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Early warning signs 0f Life-course criminality

Updated on July 13, 2016

There are many factors that can contribute to a life of crime. However; for each individual the variables that can be influential to a life of crime also have different affects. This means that just because certain environmental or physical conditions have been found to make a life of crime more probable does not mean that it will. In adolescence it is common for most people to experiment with some sort of criminal activity. Most will desist from law breaking behaviors before they ever get caught. Some get caught and this ends their negative behavior too. Still, a few will go on to lead a life of crime.

This article discusses many behaviors associated with life course criminality. It covers a wide range of critical information on adolescent and adult criminals. Key points being early warning signs indicative of future criminal behavior.

Several clues can be indicative to the potential to future problematic behavior. However; not always are early warning signs absolutely accurate indicators allowing adults to predict a future criminal. Yet according to Wright and colleagues the earlier problematic behavior starts the more likely it is to continue throughout the persons’ life course, (Wright et al., 2008).

Problematic young children who continue to progress in this manner without guidance towards a healthy lifestyle often develop into criminals as adults, (Sampson & Laub, 1993). Yet most children mature out of delinquent behavior fairly soon, (Wright et al., 2008). Most all learning disabilities and behavioral problems show a high degree of continuity over time, (Wright et al., 2008); in addition mothers who use drugs, alcohol and lead a stressful life can due permanent damage to the formation and development of a child.

Context sensitivity and self-organization are two developmental behavioral characteristics which are indicative to a healthy life course if well formed, (Siegel, 1999). Environmental deprivation can have negative life course affects, (Wright et al., 2008). Normal language development is key to healthy social functioning and contradictive to antisocial/criminal behavior. Unhealthy social behavior is one of the strongest predictors of life course criminality, (Wright et al., 2008). Excessive and continual physical aggression can lead to other problems and criminality, (Wright et al., 2008).

Early maturation or maturation that is not in line with most of society is usually a good indication that other problems will arise for the youth at some point in time. For example; in females other disorders that tend to be associated with early puberty are depression (Ge et al., 1996, 2001), conduct disorder (Haynie, 2003), poor self-esteem, eating disorders, early sex, and suicide (Beaver & Wright, 2005; Caspi et al., 1993). Still boys are also known to have problems as a result of early maturation such as a higher propensity for risky behavior (Anderson & Magnuson, 1990). Plus criminal behavior (Graber et al., 1997; Rutter & Smith, 1995), including drinking and experimenting with drugs (Duncan et al., 1985; Flannery, Rowe, & Gulley, 1993; Lanza & Collins, 2002; Stattin & Magnussion, 1990; Tschann et al., 1994) are but some additional problems associated with early maturation in boys.

Such problems as conduct disorder, hyperactivity, in conjunction with puberty can often open the door to lifelong problematic behaviors, (Beaver & Wright, 2005). However; many youth go through a period of experimentation and thrill seeking and this is quite normal as long as it desists before developing into the more serious criminal realm, (Moffitt, 1993); yet for some youth these problems are just the beginning to a life course of crime, (Wright et al., 2008). Still the majority of adolescents make the journey to adulthood without any serious life changing criminogenic problems. Those who end up becoming life course criminals are only around 3% to 10% of the population, (Wright et al., 2008).

Life course problems are most strongly predicted by early social problems, (Cairns, 1994). Choices made during adolescents’ can have lifelong negative consequences, (Clausen, 1991). Most adults shed criminal activity by or shortly after adulthood although those who do not often live a short and habitually troublesome life, (Wright et al., 2008).


Works cited


Anderson, T. S., & Magnusson, D. (1990). Biological maturation in adolescence and the development of drinking habits and alcohol abuse among males: A prospective longitudinal study. Journal of youth and adolescence, 19, 33-42.


Beaver, K. M., & Wright, J. P. (2005). Biosocial development and delinquent involvement. Youth violence and juvenile justice, 3, 168-192.


Cairns, R. B., & Cairns, B. D. (1994). Lifelines and risks: Pathways of youth in our time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge university press.


Caspi, A., Lynam, D., Moffitt, T. E., & Silva, P. A. (1993). Unraveling girls’ delinquency: Biological, dispositional, and contextual contributions to adolescent misbehavior. Developmental psychology, 29(1), 19-30.


Clausen, J. S. (1991). Adolescent competence and the shaping of the life course. American journal of sociology, 96(4), 805-842.


Duncan, P. D., Ritter, P. L., Dornbusch, S. M., Gross, R. T., & Merrill Carlsmith, J. (1985). The effects of pubertal timing on body image, school behavior, and deviance. Journal of youth and adolescence, 14(3), 227-235.


Flannery, D. J., Rowe, D. C., & Gulley, B. L. (1993). Impact of pubertal status, timing, and age on adolescent sexual experience and delinquency. Journal of adolescent research, 8(1), 21-40.


Ge, X., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (1996). Coming of age too early: Pubertal influences or girls’ vulnerability to psychological distress. Child development, 67(6), 3386-3400.


Ge, X., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (2001). The relation between puberty and psychological distress in adolescent boys. Journal of research on adolescence, 11(1), 49-70.


Graber, J. A., Lewinsohn, P.M., Seeley, J. R., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1997). Is psychopathology associated with the timing of pubertal development? Journal of the American academy of child and adolescent psychiatry, 36(12), 1768-1776.


Haynie, D. L. (2003). Contexts of risk? Explaining the link between girls’ pubertal development and their delinquency involvement. Social forces, 82(1), 355-397.


Lanza, S. T., & Collins, L. M. (2002). Pubertal timing and the onset of substance use in females during early adolescence. Prevention science, 3(1), 69-82.


Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological review, 100, 674-701.


Rutter, M., & Smith, D. J. (1995). Psychosocial disorders in young people: Time trends and their causes. Chichester, UK: Wiley.


Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. New York: Guilford.


Stattin, H., & Magnusson, D. (1990). Pubertal maturation in female development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


Tschann, J. M., Adler, N. E., Irwin,.C. E., Jr., Millstien, S. G., Turner, R. A., & Kegeles, S. M. (1994). Initiation of substance use in early adolescence: The roles of pubertal timing and emotional distress. Health psychology, 13(4), 326-333.


Wright, J. P., Tibbetts, S. G., & Daigle, L. E. (2008). Criminals in the making. Criminality across the life course.



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