As children are born into society, there appears to be no way of knowing what the life of that child will entail as they grow into an age of independency and making decisions for themselves. It would seem that, given similar circumstances, all children would grow to have similar structures and decision making capabilities. This would also lead one to assume that, regardless of what decisions are made by these children into adolescence, they remain to be children nonetheless. This then opens the discussion of Aristotle’s theory of realism which was grounded in the concepts of potentiality and actuality. In considering this theory, it is possible to understand the basis of these assumptions, make recommendations, and instill in society and, in particular, the professional law enforcement officers to follow these recommendations in an effort to diminish the prevalence of juvenile delinquency in society.

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First and foremost, it is important to establish Aristotle’s theory of realism along with the predominate concepts of potentiality and actuality. According to Yu (2003) Aristotle claimed that there was a distinct difference between what an object or person is/was and what the same could potentially be but that these two different perceptions were very much intertwined with one another. Given the example of a piece of wood, Yu (2003) explains that it could potentially become a table or it could become a bowl. Even still, Yu (2003) notes that it could also remain a piece of wood. It is in the latter that actuality comes into play. Yu (2003) states that the piece of wood can forever be viewed as a piece of wood even if/when it becomes a table or a bowl so that it maintains its actual identity even if the potentiality of the object is altered by some outside force. In this, realism can be determined through the actuality all of the time and by the potentiality within the boundaries of the outside influences on the object or individual.

This then takes the discussion back to the introductory statement that a child remains to be a child regardless of the outside influences that are placed upon their development and despite the decisions that are made throughout their journey through childhood and adolescence. A juvenile is there to be molded and influenced much in the same way as the wood was discussed as potentially becoming either a table or a bowl but the juvenile will remain a juvenile. With that said, Tremblay (2006) explains that the role of the adults in the development of a child is to ensure that the influence is one that will lead to a successful existence without hindering the pure essence of the actuality of the individual. In other words, each child must form their own identity just as the wood remains to be wood. However, the adults, much like the woodworker, has the responsibility to influence the outcome of the development.

Very often, according to Benedetto (2005) the adult caregivers are not equipped or willing to provide this form of influence into the lives of the children and these children are left to develop through whatever forces may be dominant in their lives. This can come in the form of peer pressure, examples from other adults, or even through media exposure (Tremblay, 2006). It is even possible for the primary adult caregivers to attempt to provide proper influence but these other forces take over as the primary construct of the developmental processes. Based on either of these two scenarios, the likelihood of the child to make poor decisions and turn to a life of crime rather than a socially acceptable lifestyle would be much higher than if the dominant influences on the development were more positive. However, regardless of the scenario, the child is still a child with the potential to either do good things or to do bad given the influence of the external forces.

Professional law enforcement officers rarely come into contact with the children until a point in which the external forces have sculpted them into juvenile delinquents. This often means that the officers view the child as the product of the influences. In other words, they see the table or the bowl but not necessarily the actuality of the wood. They are unable to see the delinquent juvenile as a child and this prevents them from treating them in a manner that would help them to redefine themselves. According to Tremblay (2006), Aristotle intended for the actuality of an individual to be interpreted as the continued ability to determine the state of potentiality. This should be addressed at all stages of childhood. Tremblay (2006) claims that law enforcement officers should be involved in the molding of the children from an early age and, if the external forces damage the development, the law enforcement officers should continue to see the potentiality of the child more so than the product that has been constructed by society.

In sum, children look for positive influences in their lives in order to achieve the state of potentiality that is most successful. Professional law enforcement officers should work with the children in order to ensure that this goal is met while still understanding that there are external forces at work that can select a state of potentiality. In these times, the law enforcement officers should refer to the actuality of the child and help to reshape the individual to their full potential.

  • Benedetto, M. (2005). Ounce of Prevention: A Foster Youth’s Substantive Due Process Right to Proper Preparation for Emancipation, An. UC Davis J. Juv. L. & Pol’y, 9, 381.
  • Tremblay, R. E. (2006). Prevention of youth violence: Why not start at the beginning?. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 34(4), 480-486.
  • Yu, J. (2003). The Structure of Being in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.