Why young people commit crime and how moral education could help – new research

Source: The Conversation

By Neema Trivedi-Bateman Senior lecturer in Criminology, Anglia Ruskin University

There is a significant link between moral emotions and offending behaviour in young people. Moral emotions are learnt – and more attention needs to be given to the teaching of morals in childhood to address this link between morality and crime.

My research has proved that young people are more likely to carry out violent acts if they have weak empathy, shame and guilt, and if they do not feel violence is wrong. On the surface, this may seem obvious, but the research provides a new, evidence-based clarity about the decisions that lead to crime. It was previously thought that other personal factors – such as lack of self-control or social disadvantage – or external factors like the opportunity to commit crime were at the root of why crime occurs.

Having poor morals doesn’t mean that a young person is inherently bad. Morality is learnt in childhood. It is the people that we spend time with that teach us morals. It follows that if someone’s moral development is insufficient, they shouldn’t be immediately labelled as “bad” but that they have had inadequate or misguided teaching from the important people in their life.

Moral development programmes should be developed and taught to children to reduce the likelihood of them growing up to believe that criminal behaviour could be seen as morally acceptable. Moral education should be considered to be as crucial as nutrition, health, and formal education for our future generations to thrive.

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