The Social Construction of Child Social Control via Criminalization and Medicalization: Why Race Matters

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Abstract

Scholars point to two trends in the social construction of child social control: criminalization and medicalization. To control child behavior, schools and parents turn to strategies motivated by both the criminal justice and mental health systems. For example, school suspension and expulsion rates in the United States have increased alongside the use of therapy or medication for children diagnosed with behavior disorders. Despite these concurrent trends, research rarely considers how criminalization and medicalization operate as opposing or collaborative approaches to child misbehavior. In this article, I take advantage of a prospective longitudinal panel study to examine patterns of school punishment and/or the medicalization in a sample of children between the ages of 5 and 14 over 25 years. Findings demonstrate that black children have higher odds of experiencing punishment than white children, but Hispanic children do not. Additionally, black and Hispanic children have lower odds of receiving therapy or medication than white children. Furthermore, racial/ethnic disparities in punishment or therapy/medication use vary across children with higher or lower behavior problem scores. I discuss these findings in light of historical trends in the social construction of child behavior and social control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-164
Number of pages26
JournalSociological Forum
Volume33
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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