Respect and Obey: The Development of Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Police and the Law
Legal socialization is the study of how individuals develop their perceptions of legal authorities and laws. Studies demonstrate that adolescents with negative perceptions of legal authorities tend to violate the law, yet the literature has not adequately addressed how adolescents develop their perceptions, why their perceptions affect behavior, and, despite being a critical component of legal socialization, how individuals develop their perceptions of law. This dissertation applied a developmental approach to filling these gaps in the literature. The first study demonstrated that the development of perceptions of the justice system through adolescence varies based on both race and experience. Specifically, Black youth report the most negative perceptions, followed by Latino, and then White youth, and racial differences increase as youth age. Further, attitudes become worse over time for youth who remain in the system. The second study showed that youth differentiate between legal authorities, such as law enforcement and the justice system, and socio-cultural authorities, such as schools and religious institutions. Further, across races/ethnicities youths’ perceptions of law enforcement have declined markedly in recent years. The third study demonstrated that the effect of perceptions on delinquency varies based on developmental level. Finally, the fourth study revealed that the obligation to obey the law declines through adolescence and how youth perceive law is strongly associated with how their parents view law.