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Theories Related to Childhood Deviant Behavior

by Amy Morin

Despite many psychologists', sociologists' and medical workers' attempts to theorize what causes deviant behavior in children, a definitive answer remains elusive. Childhood aggression is a strong predictor of crime and violence during adulthood, according to a study published by the "Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing." Developing a better understanding of the causes of deviant behavior might aid prevention and treatment in the future.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is one possible reason why some children behave deviantly, according to Simply Psychology's website. According to B.F. Skinner's theory of operant conditioning, the likelihood of a behavior being repeated depends on whether a person receives reinforcement or punishment after exhibiting the behavior. For example, a child who receives praise from his friends after stealing candy is likely to steal again, according to the operant conditioning theory. However, a child who receives punishment for stealing, such as losing his privileges for two weeks, is less likely to steal again, according to the theory.

Biosocial Theory

Some experts theorize that deviant behavior results from a combination of biological and environmental factors, according to the "Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing." Biological risk factors include a genetic predisposition for aggressive behavior, prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol and complications at birth. Social risk factors include extreme poverty and being raised by a parent with poor parenting skills. According to the biosocial theory, combined biological and social factors can significantly increase a child's risk for deviant behavior.

Attachment Theory

Some theorists believe that a lack of secure attachment to a caregiver leads to deviant behavior in children. Attachment issues can result from a variety of circumstances, including a disruption in caregivers due to a child or parental illness, being placed in foster care or experiencing abuse or neglect. A lack of a secure attachment to a primary caregiver places children at risk for developing reactive attachment disorder, according to MayoClinic.com. Symptoms of attachment problems in children include aggressive behavior toward peers, attention-seeking behaviors and social withdrawal. In adolescents, it can lead to more severe behaviors, such as drug and alcohol problems.

Social Learning Theory

According to the social learning theory, children imitate behaviors they see. Children who witness parents lie, steal or behave aggressively will likely behave in a similar fashion. Children don't only imitate their parents' behaviors, but they also imitate the behavior of others who live around them. Children who reside in communities with high crime rates might become desensitized to breaking rules and laws, according to Ontario's Ministry of Children and Youth Services website.

About the Author

Amy Morin has been writing about parenting, relationships, health and lifestyle issues since 2009. Her work appears in many print and online publications, including Mom.me and Global Post. Morin works as a clinical therapist and a college psychology instructor. Morin received her Master of Social Work from the University of New England.

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