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Dysfunctional Families in Relation to Emotional and Social Development in Adolescents

Dysfunctional Families in Relation to Emotional and Social Development in Adolescents

Emotional and social development during adolescence is a critical and complex issue of human growth. This period, typically spanning from ages 10 to 19, involves significant changes in identity, relationships, and emotional well-being. One of the key considerations of emotional and social development in adolescents is emotion regulation. Adolescents experience a wide range of emotions, often more intensely than in childhood, as most adolescent portrayals often refer to new levels of emotional variability, irritability, and emotional outbursts. Hormonal changes, coupled with cognitive and neurological developments, contribute to emotional volatility, which can often lead to misbehavior or lawbreaking. Further, with a less fully developed prefrontal cortex, adolescents may have trouble subduing the instantaneous emotional responses of the limbic system.

At the same time, adolescents may participate in more extremely stimulating deeds, some of which would be considered highly risky by an adult, in order to reach the sought-after experience of pleasure or excitement (Galván, 2012). As such, developing effective emotional regulation skills becomes essential. Delinquency, particularly juvenile delinquency, is a complex issue that intersects with various aspects of human development. Juvenile delinquency refers to illegal or antisocial behavior by individuals who are typically under the age of 18. Understanding the developmental factors associated with delinquency is essential for prevention and intervention efforts. In addition, the elevated incidence of misbehavior during adolescence suggests that key developmental changes that take place during these critical years may be somewhat responsible for the onset of these delinquencies.

Further, the literature on delinquency provides various aspects of biological, societal and psychological risk factors that are associated with delinquency. Biological risk factors include issues associated with executive control, including impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Psychological risk factors include a lack of empathy and poor performance in school, among others. Lastly, one of the most significant societal risk factors includes family factors like family dysfunction, abuse, neglect, and inadequate parental supervision and modeling of felonious behavior of parents and other community adults (Climent-Galarza et al., 2022). In this regard, the purpose of this paper is to highlight how dysfunctional families can negatively affect the emotional and social development of adolescents, leading to delinquency.

Literature Review

Wong et al. (2010) conducted an extensive study on the risk factors for delinquency in young adult females and adults. The results showed that some of the most significant factors that lead to delinquency include conflicts within the family, family violence, the quality of parent-child relationships and children having caregivers with a history of drug abuse or delinquency. The study showed that parenting factors like parenting styles, specifically neglectful as opposed to permissive parenting styles, were positively linked to delinquency. This kind of parenting style includes traits like being unattached to adolescents, punishing them often and having the lowest demands for conformity. This is in accordance with the attachment theory developed by John Bowlby, which argues that children with secure attachments tend to develop better emotional regulation skills. In contrast, insecurely attached individuals may struggle with emotional regulation, leading to difficulties in coping with stress and managing emotions.

Reeta and Singh (2020) published an article on how broken families are connected to juvenile delinquency. Accordingly, the article states that children who are at the highest threat of becoming delinquent are those who grow up in homes with significant struggles, including parental abandonment and exploitation, parental drug practice, domestic violence, parental superiorities to violence, or those who have inept supervision. In addition, the article also states that having criminal parents is a significant predictor of adolescents becoming delinquents. Besides, children from normal family construction are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior than children from dysfunctional families.

Evans et al. (2016) wrote an article on a study about the factors that impact the trajectories of delinquencies throughout adolescence. Accordingly, one of the most powerful predictors of an individual becoming a criminal in adulthood is juvenile delinquency. The authors hypothesized that adolescents who begin committing unlawful acts or delinquent behavior earlier on were exposed to a greater number of life stressors compared to those who started committing offenses earlier on. One of the factors that had a positive link to this hypothesis is the dysfunctional family, including the structural characteristics of the family. In addition, the results of the study also indicate that the authoritative parenting style is highly effective in reducing the chances of an adolescent becoming a delinquent. Authoritative parents tend to be nurturing, supportive, and responsive, traits that help foster a secure attachment between them and their children. As a result of this secure attachment, children grow up with high self-esteem, have better social skills, and, most importantly, have better emotional regulation (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2021). Conclusively, authoritative parenting creates an environment that nurtures positive emotional development in adolescents. It combines emotional warmth with clear expectations and consistent support, fostering a sense of security, autonomy, and emotional intelligence. This parenting style contributes to the development of well-adjusted and socially competent individuals.

Newman and Newman (2017), in their book “Development through Life: A Psychosocial Approach,” state that individuals who have had chronic exposure to violence tend to have a negatively impacted neurological development. The impact of trauma or stressful environments is particularly significant when it occurs during critical periods of brain development, such as childhood and adolescence. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms include inhibiting aggressive impulses, difficulty regulating emotional reactions and having trouble concentrating, to name a few. One example of how this can happen is through the damage of the amygdala during development. The amygdala, responsible for processing emotions and fear responses, may become hyperactive, leading to heightened emotional reactivity and difficulties in regulating emotions. Secondly, trauma can impair the development of the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. This may result in difficulties with executive functions. The authors also argue that being exposed to violence increases a person’s aggressive cognitions and the designation of hostile intentions toward other people while concurrently lowering the individual’s sensitivity to the pain and suffering of other people.

Bae (2020) published an article on the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) on juvenile delinquency as well as the lasting effects of this. Accordingly, the study found a positive correlation between ACE and delinquency. Notably, ACEs in this study include domestic violence, drug abuse in the family, and negligent parents, among others that fall under the category of dysfunctional families. In addition, some of the long-term effects of juvenile delinquency include dropping out of school, which leads to unemployment, drug abuse and involvement in other criminal activities.

Viner et al. (2017) state in their book that during adolescence, the brain undergoes significant development, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and regions of the limbic system. The changes that take place in these areas of the brain are responsible for various functions, including social interactions, rationality and the regulation of behavior and emotion. As such, with normal healthy development, cognitive domains like reasoning and learning, as well as executive functioning capabilities that facilitate self-regulation of emotions, thoughts and actions, continue to develop in parallel with the areas of the brain undergoing development. This means that any factor that can affect this development. Trauma, for instance, post-traumatic stress or depression, will prevent the normal development of these areas of the rain, leading to challenges like lack of emotional regulation.

Theoretical Frameworks and Their Critical Analysis

Social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, emphasizes the role of observational learning, imitation, and modeling in the acquisition of behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions (Newman & Newman, 2017). The theory posits that individuals learn by observing the behaviors of others and the consequences associated with those behaviors. Some of the key concepts of the social learning theory include observational learning, whereby individuals learn by watching others and imitating their actions. This process involves attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. In dysfunctional families, adolescents will witness unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors among family members. If negative behaviors are consistently modeled, adolescents are likely to imitate them, leading to the replication of dysfunctional patterns.

Another concept is modelling, whereby models, or individuals whose behavior is observed, play a crucial role in the learning process (Newman & Newman, (2017). The characteristics of the model, such as competence and relevance, influence the likelihood of imitation. For instance, dysfunctional families may exhibit poor communication, violent behaviors, poor conflict resolution, and poor coping mechanisms. Consequently, adolescents growing up in such environments will model these dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors in their own relationships, potentially leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy connections. As such, these adolescents end up being antisocial, which is one major predictor of developmental issues and the likelihood of delinquency (Morales et al., 2021).

The third concept is reinforcement, and whether positive or negative, it affects the likelihood of a behavior being repeated (Newman & Newman, (2017). If a behavior is followed by the desired consequences, it is more likely to be imitated. Notably, due to their less fully developed prefrontal cortex, teenagers are more likely to engage in more intensely stimulating actions because the thrill is the positive reinforcement they seek, not caring whether the activities are risky or even unlawful. Besides, testosterone in teenagers promotes aggression, particularly in boys (Geniole et al., 2019). In addition, in dysfunctional families, negative behaviors may be reinforced through various means, such as attention, avoidance of conflict, or tangible rewards. Adolescents may learn that engaging in maladaptive behaviors is a way to cope or gain attention, potentially leading to the persistence of these behaviors in their social interactions.

One of the major developmental issues associated with the social learning theory is aggression and violence. Exposure to aggressive models, whether in real life or through media, can contribute to the development of aggressive behaviors in children through observational learning, modeling, or reinforcement. This has implications for issues like bullying and interpersonal violence. An adolescent who has grown up in a dysfunctional family will likely have emotional developmental issues. These issues, coupled with social learning theory, make the perfect recipe for an individual who will experience emotional developmental issues throughout their lifespan. Such an individual is not only cognitively programmed to be an aggressor due to the damage to the parts of the brain responsible for healthy emotional regulation, but being exposed to a stressful environment also teaches them to be aggressors.

However, a counterargument could be made that Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development is a better fit for the developmental topic and issue mentioned in this essay. The argument would be based on the examination of how disruptions in key psychosocial stages highlighted by this theory can impact the formation of identity, interpersonal relationships, and overall well-being. One example of a psychosocial stage is the very first one, which is trust versus mistrust (infancy) (Newman & Newman, 2017). This stage emphasizes the development of trust through consistent caregiving. As such, in dysfunctional families, inconsistent or inadequate caregiving may lead to mistrust in the child. This lack of trust can set the foundation for emotional and social difficulties in adolescence, affecting the ability to form healthy relationships. A second example is in the fifth stage of Erikson’s psychosocial theory, identity versus role confusion (adolescence), which states that adolescence is a critical stage for forming a coherent sense of identity. Therefore, dysfunctional families may contribute to role confusion by providing inconsistent or conflicting messages about values, goals, and self-worth. As a result, adolescents may struggle to establish a stable identity, leading to difficulties in forming healthy relationships, leaving one to be antisocial, which is a risk factor for delinquency.

I find the social learning developmental theory the most suitable for the topic of dysfunctional families on delinquency because delinquency is a common problem among adolescents. Social learning is fundamental to human development, and this is especially true during adolescent years. It is a significant aspect of adolescent development, involving the acquisition of behaviors, attitudes, and values through observation, imitation, and interaction with others in the social environment. During adolescence, individuals become more attuned to their social context. Growing up in a healthy environment, with parents who use parenting styles linked to good outcomes, adolescents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior and instead model the behavior of those around them, not to mention getting beneficial reinforcements. This is the same case when it comes to adolescents who grow up in stressful environments, for example, with dysfunctional families. This, coupled with developmental issues like lack of emotional regulation and an overload of hormones, which significantly influence their emotions and thoughts, delinquency is a certain result.


In conclusion, understanding the dynamics of social learning during adolescence is essential for parents, educators, and policymakers. Positive social environments, supportive role models, and interventions that promote prosocial behaviors can contribute to healthy social learning experiences for adolescents and is the key to reducing delinquency. Additionally, fostering critical thinking skills allows adolescents to navigate social influences and make informed decisions. Further, it is important to note that the impact of stressful environments can vary among individuals, and not everyone who experiences them will develop developmental issues. Resilience factors, such as supportive relationships and access to mental health resources, can play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of stressful environments like dysfunctional families. Supportive environments, positive role models, and access to resources for emotional and social development contribute to healthier outcomes for adolescents. Further, building resilience, fostering communication, and promoting a sense of belonging are key components in navigating the challenges of adolescence. It is important for parents, educators, and communities to realize how critical and vulnerable this stage is and to provide guidance and support during this transformative stage of development.


Bae, S. M. (2020). Long-term effect of adverse childhood experiences, school disengagement, and reasons for leaving school on delinquency in adolescents who drop out. Frontiers in Psychology11, 553858.

Climent-Galarza, S., Alcaide, M., Garcia, O. F., Chen, F., & Garcia, F. (2022). Parental socialization, delinquency during adolescence and adjustment in adolescents and adult children. Behavioral Sciences12(11), 448.

Evans, S. Z., Simons, L. G., & Simons, R. L. (2016). Factors that influence trajectories of delinquency throughout adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence45, 156-171.

Galván, A. (2012). Risky behavior in adolescents: The role of the developing brain.

Geniole, S. N., Procyshyn, T. L., Marley, N., Ortiz, T. L., Bird, B. M., Marcellus, A. L., & Carré, J. M. (2019). Using a psychopharmacogenetic approach to identify the pathways through which—and the people for whom—testosterone promotes aggression. Psychological Science30(4), 481-494.

Morales, H., da Agra, C., & Matsuno, M. (2021). Antisocial behavior in juvenile offenders: A development bioecological approach. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community49(4), 354-365.

Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2017). Development through life: A psychosocial approach. Cengage Learning.

Reeta, V., & Singh, G. (2020). Broken families and impact on juvenile delinquency. Int J Humanit Soc Sci Invent9, 33-8.

Sanvictores, T., & Mendez, M. D. (2021). Types of parenting styles and effects on children.

Viner, R., Allen, N., & Patton, G. C. (2017). Puberty, developmental processes, and health interventions. In The World Bank eBooks (pp. 107–118).

Wong, T. M., Slotboom, A. M., & Bijleveld, C. C. (2010). Risk factors for delinquency in adolescent and young adult females: A European Review. European Journal of Criminology7(4), 266-284.


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This assignment requires the student to demonstrate mastery of the scholarly literature related to an issue of human development. Each student will select a human developmental issue and one or more of the developmental theories presented in this course. The term paper assignment requires the student to demonstrate the ability to critically analyze the utility of selected theoretical concepts to a common problem and protective factors during a specific developmental period for a specific population/sub-group.

Dysfunctional Families in Relation to Emotional and Social Development in Adolescents

Dysfunctional Families in Relation to Emotional and Social Development in Adolescents

Students are required to examine critically current and provocative literature in ways that reflect multiple and perhaps conflicting perspectives. The paper should be 8-10 pages in length. Please use a minimum of ten (10) references beyond the class textbook; seventy-five percent (75%) of the references must range between 2010-2022. The term paper grade will reflect (1) how well the student demonstrated an
understanding of and ability to comprehensively integrate course content, (2) the quality of critical analysis, and (3) whether or not all specified requirements were met.
All written work should follow these formatting guidelines: –double-spaced Times New Roman,
–12 pt. font one-inch margins all around
–within page limits as specified on the prompt

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