Mary Bell’s Juvenile Case Analysis


Born in 1975, Mary Flora Bell, also known as the Tyneside strangler was an English woman who at the age of between 10 and 11 strangled two toddlers (Brian Howe and martin brown) in Scotswood. As a juvenile, Mary was convicted of manslaughter spending 12 years in prison before her release in 1980 at the age of 23.

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Some of the most dominant aspects of the case included the fact, according to Mary each and every individual will die, and that death is not a bad thing. This meant that she had murdered the two boys solely for excitement and the pleasure of killing. The family as evident from the case had played a major role in the behavior of their daughter (Calin, 2011). As provided in the case, Mary’s mother, who was a prostitute had forced her to engage in sexual activities with her clients at a very young age. The case also provides that Mary thought that his father was Billy Bell, a habitual criminal who at the time had been arrested and convicted for armed robbery. Another important aspect, in this case, is the fact that after Mary’s arrest and conviction, her mother sold her story to the press. To signifies her mother’s neglect, which may have resulted in the murder of the two toddlers (Calin, 2011)

In understanding the origins of juvenile delinquent behaviors, several key factors should be considered. These factors include the psychological factors, social factors, and the environmental factors. Psychological factors have a major role in either the positive or negative behaviors of children. The psychological factors in these may result from a direct response or expression based on the mental state of the child. For example, the child may have obsessive imagery, which may result in the negative behavior (Quinsey, Skilling, Lalumiere, & Craig, 2004). Delinquency may also be a response or expression to certain emotions and impulses stimulated or left uncontrolled by a specific psychological condition. In relation to the psychological factor, the delinquency may result from the child’s attempt to adjust to a specific unfavorable life. In relation to this case, Mary’s behavior may have been a psychological response to the poor life and neglect by her parents.

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Social factors also play an important role in understanding juvenile delinquent behaviors. Social factors in this may include peer pressure, school, and educational factors, relationships with parents and even family discord. Social factors influence the way the children behave and act towards others. For example, a child whose peers have delinquent behaviors is likely to engage in the same behavior or even other negative behaviors. As shown in several studies children growing up in families with weak relationships are at a higher risk of engaging in negative behaviors (Quinsey, Skilling, Lalumiere, & Craig, 2004).

Environmental conditions also impact on the child’s behavior. Undoubtedly, environmental conditions had a major role in Mary’s behavior and the resulting murder of the two toddlers. The environment in most cases tends to influence the way the children behave. This child’s behavior is greatly influenced by the environment the child grows in, for example, the child is likely to adopt violent behaviors when growing up in a violent environment (Quinsey, Skilling, Lalumiere, & Craig, 2004). The environment, social and psychological factors have a major influence on the different personalities of the children.

Different theories explain the different behaviors of juveniles. Personality theories are among the most important theories explaining delinquency behaviors among juveniles. An example of these theories includes behavioral theory (behavioral psychology) which is based on the behaviors acquired through different conditions. The conditions also referred to as conditioning occurs through the different interactions with the environment. This theory provides that the response to specific environmental stimuli shape an individual’s actions. The theory comprises of two major concepts may closely relate to juvenile behavior. These concepts include classical conditioning concept and operative conditioning (Pavlov, et al., 2017).

Classical conditioning in relation to Mary’s case relates to learned behaviors in which revolves around the pairing of the naturally occurring stimulus with a neutral stimulus. This means that children may adopt behaviors learned from other individuals. Mary’s learned behaviors from their parents, specifically her mother may have influenced her behavior, which in turn resulted in the murder of the two toddlers (Pavlov, et al., 2017). Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, on the other hand, revolves around the behaviors resulting from punishments and reinforcements. For this case, neglect from the parents may have contributed to Mary’s specific behaviors. An important factor in this theory is the fact that there exists a close relationship between the behavior and the consequence of the behavior. This may explain that fact that from the case, Mary enjoyed killing both Brian and Martin (Pavlov, et al., 2017)

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Behaviorism is closely related to the observable behaviors, which makes it easy to quantify. As identified, environmental factors are the major contributors to the behaviors of children. This implies that through shaping the environment, parents or even guardians can shape the behaviors of their children. Parents, in this case, should ensure that their children grow in conducive environments in order to prevent negative behaviors such as Mary’s in the future.

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  1. Calin, M. (2011, May 14). Top 10 Young Killers. Retrieved from Listverse:
  2. Pavlov, I., Watson, J., Skinner, B. F., Thorndike, E., Bandura, A., Maslow, A., & Treisman, A. (2017). Theories of Personality. Simply Psychology.
  3. Quinsey, V. L., Skilling, T. A., Lalumiere, M. L., & Craig, W. M. (2004). Juvenile delinquency: Understanding the origins of individual differences. American Psychological Association.
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