objects such as dolls believing that such objects have lifelike qualities and can act.

The concrete operational stage characterizes a stage that a child uses logic appropriately. The stage includes processes such as:

  • Seriation: – In this process, a child can analyze objects according to certain characteristics, for instance, according to certain colors or shapes.
  • Classification: – in this process, a child is no longer subject to the limitation issue of animism but can be able to identify different sets of the object.
  • Decentering: – In this aspect, the child will be able to take multiple actions of problems to solve them.
  • Reversibility: – in this process, the child can be able to work out arithmetical numbers, i.e. he understands that numbers or objects can be changed and get back to the original value.
  • Conservation: – At this stage, the child will be able to understand that the arrangement or appearance of objects is not necessarily related to their quantity or strengths.
  • Elimination of egocentrism: – In this stage, the child is now able to view things from a different perspective.

The fourth and final stage, the formal operational stage, enables a child to think abstractly and reason logistically as well as concluding any source of available information. At this stage, the character traits that are biologically inherited can be exhibited.

“Psychologists with a cognitive perspective focus on mental processes – the way people perceive and mentally represent the world around them, and how they solve problems”. (Larry, Brandon & Joseph, 2006. p 92). The theories of Kohlberg look at the moral orientation of offenders and law-abiding citizens. He believed that the serious offenders had a moral orientation that is different from the law-abiding citizens.

Information processing cognition theories try to explain antisocial behavior in terms of perception and data analysis. Before a person acts, he has to undergo certain stages concerning the action. He first encodes the information and interprets it, and finally will look for proper responses before acting on it.

This approach enables adolescents to use information properly so that they can make reasonable judgments to avoid antisocial behavior, unlike juvenile delinquency that may use the deficit of the cognitive and end up being social misfits through the decision they make while under stress. These can be as a result of how one learned to do things while was under the stages of development, how they learned to interpret events and react, and as well as what they learned to form their aggressive parents.

Most juveniles who misbehave in society tend to believe that society is aggressive against them. Some do overreact to the slightest provocation and believe that such action is by defending themselves yet they are misreading the whole situation. The personality of a juvenile constitutes to a high degree how he can cause delinquency actions. some of these personalities are shaped by the environment and others are biological.

According to (Larry, Brandon & Joseph,) Sheldon Glueck and Eleanor Glueck identified the following traits that characterize a delinquent: –

  • Self-assertiveness – Suspicion.
  • Extroversion – poor.
  • Defiance – destructiveness.
  • Ambivalence – mental instability.
  • Impulsiveness – sadism.
  • Feeling unappreciated – hostility.
  • Narcissism – lack of concern for others.
  • Distrust of authority – resentment.

This research according to them (Gluecks), the delinquent’s personality increase the probability of “(1) they will be aggressive and antisocial and (2) their actions will involve them with agents of social control, ranging from teachers to police”, (Larry, Brandon & Joseph)

School-based programs that prevent Juvenile Delinquency

Schools do play a very important role in preventing youth crimes. The teaching and non-teaching staff in the school can help the youths develop a healthy and happy youthful future. The communities do also provide support for the school program by allowing the socializing of youths. Many of the cases of juvenile delinquencies are school-based and can therefore be prevented by school-based intervention (Hahn et. al.2007).

The locations and operations of schools can influence the delinquency among juveniles. For instances schools that are in urban, poor areas and disorganized countries experience high disorders than the schools in other areas.

The schools have regulations and codes of contact that help them to prevent delinquencies. For instance, the Drug, Free Schools and Communities Acts of 1986 allowed the state to provide substantial funds to schools to operate drug prevention programs in schools (Sherman 2000). This control policy can be more useful and effective than the issue of policing and the construction of prisons to punish juveniles.

The school programs can be used to prevent the problems or what causes the problems of juvenile delinquency. The programs can be effected within the school buildings or outside as long as one is a student of that school.

The schools can prevent delinquency through environmental change strategies. This includes:

  • Building school capacity: – this entails changing the school decision-making authority to enhance the capacity of the school. This has to involve the staff of the school, students, and the communities at large to come up with goals that the school has to achieve and through which means. This means will mostly have to be in line diagnosing the problems within the school and how to prevent them. This means coming up with a way of improving communication as well as co-operation in the school community among all the stakeholders.
  • Setting rules and norms of the school: – this entails having schools’ rules and codes set out clearly and having to be followed by all students. Days are set aside for certain commemoration, for instance, a day for the “Red ribbon week” which campaigns against drug abuse and bullying among students in the schools ( Brady, 2002).

The schools can as well prevent juvenile delinquency through individual change strategies. This strategy implies changing the knowledge and skills of a student, his attitude and believes as well as his behavior in general. This is through means such as:

  • Instructing students: – this is the most common means of strategy change. It implies telling the students factual issues and increases their awareness about bad or unwelcoming societal behaviors. The students can be encouraged to behave well in society by making them appreciate the diversity in the society, and also improving their moral character. The best examples of these actions are campaigns such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E), Law –Related Education (L.R.E), and Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T).
  • Behavior Modification and Teaching Thinking strategies: – this directly involves changing the behavior of the youth. It tracks down the behavior of the youth over time and uses feedback to change the unwanted behavior. The external force can be used to shape the behavior of the student. The students are taught skills that can help them stop any bad behavior that a peer wants to influence him, rather than acting impulsively. Therefore, students need to rehearse and practice these skills so that they can know how to avoid bad influences when a friend proposes or acts in a suggesting manner.

Schools can as well increase positive behaviors through peer groups. In peer groups, there have to be peer councilors and peer leaders who will teach the students positive behaviors and also to whom the students consider as role models. Furthermore, the school also uses mentoring to increase moral behavior in society.

Recreational and leisure activities: – activities that provide fun to the juvenile increase the chances of reduced cases of delinquency. Youth having fun for instance in the famous “Midnight Basketball” will keep them busy and reduce the causes of delinquency (McNeill 2002).

Results of the programs

Studies have shown that schools management influenced the disorders in schools. A school that management allows and encourages more co-operation and communication experiences a high rate of teachers’ morale and a low rate of disorders. The schools that have well-elaborated rules for students and students feel more cared about also experiences fewer disorders. The schools that have built enough capacity experiences less disorder than the school with poor capacity.

Programs that set norms and rules for certain behavior expectations for instance through the campaign have been found to reduce the cases of marijuana use and alcoholism hence reduced the cases of juvenile delinquency in the end.

More competency social promotions work more in reducing drug cases than the programs that do not focus on competency.

Schools also have programs such as the Safe Schools Unit of the San Diego Country (CA) office, which provides safety to students and an intervening program to ensure safety to students and an intervening program to ensure safety particularly in the cases of gang-related (Vickers 2000). These procedures also include plans that train teachers, students, and parents in handling gang-related violence. Such approaches along with other measures of crime prevention have ensured the safety of the San Diego schools being improved.

Schools have come up with programs that will see the improvement of their student’s grades. The students with lower grades feel inferior and isolated. This is more so because grades are sued as a measure of judging a student’s performance. Such students might even get punishment at home, while at school they are considered to be outcasts. Hence such cases might lead to students resenting and undertaking behaviors that are not morally upright in society. Therefore, such students need friendship at school and home to relieve pressure.

Schools provide knowledge and skills for students that can play a key role in shaping students’ principles. Education is continuously getting prestige in society and not all students are capable of continuing with their education after finishing general school. Such a situation might lead to youth engaging in activities that are not right to realize their value in society. The schools hence have to ensure that students get enough knowledge and skills that can help them in society.

Peer programs use students to resolve conflicts that arise among students. Student leaders have also been used to pass the message to fellow students. This is because most youths find the information delivered by fellow youths more appealing than when delivered by adults.

Summary and Conclusion

The school-based programs that need to reduce or prevent juvenile delinquency have to be implemented by staff and other management of the schools. Therefore needs high fidelity integrity in implementing them. Some school management might end up watering down the recommendations to suit certain conditions, or just because of the challenges they face in implementation. Hence if the management does not show ambitiousness in adopting and implementing the programs, the school-based program is bound to fail to cause increasing or uncontrolled juvenile delinquency cases.

Another challenge in the school-based programs is how to initiate and maintain a change that is more meaningful to schools. The programs have to be implemented in a conducive environment to achieve possible results.

In dealing with changing the behavior of youths, a program like D.A.R.E might be facing problems in its objective achievement because of the uniformed police and other execution methods rather than using teachers might be accountable to its failure. D.A.R.E campaigns have to be put in instructional campaigns to increase the achievement of its objectives.

In conclusion, the school acts as a critical avenue opportunity for the youths to change behaviors. This is because most of the years of youth are spend in school. School-based programs have been found to reduce a significant rate of crime among the youth especially those in lower social-economic societies. Therefore, school-based programs have been found to reduce juvenile crimes despite the difficulties in implementation.


Brady J (2002); Red Ribbon Resources Newsletter. Web.

Hahn. R, et. al. (August 10, 2007):

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development; Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Web.

Sherman, L W. (2000): The Safe and Drug-Free Scholl Program, Web.

Siegel L.F, Welsh. B, Senna J.J; (2006): Theory, Practice, and Law; ISBN 0534645666, Thomson Wadsworth.

McNeill D. (2002); Youth Violence; What Can We Do About It; A Report Of The Josephson Institute Of Ethics. Web.

Vickers S. (2000); San Diego County Department of Probation Prevention, Web.

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