Almost everyone can recall a delinquent act from their adolescence, which went unnoticed by adults. “Thrill-seeking” is how many describe young peoples desire to break the rules, and it seems that the one thing all delinquent acts have in common is that they are illegal. Under-age drinking, smashing windows, smoking pot - those are the more tame, and more common forms of delinquency. They are the ones we look back upon fondly when we're old and have kids, who ask us if we ever got drunk when we were 16, and we respond, "of course not!" with a little twinkle in our eyes. In many ways, delinquency can be seen as a type of right-of-passage into adolescence, something that we are not entirely proud of once we are older and wiser, but something we don't exactly regret either.

Kohlberg suggested that delinquency is a result of stunted moral development(Elmer and Reicher, 1995:35), but what if it is actually a result of moral conflict? Durkheim’s postulations on autonomy help answer this question when he proposes that “individuals must make a free choice to conform based on an intellectual appreciation of the necessity of their society’s particular moral order”(38). It’s when one becomes an adolescent that one begins to have a sense of autonomy, and has to come to terms with the freedom of choice that it involves. But an adolescent’s freedom can be very limited, and that can cause problems. The theory of adolescence-limited delinquency tackles these problems.

Adolescence-limited offenders (or ALs)are believed to account for the majority of young offenders, and tend not to continue criminal activity in adulthood (Moffit as cited in Piquero and Brenzina, 2001). AL delinquency occurs as a result of mental and physical conflict. On the one hand, adolescence is where one reaches a state of physical maturity, but on the other, society still deems adolescents children: “Teenagers are physically capable of adult roles, are compelled to be sexual beings, and yet are asked to delay most of the behaviours associated with adult life.

Delinquency is one means used by adolescents to assert their autonomy, independence, and capacity for behaviours normally reserved for adults”( Piquero and Brenzina, 2001:357). As a result of this conflict, “ALs are believed to engage in rebellious behaviours. . . such as smoking, drinking, and sexual intercourse- but not necessarily violence”(356). While older theories such as psychological and biological positivism blame delinquency on external factors, or a mental disturbance, adolescence-limited delinquency implies that society is more to blame for the common delinquent, by creating the adult/child conflict within the adolescent mind to begin with, causing rebellion.

Delinquency is normally seen as non-conformist, and there is a certain amount of rejecting of society involved in being a juvenile delinquent. So eventually most kids learn to conform to society and their role in it, but some continue breaking the law, and a few figure out how to retain a sense of rebellion and individuality without getting in as much trouble as they did when they were 16.

Brezina, Timothy and Alex R. Piquero. 2001. “Testing Moffitt’s account of adolescence- limited delinquency.” Criminology. 39:2 (17 pages). Retrieved August 1, 2002 Available: ProQuest.

Emler, Nicholas and Stephen Reicher. 1995. Adolescence and Delinquency. Oxford: Blackwell.