Theories of Child and Adolescent Development


Offending behavior can be explained by three children and adolescent development theories, which this essay explores. Theories can assist us in comprehending the root causes of such behavior and eventually advise intervention tactics. The chosen theories are cognitive theories of development, nature, and nurture, and theories of masculinities and nurture attachment theory. The comprehensive understanding of the development of offending behavior among young people is why these theories were chosen. Put differently, these theories advance exceptional vantage points on how adolescents mature and, if employed in tandem with each other, can yield a more comprehensive perception of offending behavior. Our main body approach is critically analyzing each theory along with its strengths and limitations in explaining the development of offending behavior.

Cognitive Theories of Development

The key drivers of behavior are suggested to be an individual’s cognition and decision-making skills as per the theories on cognitive development. As individuals progress through life, they gain greater abilities to make reasonable judgments and evaluate the probable effects of their conduct. According to Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory, the progression from early childhood to adulthood involves several distinct periods (Bernaras et al. 543). It begins with sensorimotor skills and advances into more complex thought processes within formal operational periods (Babakr n.d). Regarding offending behavior, cognitive theories propose that criminal conduct results from poor judgment and an incapacity to consider the implications of one’s actions. The theory suggests that social situations can be interpreted and understood based on cognitive processes, resulting in specific behaviors. In most cases, when teenagers plan their actions, like stealing cars, they evaluate all possible outcomes beforehand. Offending behavior can be explained through cognitive theories of development, which demonstrate how certain individuals engage in deliberate criminal acts like theft or fraud that necessitate cognitive ability and decision-making processes.

Additionally, cognitive theories of development can aid in creating interventions and treatment programs for individuals who have committed criminal acts. To reduce recidivism rates, targeting particular cognitive processes like decision-making or problem-solving may be more effective using these programs than general interventions (Alahmad, Mana 1584-1593). Nonetheless, cognitive theories of development have limitations in explaining offending behavior. For example, environmental and societal aspects are not considered in influencing behavior. Poor upbringings and traumatic experiences are common among many youthful offenders, affecting their actions regardless of cognitive ability. Cognitive theories do not account for situations where young people are more impulsive or pressured into committing offenses (Sanghvi and Pia 90-96). Also, cognitive theories need to factor in emotional aspects that impact behavior. Although a young person may recognize theft as immoral, their tendency towards impulsive decisions because of emotional turbulence could compel them into such action. In explaining the development of offending behavior, the limitations of cognitive theories on development become apparent.

Cognitive development theories usually suggest that individuals’ behavior is primarily driven by their cognitive abilities and decision-making processes (Eccles n.d). They say the importance lies in making reasoned decisions and weighing potential repercussions (Xu and Fei 841). Despite effectively explaining some forms of offending behavior, cognitive theories need to adequately capture how environmental and social variables and emotional and impulsive aspects shape such behaviors.

Nature and Nurture Theories of Masculinities

The role that societal norms, expectations, and gender roles play in shaping adolescent male behavior, including participation in illegal activities, can be better understood through analysis using The Nature And Nurture Theory Of Masculinities (Paulson et al., 1-12. The development of masculine behaviors is attributed to biological factors under the nature theory, whereas social and environmental factors are thought to shape them under the nurture theory (Babu et al. n.d). The two theories indicate that young men are raised within a culture of masculinity which places importance on toughness, aggression, and dominating others. Deviant behavior could stem from this cultural milieu. Gender roles and expectations play a significant role in shaping behavior, which these theories recognize as a strength (Seager et al. 105-122). The traditional masculine ideals may cause young men to perceive violence as an acceptable way of demonstrating masculinity (Di Bianca et al. 321). Feeling pressure to display toughness and dominance, some young men turn to criminal behavior. In addition, these theories recognize the importance of socialization in peer groups, where teenage boys could discover and adopt such behaviors from their friends.

On the other hand, these theories have constraints as they need to acknowledge personal distinctions and the function of additional social and ecological elements (Wojnicka and Katarzyna 1-5. While conforming to societal norms and expectations may impact behavior, engaging in criminal activities is not guaranteed for all young men who conform. Offending behavior development is also affected by other factors like poverty, family dynamics, and mental health (Bhagat, Vidya, et al. 1499-1502). A comprehensive approach to understanding how young men develop offending behavior requires considering multiple complex factors beyond gender roles and expectations. In explaining offending behavior, Nature and Nurture theories demonstrate their strengths through an example of a young man joining a gang to show his toughness and loyalty to the group. He might feel pressured to comply with the group’s norms and expectations, which may involve criminal activities to prove his allegiance and manhood (Kohlhaas and Jacob 33-57). It’s worAlthoughing with conventional masculine ideals might raise the chances of engaging in offensive conduct for some young men, not everyone who follows these standards does so.

The theories surrounding masculinity, known as Nature and Nurture, provide valuable insights into how gender roles and expectations shape the behavior of young men, including their involvement in criminal activity (Cislaghi et al. 407-422). Considering individual differences and social and environmental factors is crucial in developing offending behavior despite the strengths of theories that recognize societal norms and expectations. Comprehending offending behavior holistically can help us develop more effective prevention and intervention strategies (Reeser and Todd n.d).

Attachment Theory: Understanding Offending Behaviour

The development of emotional and behavioral problems, such as offending behavior in children and young people, has been thoroughly explained through attachment theory. The basis of a child’s social and emotional development lies in the attachment they form with their primary caregiver, an emotional bond that serves as its foundation. A child feels securely attached when they view their caregiver as a dependable and secure source of comfort and assistance. Insecure attachment arises when caregivers exhibit unpredictable, insensitive, or rejecting behavior. Attachment theory suggests that the probability of developing unfavorable emotional and behavioral traits, which can eventually culminate into criminality, is higher among children who experience insecure attachments (Johnson and Sue 169-177. These kids might experience challenges managing their emotions, encounter trouble building trustworthy connections, and display inappropriate aggression and impulsive behaviors. Insecure attachment styles and the absence of healthy coping strategies are often caused by a lack of consistent and nurturing caregiving during early childhood, resulting in negative traits.

Securely attached children tend to possess positive emotional and behavioral traits like self-esteem, empathy, and social competence. A secure attachment style and healthy coping strategies are developed due to consistent and nurturing caregiving during early childhood, leading to positive traits (Johnson and Susan n.d). Young people who offend might have encountered insecure attachments during their childhood that resulted in social and emotional struggles, according to attachment theory. For instance, a young person who has undergone negligence or abuse during their initial years might lack trust toward people, resulting in the incapacity to form strong bonds and handle stressful situations. Maladaptive coping mechanisms for emotional distress or a need for social validation could cause someone to engage in offending behavior (Brandtner et al. 106957). The emphasis on early relationships and their impact on emotional and behavioral development makes attachment theory particularly adept at explaining criminal behavior. To prevent offending behavior in the future, it is crucial to recognize and address early childhood experiences that may lead up to it. Neglect or abuse are examples of such events highlighted by this theory. By utilizing this technique, it is possible to adapt interventions to encourage young people’s development of healthy attachment patterns and effective coping mechanisms. This lowers the probability of them engaging in offending actions later on. Though useful, attachment theory has limits when explaining criminal behavior. Poverty, trauma, or peer pressure’s impact on behavior is not considered when examining other environmental and social factors. Mathes, Brittany M., et al. “Attachment theory and hoarding disorder: A review and theoretical integration.” Behavior Research and Therapy 125 (2020): 103549. Moreover, it might disregard the influence of genetics on behavior since some people could possess a genetic inclination towards particular emotional and behavioral characteristics.

Moreover, not every child who undergoes adverse early experiences manifests offending conduct, and not every offender has undergone childhood adversity. Attachment theory is a helpful framework for comprehending how early relationships, including criminal behavior, influence emotional and behavioral development. Still, it needs to be examined along with other ecological and societal considerations while adapting to the person’s specific scenario. Supporting young individuals in cultivating healthy coping mechanisms through interventions may lower the chance of participating in delinquent activities.


Combining cognitive development concepts with masculinity-related nature-nurture ideas and attachment principles prioritizing nurturing provides extensive insight into what leads to youth offending behavior. When practitioners combine concepts from cognitive development, masculinity-related nature-nurture ideas, and attachment theory, they can better grasp the multiple factors involved in delinquent conduct. By considering this understanding of the underlying cognitive processes, socialization into gender norms, and attachment experiences that lead to offending behavior, we can develop effective interventions. To tackle the multiple factors contributing to offending behavior among young people, implementing this integrated approach can assist in developing effective interventions.

Works Cited

Alahmad, Mana. “Strengths and weaknesses of cognitive theory.” Budapest International Research and Critics Institute-Journal 3.3 (2020): 1584-1593.

Babakr, Zana, Pakstan Mohamedamin, and Karwan Kakamad. “Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory: Critical review.” Education Quarterly Reviews 2.3 (2019).

Babu, Allen Elias. “Masculinity and Men’s Mental Health.” (2021).

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Eccles, Jacquelynne S., and Allan Wigfield. “From expectancy-value theory to situated expectancy-value theory: A developmental, social cognitive, and sociocultural perspective on motivation.” Contemporary educational psychology 61 (2020): 101859.

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Johnson, Susan M. Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. Guilford Publications, 2019.

Kohlhaas, Jacob. “Nurturing Masculinities: Constructing New Narratives of Fatherhood.” Journal of Moral Theology 11.Special Issue 2 (2022): 33-57.

Mathes, Brittany M., et al. “Attachment theory and hoarding disorder: A review and theoretical integration.” Behavior Research and Therapy 125 (2020): 103549.

Paulson, Susan, and William Boose. “Masculinities and environment.” CABI Reviews 2019 (2019): 1-12.

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Sanghvi, Pia. “Piaget’s theory of cognitive development: a review.” Indian Journal of Mental Health 7.2 (2020): 90-96.

Schunk, Dale H., and Maria K. DiBenedetto. “Motivation and social cognitive theory.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 60 (2020): 101832.

Seager, Martin, and John A. Barry. “Positive masculinity: Including masculinity as a valued aspect of humanity.” The Palgrave Handbook of male psychology and mental health (2019): 105-122.

Wojnicka, Katarzyna. “Men and masculinities in times of crisis: between care and protection.” Norma 16.1 (2021): 1-5.

Xu, Fei. “Towards a rational constructivist theory of cognitive development.” Psychological Review 126.6 (2019): 841.

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