Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 178-185
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A Study on the Moderating Effect of Family Functioning on the
Relationship between Deviant Peer Affiliation and
Delinquency among Chinese Adolescents
Yunjiao Gao, Yanping Yu, Ting Kin Ng
Department of Applied Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Received April 23rd, 2013; revised May 25th, 2013; accepted June 3rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Yunjiao Gao et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This study examined the interaction effect between family functioning and delinquent peer association on
delinquent behavior in a sample of 534 adolescents from five middle schools in Shenzhen, the People’s
Republic of China. The results showed that both exposure to delinquent peers and family functioning had
significant main effects on delinquency, and family functioning significantly buffered the negative effect
of association with deviant peers on delinquency. Further analyses using the five subscales of family
functioning demonstrated that family harmony and parental concern were significantly predictive of de-
linquency, and harmony, parental concern and control significantly moderated the risk of affiliating with
deviant peers. This study suggested that harmonious family environment with high levels of parental
concern and parental control were effective in alleviating the negative impact of deviant peer association
on delinquent behavior in the Chinese context.
Keywords: Family Functioning; Delinquent Peer Association; Delinquent Behavior; Chinese Adolescents
Criminologists have long realized the roles that deviant peer
affiliation and family play in the etiology of delinquency, and
considerable literatures have investigated the relationship among
these three variables. Several researchers have explored the
moderating effect of family variables on the relationship be-
tween deviant peer association and delinquency, and have made
mixed results (e.g., Coombs, Paulson, & Richardson, 1991;
Farrell, Henry, Mays, & Schoeny, 2011; Galambos, Barker, &
Almeida, 2003; Keenan et al., 1995; Lansford et al., 2003; Ma-
son, Cauce, Gonzales, & Hiraga, 1994; Mrug & Windle, 2009;
Poole & Regoli, 1979; Trucco, Colder, & Wieczorek, 2011;
Vitario, Brendgen, & Tremblay, 2000; Warr, 1993; Zimmer-
man, Steinman, & Rowe, 1998). It remains unclear whether the
buffering effect of family functioning exists or not, as few
studies have examined family at a systemic level.
Family and peer group are two important agents of socializa-
tion. Adolescents are most likely to spend more time with peers
than family members. With this change, they are more suscep-
tible to peer influence than their parents’ suggestions and in-
fluences (Berndt, 1979). Exposure to deviant peers in adoles-
cence has been documented to be one of the strongest correlates
of juvenile delinquency (Elliott, Huisinga, & Ageton, 1985;
Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, Van Kammen, & Farrington, 1991;
Warr, 2002), and it has been found that peer pressure was more
powerful than family environment in predicting delinquent
behavior in early adolescence. Meanwhile, although the influ-
ence of family on adolescent development becomes powerless,
parenting practices and family still exert significant protective
effect by shielding adolescent children from engaging in delin-
quent behavior (e.g., Cantelon, 1994; Henry, Tolan, & Gorman-
Smith, 2001; Loeber, 1982; Yoshikawa, 1994). Therefore, while
adolescents affiliating with deviant peers may be at increased
risk of delinquency, well-functioning families may protect them
from the negative influence of deviant peers, thus reducing the
likelihood of involving in delinquency.
Existing studies on the relationship between family and ju-
venile delinquency have been predominately conducted in
Western societies. It would be both practically and theoretically
important to examine the relationship in the Chinese context.
With the influence of Confucianism culture for a long time,
Chinese people strongly emphasize the importance of family
(Shek & Lai, 2000) and Chinese families are unique to adopt
filial piety for defining the relationship between the elder and
the younger generation, which greatly affects family relation-
ships (Ching, 1993). Chinese people might perceive family
functioning in a different way from the westerners (Shek, 2001),
and adolescents in China are generally more attached to and
spend more time with their parents than peers (e.g., Chen, Dong,
& Zhou, 1997; Ekblad, 1986). However, with rapid moderniza-
tion and social changes in this country, the social control of
family has been weakened. Meanwhile, teenagers during ado-
lescence put more emphasis on peer association, spend more
time with peers, and are more easily influenced by their friends
than any other life period (Brown, 1990; Larson & Richards,
1991). To our knowledge, since few studies to date have ex-
plored how family and exposure to deviant peers contribute to
delinquency in the Chinese context, the knowledge pertaining
to this issue is still insufficient. This study will use a sample of
Chinese adolescents to examine the interaction effect between
family functioning and delinquent peer association on delin-
Literature Review
Deviant Peer Aff il ia tio n and Delinquent Behavior
According to differential association theory (Sutherland &
Cressey, 1978), delinquency is a learned behavior. Individuals
communicate and interact with intimate persons to learn the
techniques of committing crimes, as well as the motives, ra-
tionalizations, and attitudes favoring such behavior. Ample
empirical evidence has demonstrated the core assumption of
this theory, that association with deviant peers is a salient pre-
dictor of adolescents’ involvement in delinquent behaviors (e.g.,
Akers & Jensen, 2006; Elliot, Huizinga, & Ageton, 1985;
Henry, Tolan, & Gorman-Smith, 2001; Herrenkohl et al., 2001;
Johnson, 1979; Lipsey & Derzon, 1998; O’Donnell, Hawkins,
& Abbott, 1995; Piquero, Gover, MacDonald, & Piquero, 2005;
Thornberry et al., 1994). Studies using Asian or Asian Ameri-
can samples also have documented the strong relationship be-
tween deviant peer affiliation and delinquency (e.g., Greenber-
ger et al., 2000; Kim & Goto, 2000; Le, Monfared, & Stockdale,
2005; Lin & Lin, 2007; Thai, 2003; Zhang & Messner, 1996).
For instance, drawing data from a sample of 246 male adoles-
cents, the study by Henry and his associates (2001) demon-
strated that youths interacting with violent peers were more
prone to commit violent conducts. O’Donnell, Hawkins, and
Abbott (1995) found that attachment to deviant friends resulted
in higher rates of latter delinquency among a longitudinal sam-
ple of 412 teenage boys. Comparing data from 329 Chinese,
Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese youths, Le et al. (2005)
showed that compared to school attachment, parent attachment
and parental discipline, affiliating with deviant peers was the
strongest predictor of delinquency, but the predictive power
among the Chinese youths was the weakest.
Family Functio nin g, D eviant Peer Association and
Delinquent Behavior
Social control theory assumes that individuals have an incli-
nation to commit crime or delinquency, and social bond shields
individuals from engaging in antisocial activities; if the social
bond is weakened or broken, individuals are likely to commit
self-interested behavior, like crime (Hirschi, 1969). Family is
one of the conventional institutions to provide social control.
As deviant peer association serves as an instigator of delin-
quency, family may be a barrier to the negative influence of
deviant peers. In other words, family may play a role of mod-
erator between deviant peer affiliation and delinquent behavior.
Compared to the large number of studies exploring the mod-
erating effect of family variables on the relationship between
deviant peer association and delinquency (e.g., Coombs, Paul-
son, & Richardson, 1991; Farrell, Henry, Mays, & Schoeny,
2011; Galambos, Barker, & Almeida, 2003; Keenan et al., 1995;
Lansford et al., 2003; Mason, Cauce, Gonzales, & Hiraga, 1994;
Mrug & Windle, 2009; Poole & Regoli, 1979; Trucco, Colder,
& Wieczorek, 2011; Vitario, Brendgen, & Tremblay, 2000;
Warr, 1993; Zimmerman, Steinman, & Rowe, 1998), few have
studied the moderating role of family functioning. Family func-
tioning can be defined as “the quality of family life at the sys-
temic level, such as wellness, competence, strengths, and
weaknesses of a family” (Shek, 2005: p. 518).To the knowledge
of the investigators, only one study conducted by Henry, Tolan,
and Gorman-Smith (2001) adopted a composite score of family
relationship (i.e., cohesion, communication, belief about family,
shared deviant beliefs, support, and organization) and parenting
practices (i.e., positive parenting, discipline effectiveness, dis-
cipline avoidance, monitoring/involvement) to investigate four
possible models about the relationships among family func-
tioning, peers and delinquency among 246 male adolescents.
The four models included a moderated model, which hypothe-
sized that family functioning could buffer the risk of deviant
peers on delinquency. However, the empirical analyses failed to
support this model. Despite adopting the concept of family
functioning, this study did not use standardized family func-
tioning scales, but a composite score of family relationship and
parenting practices scales. Considering few studies have inves-
tigated the moderating effect of family functioning on the rela-
tionship between deviant peer affiliation and delinquency, it
calls for further research to explore this issue.
The current study aims at filling the gaps by addressing three
important issues. The first is to examine whether the relation-
ship between deviant peer association and delinquency exists in
the Chinese context. It can be hypothesized that affiliation with
deviant peers is positively associated with delinquency. The
second issue concerns the moderating effect of family func-
tioning on the relationship between deviant peer association and
delinquency. We postulate that family functioning buffers the
negative influence of deviant peer association on juvenile de-
linquency. The third is to explore the interaction effect between
each dimension of family functioning and deviant peer associa-
tion on delinquent behavior. It can be expected that each di-
mension of family functioning attenuate the negative influence
of deviant peer affiliation on delinquency.
The data used in the study were obtained from a sample of
616 students in Grade 7 to 9 from five middle schools in
Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. Shenzhen is the first and one
of the most successful Special Economic Zones in China. The
five middle schools were selected by convenience sampling.
Two of the three public schools were located in the center areas
of Shenzhen, in which most enrolled students are local students.
Another public school was a reform school in the suburbs, to
which the students were referred by parents, teachers, or police
for minor delinquent conducts (Ren, 1996). The remaining two
were private schools on the outskirts, with many migrant stu-
dents without registering their household in Shenzhen.
There were 561 participants who returned valid question-
naires, and the response rate was 91.1%. The cases with miss-
ing values in demographic variables were handled with listwise
deletion. As a result, 27 cases were excluded from subsequent
analyses, and the final data were composed of a total number of
534 adolescents ranging from the ages of 10 to 19 (M = 13.84,
SD = 1.24). More male adolescents (61.8%) participated in the
research than their female counterparts (38.2%). The majority
of the sample was non-singleton children (70.2%), while the
remainder (29.8%) was only child. More than a half of the
sample perceived their family economic level as average level
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 179
(58.1%), 26.2% as above the average, 8.2% as below the aver-
age, 4.3% as wealthy and 3.2% as poor.
Permission to conduct the study was granted by the Univer-
sity Research Ethics Committee and the principals of the se-
lected middle schools. Consents were also obtained from the
respondents’ parents or other guardians. A parental/guardian
consent form was sent to each student by the form teacher sev-
eral days before delivering the questionnaire. Students took the
consent form back to their home, asked their parents or other
guardians to fill out the form and handed it to the form teacher
when back to school. Only those with completed consent forms
were finally recruited into the research.
Moreover, the questionnaire was administered by the re-
searchers during the class time. At the beginning of each data
collection session, the researcher emphasized the anonymity
and confidentiality of the study, explained the research purpose,
the rights of the participants as well as the instructions of filling
out the questionnaire. The researcher provided assistance when
the respondents had difficulty in responding to the questions.
All questionnaires administration was completed during the
first week of January 2012.
Family functioning. Family functioning was assessed by a
revised version of the Chinese Family Assessment Instrument
(C-FAI) (Shek, 2002). Since the Western scales of family func-
tioning may not be applicable to non-Western contexts due to
cultural differences (Morris, 1990), Shek (2002) developed an
indigenous 33-item scale to measure family functioning appli-
cable to the Chinese context. Four items in the original C-FAI
scale were deleted as they reduced the internal reliability of the
scale, and finally 29 items were used in the study (α = .95).
Participants were asked to indicate to what degree the situation
described in the statement was similar to their family (1 = very
dissimilar, 2 = somewhat dissimilar, 3 = neither similar nor
dissimilar, 4 = somewhat similar, 5 = very similar), which were
opposite to the original scale. The scale consists of 5 subscales,
which are 1) mutuality (α = .92; e.g., “Family members sup-
port each other”, “Family members love each other”, “Family
members care each other”); 2) communication (α = .90; e.g.,
“Family members talk to each other”, “Family members enjoy
getting together”, “Not much barrier among family members”);
3) conflict and harmony (α = .69; e.g., “No mutual concern”,
“Much friction among family members”, “Frequent fighting
among family members”); 4) parental concern (α = .72; e.g.,
“Parents love their children”, “Parents do not concern their
children”, “Parents take care of their children”); and 5) paren-
tal control (α = .78; e.g., “Parents scold and beat children”,
“Parents force children to do things”, “Parents’ control is too
harsh”). Higher scores indicate higher levels of family func-
Deviant peer affiliation. Deviant peer association was meas-
ured by 18 items. Respondents were asked to indicate how
many of their close friends had such behavior and experiences
during the past six months, like playing truancy, running away
from home, going to internet café, cheating on exams, watching
pornography, drinking alcohol, smoking, carrying weapons,
fighting, bullying, extortion, stealing, gambling, and damaging
property. The last two items referred to whether or not their
friends were punished by teachers, school authority, or police.
Participants rated each item on a 3-point scale (1 = none of
them, 2 = a few of them, 3 = most of them). The scale had high
internal reliability (α = .94). A higher total score refers to a
higher level of deviant peer association.
Delinquency. The 27-item delinquency scale was adapted
from the measures by Arnold (1965) as well as Elliott and
Ageton (1980), which were combined with the delinquent be-
haviors prescribed by Preventing Juvenile Delinquency Law
(1999) and Juvenile Protection Law of People’s Republic of
China (2006). The scale (α = .92) contained four categories of
delinquency: underage acts, substance use, violent delinquency,
and property delinquency. The underage acts included playing
truancy, running away from home, loitering during midnight,
going to internet café, buying alcohol or cigarettes, cheating on
exams, reading pornographic materials, and driving a car with-
out license. Substance use encompassed drinking alcohol, get-
ting drunk, smoking cigarettes, and taking illegal drugs. Violent
delinquency consisted of carrying weapons, fighting, insulting
other people, bullying other students, extortion, insulting par-
ents, and hitting parents. Property delinquency contained taking
money from home without parents’ permission, stealing, shop-
lifting, painting graffiti, damaging property, and gambling. Par-
ticipants rated how often they engaged in these delinquent be-
haviors in the past six months (1 = never, 2 = seldom, 3 =
sometimes, 4 = frequently, 5 = always). A higher summated
score indicates a higher level of delinquency.
Demographic variables. Demographic variables contained
adolescents’ gender (male or female), age, perceived economic
status, and singleton status (single child or non-single child). As
for the appraisal of perceived economic status, adolescents
rated on a 5-point scale on the family economic condition (1 =
poor, 2 = below the average, 3 = on the average, 4 = above the
average, 5 = wealthy).
Descriptive Statistics
The means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations for the
measures of delinquent peer association, family functioning and
delinquency are presented in Table 1. With regard to the inter-
correlational relationships, deviant peer affiliation was substan-
tially related to delinquency (r = .49, p < .001). While the fam-
ily functioning total score had a moderate negative association
with delinquency (r = .33, p < .001), the correlations between
the five family functioning subscales and delinquency were
significant but lower (rs = .22 to .31, ps < .001) than the total
score. Besides, delinquent peer association was negatively cor-
related with total family functioning (r = .18, p < .001) and the
five subscales (rs = .10 to .17, ps < .05).
Main Effects of Peer Delinquency and Family
A hierarchical regression analysis was conducted to examine
the main effects of deviant peer affiliation and total family
functioning and their interaction effect on delinquency. As
recommended by Aiken and West (1991), deviant peer affilia-
tion and total family functioning were mean-centered, and an
interaction term was computed by multiplying the mean-cen-
tered predictors. For the controlables, age and perceived vari
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 181
Table 1.
Means, standard deviations, and zero-order correlations for major variables (N = 534).
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Total Family Functioning -
Mutuality .93*** -
Harmony .74*** .64*** -
Communication .91*** .82*** .50*** -
Parental Concern .73*** .63*** .51*** .58*** -
Parental Control .61*** .43*** .51*** .41*** .45*** -
Deviant Peer Association .18*** .17*** .10* .16*** .14** .16*** -
Delinquency .33*** .28*** .26*** .27*** .31*** .22*** .49*** -
M 110.05 35.26 19.70 31.97 12.38 10.75 24.10 33.27
SD 22.82 8.02 4.20 9.00 2.85 3.28 6.95 10.05
Note: *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
family economic status were mean-centered, and gender (1 =
male, 1.62 = female) and singleton status (1 = single child,
.42 = non-single child) were weighted-effect coded. Using the
centered predictors, the first-order regression coefficients rep-
resented the average main effects of the corresponding predic-
tors across the range of the other predictors (Aiken & West,
1991). The control variables were included in block 1. Delin-
quent peer association and family functioning were entered into
block 2 to investigate their main effects. In block 3, the interac-
tion term was added.
Table 2 shows the summary of the hierarchical regression
analysis. The control variables were significantly predictive of
delinquency, R2 = .11, F(4, 529) = 16.03, p < .001. Two of the
four control variables, age (B = 1.50, t = 4.42, p < .001) and
gender (B = 1.77, t = 5.33, p < .001), were positively related to
adolescents’ delinquency, suggesting that males and older
teenagers were more prone to conduct delinquent behavior,
whereas singleton status and family economic status were not
significantly linked to delinquency. After controlling for the
demographic variables, deviant peer affiliation and total family
functioning significantly affected delinquency, ΔR2 = .25, ΔF(2,
527) = 100.54, p < .001. Deviant peer affiliation had a strong
positive main effect on delinquency (B = .59, t = 6.61, p < .001),
whereas total family functioning was negatively related to de-
linquency (B = .10, t = 11.20, p < .001). The results revealed
that peer delinquency was a risk factor for delinquency, while
good family functioning played a protective role to shield them
from engaging in delinquent conduct.
Interaction Effect between Peer Delinquency and
Family Functioning
There was a significant interaction between delinquent peer
association and total family functioning (ΔR2 = .02, B = .01, t
= 3.77, p < .001), which evidenced the existence of the mod-
erating effect of total family functioning on the relationship
between deviant peer affiliation and delinquency. Following the
recommendations by Aiken and West (1991), a further analysis
of the conditional effects of delinquent peer association on
delinquency at low (one standard deviation below the mean)
and high (one standard deviation above the mean) values of
Table 2.
Hierarchical multiple regression for predicting delinquency (N = 543).
Variable Block 1 Block 2 Block 3
Gender 1.77*** 1.50*** 1.49***
Singleton Status 1.04 .36 .38
Age 1.50*** .92** 1.00***
Family Economic Status .14 .05 -.03
Deviant Peer Association
(DPA) .59*** .57***
Total Family Functioning
(FF) .10*** .10***
DPA × FF .01***
R2 .11 .35 .37
F 16.03*** 48.22*** 44.41***
ΔR2 .25 .02
ΔF 100.54*** 14.25***
Note: Unstandardized coefficients are presented. Gender and singleton status are
weight-effect coded. Age, family economic status, total family functioning, and
deviant peer association are mean-centered.
total family functioning was conducted. The simple slopes are
illustrated in Figure 1. The impact of deviant peer association
on delinquency was weaker when total family functioning was
high (B = .46, t = 6.05, p < .001) than when that was low (B
= .79, t = 11.49, p < .001), suggesting that healthy family func-
tioning significantly decreased the influence of deviant peer
The Main Effects of and Interaction Effects between
Each Dimension of F amil y Functioning a nd Deviant
Peer Affiliation on Delinquency
Another hierarchical regression analysis was performed to
test the main effects and the moderating effects of the family
functioning subscales. Similarly, control variables were entered
Figure 1.
Conditional effects of deviant peer association on delinquency at dif-
ferent levels of total family functioning.
in the first step. The mean-centered family functioning sub-
scales and deviant peer association were entered in the second
step. In the final step, five interaction terms which were formed
by multiplying the mean-centered family functioning subscales
and deviant peer association were entered.
Table 3 shows the summary of the hierarchical regression
analysis. After controlling for demographic variables, the in-
fluences of family functioning subscales and delinquent peer
association were significant, ΔR2 = .26, ΔF(6, 523) = 35.09, p
< .001. Deviant peer association was still strongly predictive of
delinquency (B = .59, t = 11.31, p < .001). Harmony (B = .26,
t = 2.21, p = .027) and parental concern (B = .49, t = 2.91,
p = .004) had significantly negative relation to delinquency,
while the other three subscales, mutuality, communication, and
parental control, were not significantly associated with delin-
quency. The results suggested that adolescents with more de-
linquent friends were more likely to involve in delinquency,
and a family with better functioning in terms of harmony and
parental concern made young people engaged in less delinquent
Furthermore, the combination of the interaction effects be-
tween the five family function subscales and deviant peer asso-
ciation was significant, ΔR2 = .06, ΔF(5, 518) = 9.86, p < .001.
The delinquent peer association × harmony interaction was
significant (B = .04, t = 2.43, p = .015). Figure 2 illustrates
the conditional effects of deviant peer association on delin-
quency at different levels (one standard deviation above and
below the mean) of harmony. The impact of deviant peer asso-
ciation on delinquency was weaker when harmony was high (B
= .37, t = 4.32, p < .001) than when that was low (B = .71, t =
8.00, p < .001). As shown in Figure 3, there was also a signifi-
cant deviant peer association × parental concern interaction (B
= .12, t = 5.44, p < .001). The relationship between delin-
quent peer association and delinquency increased as parental
concern decreased from low (B = .20, t = 2.27, p = .023) to high
(B = .87, t = 11.88, p < .001). These results revealed that better
family functioning in the forms of higher levels of harmony and
paternal concern buffered the negative impact of deviant peer
association on delinquency.
Besides, the deviant peer association × parental control in-
teraction was significant in an unexpected direction (B = .06, t
= 3.11, p = .002). As demonstrated in Figure 4, the contribu-
tion of deviant peer association on delinquency was stronger
Table 3.
Hierarchical multiple regression for predicting delinquency (N = 543).
Variable Block 1 Block 2 Block 3
Gender 1.77*** 1.38*** 1.38***
Singleton Status 1.04 .48 .40
Age 1.50*** .93** .98***
Family Economic Status .14 .08 .08
Deviant Peer Association (DPA) .59*** .54***
Mutuality .03 .01
Harmony .26* .26*
Communication .10 .09
Parental Concern .49** .44**
Parental Control .00 .01
DPA × Mutuality .01
DPA × Harmony .04*
DPA × Communication .01
DPA × Parental Concern .12***
DPA × Parental Control .06**
R2 .11 .36 .42
F 16.03*** 29.94*** 24.94***
ΔR2 .26 .06
ΔF 35.09*** 9.86***
Note: Unstandardized coefficients are presented. Gender and singleton status are
weight-effect coded. Age, family economic status, deviant peer association, and
the five family functioning subscales are mean-centered.
Figure 2.
Conditional effects of deviant peer association on delinquency at dif-
ferent levels of harmony.
with high (B = .73, t = 8.71, p < .001) than with low parental
control scores (B = .34, t = 4.26, p < .001). Therefore, better
family functioning in terms of more flexible parental control
increased rather than buffered the effect of delinquent peer
association on delinquency.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 3.
Conditional effects of deviant peer association on delinquency at dif-
ferent levels of parental concern.
Figure 4.
Conditional effects of deviant peer association on delinquency at dif-
ferent levels of parental control. A lower parental control subscale score
means harsher parental control and a higher score refers to more flexi-
ble parent control.
The current study aimed at investigating the moderating ef-
fect of family functioning on the relation of deviant peer asso-
ciation to delinquency in the Chinese context. The results de-
monstrated that exposure to deviant peers was strongly predic-
tive of juvenile delinquency, which were consistent with the
vast majority of literature (e.g., Akers & Jensen, 2006; Her-
renkohl et al., 2001; Piquero, Gover, MacDonald, & Piquero,
2005). The findings suggested that affiliating with deviant peers
was a salient risk factor for delinquency among Chinese ado-
lescents. Additionally, previous studies have evidenced the
direct negative linkage between family functioning and juvenile
delinquency (e.g., Barrera, Biglan, Ary, & Li, 2001; Shek, 2005;
Cashwell & Vacc, 1996; Schwartz et al., 2005; Sullivan, 2006),
and families of delinquents are more dysfunctional than their
counterparts (Avci & Gucray, 2010; Kim & Kim, 2008). In line
with those findings, the present study indicated that family
functioning had a negative main effect on delinquency. More-
over, few studies have explored the interaction effect between
delinquent peer association and family functioning on delin-
quency. The study documented the moderating role of family
functioning. It not only directly reduced the level of delin-
quency, but also moderated the negative influence of delinquent
peers. Healthy family functioning is more effectual to protect
adolescents associating with deviant peers from conducting
delinquency, whereas adolescents in dysfunctioning families
are more prone to be influenced by deviant peers and to involve
in delinquency.
With respect to the effects of the particular dimensions of
family functioning, family harmony and parental concern were
negatively related to delinquency. Numerous studies have
demonstrated that families with less cohesion are related to
high levels of delinquency (e.g., Gorman-Smith et al., 1996;
Henry, Tolan, & Gorman-Smith, 2001), and parental rejection
is significantly predictive of delinquency (e.g., Loeber &
Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; Buschgens et al., 2010; Duncan,
1971). To some degree, the results in the Chinese context are
consistent with the Western findings.
Furthermore, the current study demonstrated that three do-
mains of family functioning, family harmony, parental concern,
and parental control, had buffering effects on the relation of
deviant peer association to delinquency. The results suggested
that harmonious family environment and parental concern
played a crucial role in alleviating the risk of peer delinquency.
Besides, the direction of the interaction between deviant peer
association and parental control was opposite to those between
parental concern and family harmony and exposure to deviant
peers. The result revealed that flexible parental control in-
creased the effect of deviant peer association on delinquency,
and conversely, harsh control buffers the negative influence of
peer delinquency. Figure 4 also indicated that excessively
flexible parental control strengthened the relationship between
deviant peer affiliation and delinquency, and respondents with
high levels of harsh control conducted more delinquency at a
low level of peer delinquency. Therefore, it is plausible to infer
that adolescents with more intensive parental control and asso-
ciating with fewer delinquent peers are more likely to conduct
delinquency, while the ones receiving more flexible parental
control and affiliating with more delinquent friends are also
prone to have more delinquent behavior perhaps due to peer
influence and insufficient parental control.
It is consistent with the findings by Galambos, Barker, and
Almeida (2003), that firm parental behavioral control prevented
the increasing trend of externalizing behaviors among adoles-
cents affiliating with deviant friends. The findings supported
the protective role parental control played in diminishing the
risk of peer delinquency, and suggested that when adolescents
associated with delinquent peers, harsh parental control is more
effective in moderating the negative effect of peer delinquency
on delinquent behavior. Parents should use more harsh control
to discipline their children, thereby alleviating the risk of asso-
ciating with deviant peers.
The study has some implications for prevention. Since devi-
ant peer association has been consistently a strong predictor of
delinquency in the Western and Chinese context, deviant peers
should be the dominant target of prevention. Besides, as healthy
family functioning had negative main effect on delinquency and
mitigated the negative influence of peer delinquency in the
study, interventions also should focus on family domains and
improve the level of healthy family functioning. In particular,
the programs that aim at improving harmonious family atmos-
phere and teaching parenting skills may be most effective in
preventing juvenile delinquency.
It is noteworthy that the current study has some limitations.
First, since the unbalanced economic and social development
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 183
widely exists among different regions of China, and the re-
search site, Shenzhen, represents the most developed areas, it
must be cautious when generalizing the research findings to the
developing regions. Second, considering the cross-sectional
nature of this study, the causality between deviant peer associa-
tion, family functioning and delinquency cannot be drawn, and
should be further examined by longitudinal studies. Third, as
for the measurement of deviant peer association, the current
study adopted the conventional perceptual method to measure
delinquent peer affiliation, which may result in the mispercep-
tions of peer delinquency, as respondents have an inclination to
project their behaviors on their friends (e. g., Elliott & Menard,
1996; Kandel, 1996; Loeber et al., 1998). An alternative me-
thod, the social network method, makes respondents identify
their friends and directly obtain data from those individuals.
The latter method is more valid and accurate to reflect the level
of deviant peers association.
Despite the limitations, the current research contributed to
the existing literatures by documenting the moderating effects
of family functioning and its specific dimensions on the rela-
tionship between deviant peer affiliation and delinquency in the
Chinese context. Further studies should adopt longitudinal me-
thodology and select data from various regions, developing and
developed, urban and rural areas in China to confirm these find-
ings. Other contextual factors, like teacher support, school en-
vironment, friendship distance distinguished by social network
methods, can be combined with family variables to examine
their effects on the relationship between deviant peer associa-
tion and delinquency. Studies exploring the mechanism of how
these variables operate in the development of delinquency are
also valuable.
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