The typical age span for people to join gangs today is twelve to twenty five years of age, but some members are joining as young as the age of eight years old. (Larry et. al. 77) This brings one to ask the obvious question of why. Why are these children choosing to live such a life of violence and crime? There are many factors that apply to this question. Lonely juveniles who suffer from depression are likely to join gangs. Children who are often picked on are looking for acceptance and through a gang they get exactly that. Youth who come from poor, broken families are also susceptible to join gangs. Most of these juveniles are simply looking for acceptance because they are not getting enough of it where it should be coming from.
Although Youth gangs are predominately male, recent research reveals that the number of all female gangs is rising rapidly (Clark, 285). There may be a number of females connected with a certain specific gang, but they generally function as auxiliaries or branches of male gangs. They are time and again expected to assist the male gang totally, but they are seldom able to befall official members (Siegel, & Senna, 274). Females attached with male gangs are usually used to carry arms and ammunition, afford alibis, act as lures and spies, and become a source of sexual pleasure for male members (Spergel, 178).
Racism is a large factor for juveniles joining a gang. When people, especially young people are denied certain things because of their race, they are apt to join an anti-establishment group and rebel against their racial enemies. (Fagan, 650) When young people find they are targeted or have a social disadvantage because of their ethnicity they tend to find others who feel the same way, thus creating organizations. Since young people are easy to manipulate, it may not be a difficult task to get them to join.
Juveniles may also choose to join gangs for poverty factors. Many teenagers living in poverty are likely to feel hopeless about getting products they want and need and often turn to this violent life style in order to get these things. Young people living this lifestyle find it extremely difficult to live any kind of productive life because they have no money to do so. An easy resort of earning money is joining a gang that is highly involved in drug trades. (Fagan, 651) These gangs are trafficking large amounts of illegal drugs and are making extreme amounts of money. Juveniles thrive off having nice things and flashing large amounts of money around. They are blinded by the notion of easy money and don’t see or don’t care about the risks or violence involved.
Usually with poverty also comes a large lack of a support network. It is very possible that these juveniles are looking for a surrogate family. These teens joining are obviously lacking understanding, affection, and affirmation in their households. It is likely these youths feel highly neglected and alienated where they are supposed to feel the most comfortable. When needs for love are not met, these young people are apt to join these gangs to feel involved. It is extremely important for parents to stay involved in their children’s lives in order to lead them in the right path. Love, compassion, and caring are essential when raising children to be productive members of society. This may also make them decline from participation in drug activities. All behavior is regarded as communication, transmitting interpersonal messages (Clark, 290). Within a family system, communication occurs continuously through both verbal and nonverbal interactions. (Conly, et. al. 34)
The media does not help when it comes to juveniles joining gangs. Between television and movies, teens are exposed more and more to this violent lifestyle. Movies like Scarface starring Al Pacino glorify gang life and make it look ‘fun’ to be a part of. They portray drugs and violence as appealing and something to strive for. Music, especially rap also discusses violent gang activities in their lyrics. This is the music our children are listening to and taking in each and every day. Before young people are able to establish their own beliefs and values the media promotes negative behaviors including sex, violence, and the intake of drugs. (Clark, 291)
When we think of gangs we often think only of young males joining. This is not the case. Small amounts of people know that many young girls are joining these brutal gangs also. Although male juveniles are way more likely to join groups, it doesn’t mean girls aren’t doing the same. It is highly likely that the eighth graders estimate are more accurate than the police considering they see what is going on among their peers each day. In Chicago, Illinois alone they have clearly identified 100 female gangs with an estimated 1,000 members. (Conly, et. al. 34) Female members are usually younger than male gang members.
Because they are girls, that does not make then any less violent. Some of the statistics are truly shocking. Seventy eight percent of female gang members have been in a physical fight, 65% reported carrying a weapon, and 39% are said to have attacked someone with a weapon. (Siegel, & Senna, 273) The most common reasons for these girls to become members at such a tender age is to create a bond with other girls and to be protected. Adolescent girls who join gangs are also likely to have been a victim of sexual abuse, especially within their households.
Also, a large majority of these girls are sisters of or dating established male gang members and a large majority of female gang members are likely to get pregnant. They get to develop their social skills because they are meeting new, different gang members all the time. They also get a large amount of personal responsibilities and self-esteem from joining these organizations. (Broderick, 192) These young people are receiving companionship, love, respect and commitment from their fellow gang members. These are all things that can be extremely influential on the young community and it is our job as a society to provide these things in a positive manner.
Many cities in many states are trying to convince and persuade our youth not to join these notoriously violent gangs. Community and family is a large factor in gang prevention. They are crucial in a child’s physical, emotional, and social growth. If family and friends are providing this, children are not forced to look for it in other places. Education also plays a large role. We must educate children in the classroom about the dangers of gang membership. Young people who complete their education are less likely to become involved in gang activity. (Spergel, 178) It is unfortunate how our society has allowed these violent gangs to continue in our country, but now it is our job to try to abolish them. Through education, positive reinforcement, and a strong sense of discipline we can encourage our youth to live positive, successful lives rather than the violent circumstances that go along with gang memberships.
Broderick, C. B. (2003). Family process theory. In J. Sprey (Ed.) Fashioning family theory: New approaches (pp. 171-206)
Clark, C. M. (2004). Deviant adolescent subcultures: Assessment strategies and clinical interventions. Adolescence, 27, 283-293.
Conly, C. H., Kelly, P., Mahanna, P., & Warner, L. (2004). Youth gangs: Current knowledge and strategies.
Fagan, J. (2007). The social organization of drug use and drug dealing among urban gangs. Criminology, 27, 649-652.
Larry J. Siegel, Brandon C. Welsh, Joseph J. Senna. Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law, Ninth Edition 2006.
Siegel, L. J., & Senna, J. J. (2006). Juvenile gangs in the United States. In Juvenile delinquency: Theory, practice, and law, (2nd ed., pp. 253-276). St. Paul, MN.
Spergel, I. (2003). Youth gangs: Continuity and change. In N. Morris & M. Tonry (Eds.) Crime and justice: A review of research (pp. 177-179). Chicago.