Although individual, social, and community-level factors interact, each level is discussed separately for clarity.
A large number of individual factors and characteristics has been associated with the development of juvenile delinquency.
It has long been known that most adult criminals were involved in delinquent behavior as children and adolescents; most delinquent children and adolescents, however, do not grow up to be adult criminals (Robins, 1978).
Similarly, most serious, chronically delinquent children and adolescents experience a number of risk factors at various levels, but most children and adolescents with risk factors do not become serious, chronic delinquents.
Although the exact age of onset, peak, and age of desistance varies by offense, the general pattern has been remarkably consistent over time, in different countries, and for official and self-reported data.
For example, Farrington (1983, 1986a), in a longitudinal study of a sample of boys in London (the Cambridge Longitudinal Study), found an eightfold increase in the number of different boys convicted of delinquent behavior from age 10 to age 17, followed by a decrease to a quarter of the maximum level by age 24.These individual factors include age, gender, complications during pregnancy and delivery, impulsivity, aggressiveness, and substance use.Some factors operate before birth (prenatal) or close to, during, and shortly after birth (perinatal); some can be identified in early childhood; and other factors may not be evident until late childhood or during adolescence.Furthermore, any individual factor contributes only a small part to the increase in risk.It is, however, widely recognized that the more risk factors a child or adolescent experiences, the higher their risk for delinquent behavior.Many children reach adulthood without involvement in serious delinquent behavior, even in the face of multiple risks.Although risk factors may help identify which children are most in need of preventive interventions, they cannot identify which particular children will become serious or chronic offenders.late adolescence, and fall through young adulthood (see, e.g., Farrington, 1986a; National Research Council, 1986).Some lawbreaking experience at some time during adolescence is nearly universal in American children, although much of this behavior is reasonably mild and temporary.Social-level risk factors are discussed next; these include family and peer relationships.Finally, community-level risk factors, including school and neighborhood attributes, are examined.