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Legal Cynicism and Parental Appraisals of Adolescent Violence

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2014
24 pages
Using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, this study tested whether neighborhood "legal cynicism" (a cultural frame in which the law is viewed as illegitimate and ineffective) alters the extent to which parents view their children's violence as indicative of aggressive or impulsive temperaments.
Consistent with the study's hypothesis, it found that parents are less likely to appraise adolescents' violent behavior as indicative of aggressive or impulsive temperaments when the neighborhood is characterized by higher levels of legal cynicism. Parents who rationalize violence as necessary to deter victimization in the absence of legal action needed for protection (an expectation under the perspective of legal cynicism) tend to view their children's aggression as an appropriate, necessary tactic for personal survival. Neighborhoods where legal cynicism prevails provide cultural support for the cycle of violence, since violence is viewed under legal cynicism as necessary protective behavior rather than a behavior that must be controlled in favor of non-violent conflict resolution or action by authorized, well-trained law enforcement personnel. Subsequent research may provide more insight into whether changes in parenting behavior mediate the association between legal cynicism and delinquency among adolescents and their subsequent well-being throughout the life course. This study used data from the first wave (1994-97) of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods Longitudinal Cohort Study. The study consisted of a probability sample of just over 8,700 adult residents of Chicago. It focused on their assessments of neighborhood environments and their children's aggression. 4 tables, 2 figures, and 43 references

Date Published: July 1, 2014