Self control: An answer to the problem of youth delinquency




By Nithin Sridhar

Youth are continuously exposed to various social hardships. Youth especially from disadvantaged backgrounds are routinely exposed to alcohol and drugs and subjected to physical and emotional harassment. These hardships result in many of them dropping out of schools or involving themselves in various delinquent activities.

According to the figures released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) around 43,000 cases were registered against Juveniles in 2013. The highest number of Juveniles were apprehended for theft, hurt and burglary. This clearly shows the urgent need to handle the issue of youth delinquency in a delicate but effective manner.

Self control as a solution

In a working paper published this May by the US National Bureau of Economic Research titled “Thinking, Fast and Slow: Efforts to Reduce Youthful Crime in Chicago”, it has been shown that interventions that help youth control their automatic behavior will lead to reduced youth dropouts and delinquencies.

Automaticity or automatic responses refers to the spontaneous response pattern that an individual exhibits when faced with various situations. These automatic responses are exhibited without allowing the mind to analyze the details of the situations. Hence, these spontaneous responses become a pattern and when a person applies it to certain high stake situations, it may lead to negative consequences.

The paper cites the example of a disadvantaged youth who may have to face street bullies every day. Hence, his automatic response would be one to defy authority, as submission to bullies will result in more harassment in future. Such a youth would find it difficult to adjust in school to the authority of a teacher.

Though, the situation in a school and in the street are quite different, the automatic response of the youth will be one of defiance and hence he may eventually dropout. The paper concludes that, through interventions that allow youths to slow down their automatic responses, a person will be able to make better choices based on the situation. In other words, by making a person gain better self-control i.e. control over his mind and behavior, he will be able to have better control over his actions and hence its consequences.

Automatic responses and juvenile delinquency  

The study utilized the Chicago-based program by the organization Youth Guidance called Becoming a Man (BAM) for its intervention in two different studies and analyzed their results. BAM is basically a dropout and violence prevention program for at-risk male students in grades 7-12 that is designed to teach them impulse control, emotional self-regulation and developing a sense of personal responsibility and integrity. In one of the interventions involving 2,740 males in the 7th through 10th grades in 18 public schools in 2009-10, the arrests over the program year reduced by 44% for violent crimes and 36% for non-violent, non-property, non-drug crimes. This clearly depicts the positive role that intervention activities can have in imparting better control over their decisions and hence positively impact their lives.

Another paper published in 2010, titled “A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety,” concludes that children with poor Self-control were more likely to have drug and alcohol problems as adults. Such people were also more susceptible to money related to problems as they were poor at managing their wealth. Also, they were more likely to commit crimes. Hence, developing better self-control in childhood was seen as a key factor for a better adulthood in terms of health, wealth and social life.

Self control in Indian tradition

It is interesting to note that, though these findings regarding the importance of learning self-control by children are being seen as latest scientific revelations, these very principles were taught by the Indian sages many milleniums ago. The Dharmic conception of human life divided an Individual’s life into four stages- Brahmacharya (Student), Grihasta (Householder), Vanaprasta (Retired) and Sanyasa (Renouncer).

The Brahmacharya is the stage of learning, it is given at most importance. The teachings imparted during this stage will shape the kind of adult, a child will turn out to be. Hence, the Dharmic conception of Brahmacharya involved not only the teaching of secular subjects, but also imparting lessons in ethics, morality and spirituality. A student was supposed to lead a life of discipline and hard-work by practicing various tenets of Dharma.

One of the most important tenet that a student was supposed to practice was “Indriya Nigraha”. “Indriya” means “mind and the senses” and “Nigraha” means “Control or Restraint”. Manu Smriti (2.175) for example says that “a student must control his mind and the senses and practice all his duties”. The Smriti further states that a student must control his internal impulses like lust, anger, jealousy etc. These instructions and their subsequent practice by the students would help a student to overcome negative influences and drive his life towards positive outcomes. Such, a student will be able to lead a life free of crimes and addictions and pursue higher pursuit of knowledge and happiness. Hence, self-control is the key for the better future of our youths.