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  • Why Children Follow Rules: Legal Socialization and the Development of Legitimacy by Tom R. Tyler and Rick Trinkner
  • James R. Acker
Why Children Follow Rules: Legal Socialization and the Development of Legitimacy
By Tom R. Tyler & Rick Trinkner
New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, 267 pp. $44.95.

Parents, teachers, and police officers and justice systems officials browsing the aisles of their local bookstore will be forgiven if they come upon the optimistically entitled Why Children Follow Rules and respond with a measure of skepticism. As we all know, children frequently do not follow the announced rules which are designed to govern in households, schools, and the world beyond. Yet, to be fair, breaches of these codes of conduct needed for familial and organized living tend to be more the exception than the norm even if the violations dominate our reckoning when the day's accounting is complete. Thus, with authors Tom R. Tyler, the Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale University, and Rick Trinkner, Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, the question of why children (sometimes, more often than not) follow rules is well worth exploring. The book identifies those casual book store browsers—parents, educators, and law enforcement and other justice system actors—as the most critical sources of children's rule-abiding behaviors, and examines in considerable depth the different methodologies and their strengths and weaknesses for establishing the foundations of the observance of behaviors mandated by rules of law.

Compliance may be, and frequently is sought through instrumental means, grounded in deterrence theory and heavily dependent on the threat of external punishment for rule violations. Tyler and Trinkner disfavor deterrence and related coercion-based social control measures although they recognize the futility of altogether abandoning them. They would nevertheless reserve room for them only at the tip of a pyramid-shaped model for generating compliance, to be used as a last resort. They argue forcefully that prioritizing the achievement of behavioral conformity to rules by sanctioning disobedience is not only shortsighted and of dubious efficacy, but often a prescription for alienating and ultimately engendering disrespect for authority in those who we are attempting to encourage to accept rules as legitimate and thus voluntarily obey them. They offer as the preferred model a consensual framework, one based on inculcating the fundamental values and cultivating accompanying behaviors that instill rules with legitimacy and command respect for those who enforce them.

Their primary concern is with how the values that are most likely to induce young people to accept and follow the law can be successfully instilled. They describe a process of legal socialization that will be familiar to readers with even a passing knowledge of Tom Tyler's extensive scholarship on procedural justice. And herein lies the significance of the book's subtitle, the portion that will call out far more compellingly to academics and much less so to other, more typical bookstore browsers: Legal Socialization and the Development of Legitimacy. The authors define legal socialization as "the process by which people internalize the values and competencies that establish what it means for the law to be legitimate and entitled to obedience" (p. 33). That process will be more or less successful depending on: (1) how authority is exercised (is it fair, consistent, are explanations and reasons offered, is there an opportunity to be heard?); (2) the quality of treatment provided by those in authority (do authority figures exhibit that they are truly acting in the best interests of those whose cooperation they seek, do they display genuine caring for them?); and (3) respect for and observance of boundaries (do the rules reflect an appropriate balance between the domains of public authority and individual autonomy?).

The law and those who enforce it will gain or suffer in legitimacy to the extent that citizens do or do not embrace the values underlying rules and accept the behaviors of the authority figures who give them meaning in operation. Notions of legitimacy do not materialize magically at the dawn of adulthood...


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