Study Finds Early Intervention Crucial In Preventing Future Delinquent Behavior

by Ashley Heinonen

A new study from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence[PDF] (NatSCEV) underscores the importance for early intervention of childhood exposure to violence to prevent these children from future delinquency (also referred to in other studies as “bullying”). This study offers a new look at the relationship between victimization and delinquency for children 10 to 17 years-old and through four different categories:

  • Primarily delinquent behavior and not victims
  • Primarily victims and no delinquent behavior
  • Both delinquent behavior and victims
  • Neither victims nor delinquent behavior

Delinquency includes violent behavior, drug and alcohol use, and actions that involve property destruction, such as stealing or breaking property. Research has found that boys and girls experience and react to violence differently, and this study is no exception. Boys in the delinquent behavior and victim group experienced much more victimization in the past year than boys in the primarily victim group. In addition, these boys also had more delinquent behavior than the primarily delinquent behavior group.

Girls had different patterns in their behavior. Most girls were neither victims nor acted out with delinquency (as opposed to boys, who mostly engaged in delinquent behavior), and the second biggest group of girls were primarily victims. This information reflects that girls tend to engage in less delinquency than boys. However, like boys, the girls that were victims and engaged in delinquent behavior had greater levels of victimization and delinquency than girls that were either primarily victims or acted out with delinquency. These boys and girls that behaved with delinquency and were victims often experience more mental health symptoms and life adversities and receive less social support than other groups.

Patterns in behavior were also found in boys and girls of different ages. With boys, the delinquent behavior and victim group increases substantially between the ages of 13 and 14, which may reflect an increase in delinquent activities when they enter high school. With girls, the change occurs earlier between the ages of 11 and 12 and is associated with an increase in victimization and delinquency, but mainly victimization. This is likely related to changes with puberty and shows up in data with a noted increase in sexual harassment.

The jump in victimization and delinquency that happens between 11 and 14 for boys and girls strongly suggests that efforts need to be made around or before the fifth grade to effectively prevent children from acting out with delinquent behavior when they get older.

For more on the effects of childhood exposure to violence, see our past reporting:
Task Force Recommendations to End Children’s Exposure to Violence
Collaboration is Key to Addressing Childhood Exposure to Violence
New Study Finds That Exposure to Violence Affects Girls and Boys Differently


Ashley Heinonen writes the Friday news roundup, opportunity board roundup, and contributes articles featuring information about juvenile justice reform to ReclaimingFutures.org. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University and is currently an assistant account executive for Prichard Communications.