The Adolescence Limited Pattern

In 1993, Terrie Moffitt showed that youth follow not one but at least two distinct developmental pathways to adolescent delinquency and antisocial behavior. Contrasting with the EOP group is what Moffitt termed the adolescence-limited (AL) pattern. As the name implies, these youth show no notable signs of problem behavior until adolescence, when they begin to engage in high levels of delinquent and other antisocial behavior similar to the EOP group. AL youth, however, begin to cease their delinquent behavior toward the end of adolescence, and many of these youth cease to engage in such behavior entirely by their mid-twenties. Although the behavior patterns of AL youth are often indistinguishable from those of the EOP group, AL delinquent acts are more likely to be status offenses rather than violent crimes, and the delinquent behavior of AL youth tends to be limited to certain contexts such as the peer social arena.

Adolescence-limited delinquent behavior is an interesting phenomenon because it follows a very different developmental pathway. These youth tend to (1) come from relatively stable backgrounds; (2) show normal levels of academic achievement and social competence; and (3) not have experienced maltreatment. Experts have discovered that these are reasonably well-adjusted youth who are motivated to assert their independence by engaging in what they perceive as "mature" behavior such as alcohol use and smoking. Because AL delinquent behavior is likely to cease by young adulthood, some experts have wondered whether it may be appropriately considered a normal part of adolescent "experimentation." Nevertheless, because of its risky nature, this pattern should not be dismissed as harmless given the consequences it may entail, such as pregnancy, criminal prosecution, and substance addiction.

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