Why Do Teens Commit Juvenile Crimes?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

Crime can affect all of us. It is a universal truth that no matter where we live, we will have come into contact with crime or criminal behavior at some point in our lives.

Whether it be crimes committed in our area; whether it be us or members of our family being the victim of crime; or whether it be crime we see broadcast on the television, we cannot get away from it. 

Crimes that are committed by teenagers can often be particularly distressing as it seems horrific that someone so young should turn to crime. You might be wondering why do teens commit juvenile crimes?

The answers are relatively straight forward but they are worth discussing in depth so that you understand why teenagers become involved in crime and how often the crimes they commit are a result of crime committed against them. 

Why do teens commit juvenile crimes?

Before we start breaking down the various reasons that teenagers commit juvenile crimes, let’s set out the two broad categories for motivations. They are personal circumstances and underlying psychological issues. 

Personal circumstances is the largest motivating category because it has so many sub categories, which we will get into later. Underlying psychological issues can often be combined with issues related to personal circumstances to make teenagers commit crime; however, one or the other is often the defining factor as to why the teen committed it. 

Now that we’ve set out the broad reasons that teenager commit crime, let’s take a moment to define what exactly a juvenile crime is 

The definition of a juvenile crime 

A juvenile crime is defined in the United States of America as being a crime committed by anyone under the age of 18. This means that murder, rape and extortion to name three crimes more associated by adults, can be considered juvenile crimes if the person who committed them was under 18 at the time they were committed. 

The definition depends on the defendant/perpetrators age rather than any other factor. This means that anything can be considered a juvenile crime as long as it is committed by a juvenile. 

Why teens commit crime – Personal Circumstances 

Now that we’ve established the broad categories and what the definition of a juvenile crime is, let’s explain exactly what these rather broad categories mean. 

Personal circumstances related to the circumstances that are a part of the day-to-day life of the teen that has committed the offence. They can have a wide range of causes and meanings.

For example, if a teenager grows up in a house in which domestic violence is commonplace and considered acceptable, that will mean that if that teenager commits domestic violence, it can be said to be partly used by his or her personal circumstances – that they were set a bad example and simply followed it. 

Similarly, if drug use is common in an individual’s family, then it is possible that they will not see drugs or drug related crimes as being out of the ordinary or in any way negative. Rather, they might attempt to follow the example set by their parents or adult figures in their life and thus commit similar crimes such as taking or dealing in drugs. 

The easiest example to demonstrate exactly how personal circumstances cause teens to commit crime is this one. Imagine a teenager who is growing up in a family in which there is little money; they may receive food vouchers but, like millions of Americans, they may not. The family is hungry, illness caused by the hunger may have impacted the health of younger siblings. A teenager may take it upon themselves to either steal food or to steal money in order to support their family. 

This is the way in which personal circumstances can cause teens to commit crimes – the teenager may not have been inclined to crime, particularly the offence of stealing, if there hadn’t been a shortage of food in their household. Personal circumstances can thus act as a mitigating factor to teenagers on juvenile charges as it can be said that said personal circumstances combined with their age mean that they should not be as severely punished as if they were an adult and committed a similar crime. 

Of course, there are teenagers who are in similar situations to those who don’t commit crimes. Therefore, you could argue, surely personal circumstances aren’t entirely relevant.

The reason humans commit crimes are complex and sometimes personal circumstances are made worse by underlying psychological factors which can also cause instances of crime. It is worth examining how underlying psychological factors can cause teens to commit juvenile crimes. 

Why Teens Commit Crimes – Underlying Psychological Factors

There were, for many years, lots of people who scoffed at the idea that a person’s mental state could be responsible for their crimes. This is changing and we are now much more ready to accept that underlying psychological factors can indeed be responsible for crimes. 

For example, if a teenager is living with an undiagnosed mental health condition such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia then they can cause them to lash out and commit crimes such as theft, property damage or even assault. The underlying psychological factors can also be combined with personal circumstances and cause teens to commit potentially heinous crimes. 

Underlying psychological factors can therefore be a major reason that a teenager commits crime, particularly given that teenagers are already dealing with a great many mental and physical changes as they change from children into adults. 

As such underlying psychological factors should be considered as a core part of the reason that many teens commit crime. Indeed, in the most serious cases of murder and or rape, this can result in the teen going to a mental health unit rather than to a juvenile detention center

Why it is important to know why teens commit crimes 

The reason that it is important to understand why teens commit crimes is because, by understanding the core reasons that they do commit crimes, we can either help them to get better or potentially stop other teenagers from committing similar offences. 

The reasons for teenage crimes set out in this piece shouldn’t be considered an excuse for why teenagers commit crime but rather an explanation as to why they occur. Only by understanding the motivation behind why teenagers commit crimes can we not only ensure that we can help them stop committing them but also work to stop teenage crime forever.