Statistics suggest that teenagers joining gangs is a serious problem in cities. According to statistics, teens ages 13 to 18, make up a large percentage of the gang demographic across the United States, while young adults from 19 to 24 make up almost an equal amount.
Why Are Teenagers Joining Gangs?
The sad truth is that teenagers "need" gangs, and gangs need teenagers. Studies repeatedly show that teens join gangs to feel a sense of belonging. The following are some other reasons why teenagers join gangs.
Protection in the Neighborhood
Gang members are terrorists to their neighborhood and many kids will say the negative peer pressure forced them to join the gang. They were either beat up or knew they were going to get beat up if they didn't join the gang. They decided to join to hang out with friends, learn how to protect themselves against rival gangs, and avoid getting beat up by gangs who already control their neighborhoods.
A Family Legacy
Many gang members join because family members are or used to be gang bangers. Sometimes kids feel a sense of pride in carrying on the family legacy. This is especially true if one or both of their parents were high up in a gang's ranks or if one of their relatives was killed by a rival gang. Protecting reputations through vengeance is a way of life for gang members.
Structure and Discipline
Not all gang members come from broken homes. With that said, there are kids who join gangs because gangs provide something their home life was lacking: a sense of structure and discipline. There are kids who prefer the predictability of being in a gang as opposed to the unpredictability of a parent who might be high or drunk.
A Sense of Belonging and Acceptance
An overwhelming majority of kids will say that at some point, it feels good to be accepted or to belong to the gang. Gangs provide a secondary family for some kids who feel neglected and unloved.
What Teenagers Joining Gangs Can Expect
While gang life might seem attractive for teens who have few options, truthfully, gang members have few options.
The initiation for many gang members includes a "beat in". Boys will often have to allow themselves to be beat up by their own gang. Girls may have to have sex with several of the gang members or fight another female gang member.
Ironically, while many kids are searching for a "family", what you can expect from a gang is detachment. Attaching yourself to people who you know are living a lifestyle that will end in death or prison can be difficult. In order to engage in risky behavior by committing illegal or violent acts, you too, must learn not to care about life or others.
Early Death or Imprisonment
The bottom line is that gang members know that continuing in their gang lifestyle will render either death or prison. There is no other possible ending. The average gang member is 17 and the upper range for gang members is around 24. It is rare to see a gang member who is actively "banging" in his/her 30's. This is because by that time a gang member is most likely dead or imprisoned. Leaving gang life is difficult, if not impossible.
Gang Intervention and Prevention
Cities have put many programs into place to combat gangs but it is an uphill battle. Operating much like organized crime families, gangs that are already functioning are very mobile and when police activity increases, they simply move out of the area or sometimes even out of the country. The most successful way to combat gangs is to try to prevent youth from joining. Programs that target kids as young as third and fourth grade are becoming increasingly common. In addition, providing a safe haven, or place to hang out after school, regular tutoring, and other help for kids has become more successful at preventing gangs.