Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Crime and Justice

First Advisor's Name

Ryan Meldrum

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Jamie Flexon

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Co Chair

Third Advisor's Name

Stephen Pires

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Elissa Trucco

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


adolescent, peers

Date of Defense



An abundance of research provides evidence that unstructured socializing with peers (USWP) is positively associated with a wide variety of delinquent acts. What remains less clear is the degree with which proximate and more distal variables affect this association, the reciprocal nature of theoretically important variables implicated in the relationship between USWP and deviance, and whether these mechanisms are nonlinear. This lack of clarity represents significant voids in the research examining USWP and deviancy and gives rise to the purpose of the present work.

While a number of approaches have been used to nest research examining USWP, the routine activity theory of general deviance (Osgood, Wilson, O'Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996) is particularly well-positioned to provide a foundation for this line of inquiry and will be used to guide the current effort. Indeed, the three essential components of USWP described by Osgood and colleagues (1996) (the presence of peers, lack of structure, and absence of authority figures) are highly conducive to deviance. The presence of peers makes deviance easier and more rewarding, a lack of structure leaves greater opportunities for deviance, and an absence of authority figures removes individuals like parents or teachers who would be in a position to prevent deviance or put a stop to deviance when it occurs.

In furtherance of the above objectives, data was collected from students in early adolescence as part of the longitudinal Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program. The first analysis in this dissertation examined whether the influence of parental knowledge on delinquency operated indirectly through both USWP and peer delinquency. Second, the relationship of USWP and delinquency was investigated over time to determine if this relationship may be reciprocal. Third, the possible nonlinear nature of the relationship between USWP and antisocial behavior was assessed.

Three findings emerged from these analyses. First, the relationship between parental knowledge and delinquency/substance use is mediated by both USWP and peer delinquency/substance use. Second, USWP and property delinquency have reciprocal effects on one another, such that USWP predicts property delinquency, and property delinquency predicts USWP. This pattern of reciprocal effects also emerged when the focus was the relationship between USWP and substance use. Third, the relationship between USWP and property delinquency is nonlinear, with a decelerating effect, meaning the positive effect of USWP on property delinquency weakens at greater amounts of USWP. A similar finding emerged when examining the relationship between USWP and substance use. This dissertation concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for policy and theory, study limitations, as well as directions for future research.





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