According to the National Criminal Justice Reference System, “70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.”
Criminologists and social psychologists have been trying for centuries to uncover the roots of criminal behavior. What leads someone to commit crime? Is it genetic, peer influence, family influence, other environmental factors? The answers have varied but one thing has always remained a significant predictor of criminal or anti-social behavior: healthy, stable relationships with family. Not surprisingly, children who lack these relationships, like those without fathers, are at a higher risk for criminality.
Obviously, parents play a huge role in the social and psychological development of their children. Parents are the first attachment children have. If parental bonds are stable, nurturing, loving, and built on a foundation of trust, children learn how to have similarly positive relationships and attachments with other people throughout life.
These strong familial ties teach children how to relate to others and to the world around them. With a loving family at home who you feel accountable to, there are more reasons not to commit a crime. Children with only one parent are missing this fundamental building block of forming healthy attachments. This lack of bond is especially problematic for young men without fathers, who “are twice as likely to end up in jail.”
Besides modeling positive social behavior for their children, parents also supply much needed supervision for young people. Criminal behavior peaks during adolescence, and it’s no surprise given that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. As most people know: teenagers do stupid stuff. It’s because they are predisposed to make poor decisions.
A young mind doesn’t have mature cognitive faculties or completely developed impulse control. Given this reality, it’s important for adults to be present and available to monitor young people’s behavior as they are liable to make bad, or even criminal, decisions. A fatherless household simply has fewer eyes on the job. A single parent simply can’t provide the amount of supervision that two parents can, and this also works to increase the risk of criminality in children with only one parent.
Coming from a fatherless home can lead to many unfortunate outcomes for young people. Not only are children from single parent homes more likely to commit crime, but they are also more likely to commit suicide, struggle with a behavioral disorder, have greater levels of aggression, and drop out of high school.
If you’re a parent in a single parent household and worried about your children, there are a variety of programs and resources available that may be able to help. Talk to a social worker at your child’s school or in your community to learn about opportunities for social and psychological help.