JOY RIDE: Three teens stole a man's car and crashed it on Belmont Rd, Parkhurst.
JOY RIDE: Three teens stole a man's car and crashed it on Belmont Rd, Parkhurst. Chloe Lyons

The truth behind why children commit crime

IT'S EASY to judge, but it's hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

Earlier this week, The Morning Bulletin reported on three teenagers aged 12, 14 and 16 who stole a man's car and crashed it.

While we can sit in our homes and speculate as to why children commit these crimes, the situations that give rise to youth offending are complex and pervasive.

Central Queensland University clinical psychology registrar and lecturer, Doreen Canoy said youth crime is not a black and white issue.

We tend to hold youths up to our own standards, there's a lot more happening beneath the surface.

"It's important to acknowledge that there's a lot of different psychosocial factors that come into play," Ms Canoy said.

"Often people want to look at it as, it's simply that a young person commits a crime and why did they do this because they know right from wrong.

"It's important first of all to understand that it's not as simple as knowing right or wrong.

"Often when people are looking at the young people who do commit crime, they're looking at them through the lens of their own raising or their own upbringing.

"Not all children are privileged to grow up in an environment where they have that unconditional love, that they've been given rules and boundaries in which to live and they haven't always been shown how to make appropriate choices or know what those choices can be."


Doreen Canoy
Doreen Canoy Chris Ison ROK071215cgraduate1

Ms Canoy said the life of uncertainty these youths often face has a profound impact on their social behaviour as well as their emotions, contributing to offending behaviour.

"The majority of crime is by children who have come from traumatic backgrounds," Ms Canoy said.

"Often the kids who are committing these crimes are kids who don't necessarily have a regular place they put their head to sleep at night.

"They can't always guarantee where their next meal will come from.

"They can't even guarantee that if they take their shoes off at night to go to sleep, that when they wake up those shoes are going to be there.

"A lot of the crimes are also committed because of an inability to regulate their emotions.

"It's not saying committing these crimes is okay, that's not okay, we know that.

"We have laws and we all have to follow those laws, it's just looking beyond that."

Meaningful connections, Ms Canoy said, are the key to tackling this complex issue.

"One of the strongest protection factors is a sense of connectedness," she said.

"Feeling connected to your family, your school, your community."

Research has shown it's not just the youth that needs intervention in these situations, but the family as a whole.

CQUni professorial research fellow in clinical psychology Kevin Ronan leads a family centred feedback informed therapy program which differs to others in that it's main focus is on the youth's parents and caregivers.

"It's intended to help families deal with problems that at times can be quite complicated for example anti-social behaviour in the young person, offending behaviour and highly disruptive behaviour," Mr Ronan said.

"If you focus on the parents and caregivers you're much more likely to be able to deal with the full list of risk factors that are apparent."


Kevin Ronan
Kevin Ronan Chris Ison ROK070915cdv3

Mr Ronan said focusing on a single risk factor works in the short term, but fails to provide long standing effects in dealing with behaviour.

"A number of different therapy programs will focus on more singular risks," Mr Ronan said.

"They'll see the young person and help the young person in various ways with stop and think strategies and anger management strategies.

"What the many studies that have been done have found is you can definitely get some short term gains, but almost invariably those gains do not generalise to the long term.

"Once you stop working with a young person, then typically that young person starts getting back up to the problems that led to the intervention in the first instance.

"The more systemic programs focus not only on the young person, but on family factors, peer related factors, on school, on community and cultural factors in such a way that they are dealing with really the main known risk factors that can lead a young person to various anti-social and other outcomes."

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