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Bettelheim, B. Sylvester, E. (1950). Delinquency and Morality. Psychoanal. St. Child, 5:329-342.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5:329-342

Delinquency and Morality

Bruno Bettelheim, Ph.D. and Emmy Sylvester, M.D.

Many juvenile delinquents have a high standard of morality despite popular opinion to the contrary. August Aichhorn was the first to formulate the dynamic aspects of the delinquent's motivation and to apply such understanding to psychotherapeutic action. He showed how rebellion against standards set up for the child by those in authority may lead to delinquent behavior when adults do not live up to their own demands (1). Viewed in the context of their life experiences, the behavior of many delinquents seems grounded on stricter standards of morality than those of some of their conforming contemporaries. The latter find it simpler either to violate their own inner convictions or to accept a double standard of morality—behaving one way with their contemporaries and denouncing both behavior and friends when called to account by adults.

Other delinquents behave in conformity with the mores of the submarginal communities in which they grow up. In such instances delinquency is an economic and societal rather than a psychological problem and remains outside the scope of this discussion.

Fritz Redl has demonstrated that delinquents frequently show a high degree of conformity to the social order of their group. They will "cover up" for the gang and accept severe punishment rather than betray their own group (2). The motivation of delinquent behavior by this type of morality has since been recognized. Nevertheless it, too, must be differentiated from the problem under discussion which is primarily concerned with some intrapsychic aspects of delinquency and morality.

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