Where a family lives affects the nature of opportunities that will be available to its members. In some communities, public transportation permits easy travel for those who do not own automobiles. Opportunities for employment and entertainment extend beyond the local boundaries. In other communities, corner gatherings open possibilities for illegal activities. Lack of socially acceptable opportunities leads to frustration and a search for alternative means to success. Community-based statistics show high correlations among joblessness, crime, household disruption, housing density, infant deaths, and poverty.
Community variations may explain why some types of family life have different effects in terms of delinquency in different communities. In general, consistent friendly parental guidance seems to protect children from delinquency across neighborhoods, with the exception of the most disrupted and deprived (Gorman-Smith, Tolan, and Henry 1999). Poor socialization practices, however, seem to be more potent in disrupted neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods influence children's behavior by providing the values that lead them to perceive how to act. The theory of differential association suggests that people acquire their behavioral orientations by learning to define experiences through the eyes of their associates. This theory and the related Construct Theory of Motivation (McCord 1997b) place a premium on the idea that peer groups can shape the behavior of adolescents.
Communities in which criminal activities are common tend to establish criminal behavior as acceptable. Tolerance for gang activities varies by community. In neighborhoods in which gangs are respected, gang membership may generate loyalties that increase the likelihood of violence. Friendships among delinquents seem to involve closer ties as well as greater mutual influence than do friendships among nondelinquents. Through ties of friendship, communities have multiplying effects.