The children of parents who set down strict rules of behaviour are as likely to commit crimes as those from families where attitudes are more relaxed, according to Australia's first study of family relationships and crime.
The study also found that children from single-parent families are no more likely to commit crimes than their two-parent-family counterparts.
University academics and researchers with the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission have interviewed more than 1,100 teenagers aged between 12 to 18 over the past 12 months in what is believed to be the world's first lengthy investigation into the main causes of juvenile crime.
The study is considering the effect of parents, socio-economic status, gender, school environment and community characteristics on the behaviour of young people. The young people taking part are made up from female and male sibling groups from advantaged and disadvantaged suburbs of Brisbane, multiple offenders from both types of suburbs, urban Aborigines and young people described as "seriously disadvantaged".
Parental support was shown to be crucial in helping prevent teenagers from turning to crime. Only 44 per cent of those from families where parents provided emotional support had committed criminal acts, compared with 77 per cent from unsupportive homes. However, only 58 per cent of the teenagers said they received emotional support from both parents.
The study appears to disprove the common belief that teenage boys offend more than girls. Researchers found that girls committed drug and property offences in equal numbers to boys. But girls were much less likely to be caught and punished: boys were five times more likely to be taken before a court.
The researchers say that adults often misunderstand why teenagers commit crimes. There is an unwillingness to accept that young people commit crimes for simple reasons such as having fun, rather than more sinister and complex theories.
They hope the findings will be used by federal and state governments to develop more effective crime prevention.