Social Control Versus Social Learning: Self-Efficacy for Future Academic Success and Peer Delinquency as Mediators of the Parental Support–Delinquency Relationship

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Social Control Versus Social
Learning: Self-Efficacy for
Future Academic Success and
Peer Delinquency as Mediators
of the Parental Support–
Delinquency Relationship
Glenn D. Walters
The purpose of this study was to determine whether low self-efficacy for future academic success
and peer delinquency mediated the relationship between weak parental support and delinquency,
and if so, establish the order of mediation. Members of the Flint (Michigan) Adolescent Study (N¼
850) served as participants in this study, which compared a pathway based on social control prin-
ciples (weak parental support !low self-efficacy !peer delinquency !participant delinquency)
with a pathway based on social learning principles (weak parental support !peer delinquency !
low self-efficacy !delinquency). Path analysis was conducted and revealed that the social control
pathway was significant, the social learning pathway was nonsignificant, and the difference between
the two pathways was significant. These results suggest that low parental support facilitates delin-
quency, in part, by lowering self-efficacy for future academic success, a component of the larger
construct of self-efficacy for conventional behavior, which, in turn, promotes delinquent peer
associations. From a theoretical perspective, these results are more consistent with a social control
interpretation of the parental support–delinquency relationship than with a social learning inter-
pretation, although aspects of social learning theory were also supported by the results of this study.
parental support, self-efficacy for future academic success, peer delinquency
In his social control theory of delinquency, Hirschi (1969) proposes that delinquency is an extension
of a child’s weak investment in conventional behavior. Formation of a social bond with society and,
in particular, with one’s parents can accordingly help prevent delinquency by increasing the child’s
investment in a conventional lifestyle. Akers (1998), by contrast, believes that delinquency is
Department of Criminal Justice, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Glenn D. Walters, Department of Criminal Justice, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(2) 101-118
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817753266
learned in close association with those already involved in crime. Hence, while social learning
theory holds that children learn to commit crime, social control theory maintains that children learn
not to commit crime. Each model offers a different approach to prevention, with social learning
theory seeking to place limits on peer influence and social control theory stressing improved parental
support. Whereas the social control and social learning theories of crime have been adequately
described by Hirschi (1969) and Akers (1998), respectively, the mechanisms by which soc ial
control and social learning factors impact on delinquent behavior are less well understood. In that
parenting and peer factors appear to be instrumental in shaping future delinquent outcomes, both
individually and in combination (Brown & Bakken, 2010), additional research is required to clarify
the relationship between these two key sources of social influence and the mechanisms responsible
for their relationship.
Parenting and Peers
There is little doubt that parental control/support and peer delinquency are central to the develop-
ment of delinquent behavior. When various social–environmental correlates of antisocial behavior
are compared, parental control/support and delinquent peer associations are often at the top of the list
of socioenvironmental variables known to predict conduct disorder, delinquency, and crime (Lipsey
& Derzon, 1998; Petrosino, Derzon, & Lavenberg, 2009; Wasserman et al., 2003). Moreover,
parental control and support ha ve been found to predict delinque ncy after controlling for peer
influence (Johnson, Giordano, Manning, & Longmore, 2011), and peer influence has been found
to predict delinquency net the effects of parental control and support (Henneberger, Tolan, Hipwell,
& Keenan, 2014). Rather than uncertainty over the ability of parental control/support and peer
influence to affect delinquent outcomes or questions about the existence of a relationship between
these two sources of social environmental influence, what is really at issue is the direction, context,
and nature of the well-documented connection between parental control/support and peer influence,
particularly when it comes to using these two variables to predict future delinquent behavior.
An assumption researchers investigating the parenting–peer relationship often make is that par-
ental control and support condition the effect of delinquent peers on subsequent delinquent behavior
(Poole & Regoli, 1979). In other words, it is assumed that parenting factors precede peer factors in
the development of a delinquent lifestyle and that strong parental control and support protect a child
against negative peer influences, whereas weak parental control and support leave a child vulnerable
to negative peer influences. It is understandable that such an assumption would be made, given that
young children are nearly always more closely involved with their parents than they are with their
peers. In fact, research indicates that it is not until late childhood or early adolescence that peer
effects begin to catch up and eventually exceed parenting effects (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker,
2006). Researchers who have examined the direction of the parenting–peer relationship have more
often than not determined that parental control and support precede peer influence effects rather than
vice versa (Forgatch et al., 2016; Simons, Wu, Conger, & Lorenz, 1994), although exceptions have
been noted (see, e.g., Trucco, Colder, Wieczorek, Lengua, & Hawk, 2014).
The parenting–peer relationship may also vary as a function of context. Although any variable
could potentially moderate the parenting–peer relationship, the moderating effects of gender on the
parenting–peer relationship have received the greatest amount of attention thus far. This may be
because there is evidence that gender can affect both the parenting–delinquency and peer–delin-
quency relationships. Studies show that while boys tend to be more sensitive to negative peer effects
than girls (Augustyn & McGloin, 2013; Piquero, Gover, MacDonald, & Piquero, 2005), girls tend to
be more sensitive to positive and negative family influences than boys (Silverman & Caldwell, 2005;
Walters, 2013). Evaluating parental control/support and peer deviance as predictors of participant
delinquency, Bowman, Prelow, and Weaver (2007) discovered that parental control and support
102 Criminal Justice Review 44(2)

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