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Low Self Control Theory: A Crucial Explanation for Criminal Behavior

Through the scholarly work of Michael R. Gottfredson & Travis Hirschi, the two authors put forward their theory of crime, arguing that an essential element of criminality is the lack of self-control. Low self-control explains all crimes and analogous acts. Individuals who exemplify the traits of high self-control consider possible long-term consequences after weighing the costs and benefits of their potentially criminal actions. On the other hand, those with low self-control do not.

Gottfredson and Hirschi apply low self-control theory to the persistent issues of criminology by asking questions such as why are men, adolescents, and minorities more likely than their counterparts to commit criminal acts. What is the role of the school in the causation of delinquency? To what extent could crime be reduced by providing meaningful work? Why do some societies have much lower crime rates than others? It is crucial to understand the implications of the theory to regulate the control of crime. In other words, understanding criminal opportunities explains differences in criminal behavior among individuals with low self-control.

The concept of control is learned early in life, near the ages of eight to ten, and is highly resistant to change and persists throughout life. The cause of low self-control is ineffective socialization and occurs in the presence of incompetent parenting. Self-control, or the lack thereof, accounts for variations and explains all crime.

Self-control theory has received extensive attention and presents many strengths and weaknesses, as do all approaches in criminology. The theory's strengths are manifested through a single measurable trait responsible for many antisocial behaviors. The theory accords well with the impulsive nature of most criminal behavior and ultimately links sociology to psychology. Likewise, the theory accounts for specific personal traits demonstrated in individuals with low self-control, proving the motivation behind their crimes. The theory reveals weaknesses as well. The most apparent drawback is that it claims too much for a single trait. Also, the lack of self-control is traced back to childhood, when the initial indications of deviant behavior emerge. Therefore, the theory neglects child influences on parenting behavior. 

The theory applies to various criminal acts. However, some have questioned the extent to which criminal acts, based on levels of self-control, can be attributed to explain all offending. It is doubtful that deviant acts strongly correlate among all offenders, including, for example, white-collar criminals. Taking the strengths and weaknesses of Gottfredson and Hirschi's theory, low self-control can safely be paralleled to various criminal cases ranging from stealing candy at CVS to murder. In this case, murder.

"Man says he killed his kids over QAnon conspiracy theories and 'serpent DNA,' fearing they'd become 'monsters.'" Matthew Coleman, a 40-year-old California surfing school owner from Santa Barbara, faced federal charges of the murder of his two young children. During an interview, Coleman confessed to the FBI that he took his two-year-old son and his 10-month-old daughter to Rosarito, Mexico, where he shot a "spearfishing gun" into their chests, according to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent. Coleman said, "he believed his children were going to grow into monsters, so he had to kill them," says the court document. Authorities said a farm worker found the children's bodies at a ranch near Rosarito in Baja, California. The Find My iPhone application traced Coleman's phone in Rosarito that Sunday. According to the affidavit, the iPhone was later traced to Mexico near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego. Coleman was detained at the border checkpoint, where during an interview with an FBI agent, he explained that he was "enlightened by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories" and was receiving visions and signs revealing that his wife "possessed serpent DNA and had passed it on to his children." According to the court affidavit, Coleman's wife said she did not believe the children were in danger, that she did not have any problems with Coleman, and that they did not have an argument before he left. Coleman was indicted on murder charges, is held in protective custody, is eligible for the death penalty, and has not yet entered a plea.

With the information previously stated, it can confidently be said that Coleman presented a lack of self-control throughout the murder. The general theory of crime emerged through the evolution of social control theory, asserting that ties to family, school, and other aspects of society reduce one's tendency to lean toward deviant behavior. He further explains that self-control is the set of inhibitions one carries. Therefore, social control theory advanced the idea that crime occurs when such bonds are weakened or are not well established. Referencing the general theory of crime as a broader aspect of low self-control theory, it cannot solely explain Coleman's actions because he was tied to family.

However, that was not enough to deter him from committing murder. Furthermore, the concept of low self-control cannot pinpoint his childhood experiences and upbringing that led him to a life of impulsive behaviors. Delusion and a genetic disorder must also be considered because there is a high chance biological problems were present in Coleman, ultimately explaining his reasoning for the murder of his children. Despite flawed explanations and loopholes, the low-self control theory is the most relevant and persistent theory to explain this case. Exuding a possible combination of a weak superego, delusion, and impulsiveness, Coleman demonstrated a lack of control over his mind and body, leading him to do such a disturbing act.

Coleman is one of many who express low self-control and, in his case, allows criminologists to understand further and research future theories and correlate them to future cases.

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