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Cross-national study on the attitude of normal and juvenile youngsters towards social limits

J. Strijker and J.E. Rink

Juvenile delinquency is a problem, for both society and the juvenile offenders themselves and the costs involved for recovery, monitoring and treatment are immense. Because of its social implications, juvenile delinquency is also the focus of attention in scientific research (see e.g. review by Loeber, Slot, & Sergeant, 200 la).

One of the problem areas in detecting young offenders is the lack of adequate screening methods (Loeber, Slot & Sergeant, 2001b). The screening may be directed to either detecting potential youth offenders or classifying young offenders into categories to determine appropriate punitive measures (Scholte & Dorelijers, 2001). According to Scholte and Dorelijers (ibid.) screening of potential offenders is crucial to deal with juvenile delinquency, as the right preventive programs should be tuned to the right group at risk.

In order to treat juvenile offenders, sound screening methods and subsequent diagnosis should be geared to an effective treatment program. The problems involved are twofold. Firstly, early detection of potential offenders involves assessing certain risk factors. Diagnostic instruments measuring risks among youngsters who are already in contact with a care agency, cannot be used in a community survey.

A different strategy is to ask the youngsters themselves about their attitude towards law, rules, norms and values. Rink, Vos, Van Lokven and Slagveer (1989) speak of attitude to social limits. According to Eagly and Chaiken (1998) attitude can be seen as a psychological tendency to evaluate a certain entity (object, person, stimulus, event) with a certain preference or disapproval. Various studies have shown a consistent relationship between a certain attitude and its (compatible) behavior (see e.g. Armitage & Connor, 2001).

Attitude is considered the antecedent of the behavior, whereby behavior may ultimately change a certain attitude. From this perspective, a deviant attitude to social limits is considerated to be a risk factor for delinquent behavior. An instrument that screens youths on deviant attitudes can be used in a survey. It is also a valuable addition to the set of existing assessment instruments. The second problem involved concerns establishing the effect of the treatment of residential juvenile delinquents. In order to evaluate the effect of treatment, it should be determined to what extent a residential young offender deviates from the normal’ youngster, meaning the profile of a group of youngsters without registered police contacts. Rink et al. (1989) reported that this evaluation was strongly biased by the group leader’s personal frame of reference.

From the overview by Van Yperen, Van den Berg and Eijgenraam (2002) it appears that over the past years initiatives have been taken to develop instruments for residential care, but that an instrument for evaluating treatment within residential care is still lacking. The two problems described above formed the basis for exploring the possibilities for developing an instrument that measures the attitude of youngsters to social limits. In addition, criterion validity is also required, meaning that residential offenders are to deviate systematically on the instrument from other youngsters in the predicted direction. For this purpose, Rink et al. (ibid.) developed the Standard Reaction Instrument (SRI). The nineties saw various studies conducted with the use of the SRI. Three key questions are being addressed in this article:

  1. What is the standard picture of the attitude to social limits in normal groups? This question is addressed from a cross-national level, which means that data sampling will be carried out in different countries to study differences and similarities to find out if there is a universal picture.
  2. What is the attitude of groups of residential juvenile offenders to social limits? Like question one, this question is also addressed from a cross-national level: is it possible to establish a universal picture?
  3. Do the groups of normal youngsters and groups of residential juvenile offenders differ from each other with respect to their attitude to social limits (criterion validity)?
    If empirical support for the criterion validity is found, the instrument may be used for clinical assessment.


Armitage, C. J. & Connor, M. (2001). Efficacy of the theory of planned behavior: A meta-analytic review. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40 471-499

Eagly, A. H. and Chaiken S. (1998). Attitude structure and function. In D. T. Gilbert, S. t. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.) The handbook of social pathology. Vol.1 Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Loeber, R; Slot, N. W. & Sergeant, J. A. (2001a) Serious and violent youth delinquency. Houten/Diegem: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum.

Loeber, R; Slot, N. W. & Sergeant, J. A. (2001b) Why do have to worry about serious criminal and violent youngsters? In Loeber, R; Slot, N. W. & Sergeant, J. A. (Eds.)Serious and violent youth delinquency. (pp. 27-49) Houten/Diegem: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum.

Rink, J. E.; Vos, R. C.; Van Lokven H. M. and Slagveer, C. M. (1989). Borderlines. The attitude of youngsters towards social limits. Part 1. Dutch youngsters. Leuven: Acco.

Scholte, E. M. & Dorelijers, T. A. H. (2001) Screening of seriously delinquent and violent behaviour. In Loeber, R; Slot, N. W. & Sergeant, J. A. (Eds.) Serious and violent youth delinquency. (pp. 245-24)Houten/Diegem: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum.

Van Yperen, T.; Van den Berg, G.; and Eijgenraam, K. (1991). The attitude of youngsters in juvenile institutions towards social limits. Groningen: Rijsuniversteit. PhD Thesis.

Strijker, J. & Rink, J.E (2003). Cross-national study on the attitude of normal and juvenile youngsters towards social limits. International Journal of Child and Family Welfare.Vol.6 No.3 pp. 113-114

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