According to my parents, I grew up as a well-behaved child throughout my primary school days. Upon entering secondary school, my attitude changed. My parents, older siblings, teachers, and peers all commented that I became a different person, one who was naughtier, more rebellious, and more aggressive. I wondered if this was due to puberty. Perhaps it was the negative peers I hung out with or the gang affiliation I was in for the most part of my life. When I was 15, I committed multiple thefts along with my “brothers”. We were one and had each other’s back. Eventually, I was arrested and thrown into Singapore’s Boys’ Home for 2 years. My wife suggested that the lack of attention from my parents was the cause of my criminal behavior.
According to sociologist Edwin Sutherland (1939) who proposed the differential association theory, an individual will engage in criminal behavior when the definitions that favor violating the law exceed those that do not. Here, an individual is most likely to be influenced by definitions provided by friends and family members. Learning deviant and criminal behaviors can occur with gang affiliation. Clearly, I was influenced by my gang members and learned from them – I perceived committing theft as ‘cool’, thrilling, and a demonstration that I was loyal to the gang. On closer reflection, a discussion of why I joined a gang is necessary.
Since young, my parents always compared me to my older brother and older
sister, both of whom excelled in their studies. My parents were constantly reminding me to emulate my older siblings and would chide me each time I did not do well on my tests and exams. Eventually, I made it to a good Secondary School. The pressure resumed when I was in Secondary 1; they constantly reminded me to do as well as my older siblings (if not better) for my O Levels. At 13, it was too much for me to manage academic anxiety, which is defined as “disruptive thought patterns and physiological responses and behaviors that follow from concern about the possibility of an unacceptably poor performance on an academic task” (Otten, 1991, p. 34).
While academic anxiety can be caused by a variety of factors, parental influence was the most significant in my life. Parents are frequently cited as the most influential agents of socialization throughout childhood (Strimaitiene & Kvieskaite, 2009). While I understand that they were probably going through parental anxiety of wanting me to be like my older siblings, it was unfortunate that the consequences of academic anxiety impacted me quickly. I started to feel withdrawn from school, grew frustrated and rebellious, and eventually fell into bad company. My gang members gave me the much-needed emotional respite I needed.
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