Teens and Gangs

“Teens and Gangs” A Growing problem

Gloria Bobbie

What is your teenage son or daughter doing right now? Do you know? Teens should be playing sports, going to school, and enjoying their youth. Unfortunately, that is not the case for more than 772,500 teens involved in gang activities (Teen Help, 2010). Because of a lack of parental guidance, social status, bad influences, thrills and excitement, more teens are joining gangs; adding to a growing problem.

Gang 101

Before we start I would like to give a quick lesson on what a gang is. A gang can be nothing more than a group of people with the same interest hanging out together. However, Gangs such as the Crips, Bloods, Folks, 13Street, and countless others, are better known as street gangs. Street gangs have some permanence, a degree of organization and are involved in a high level of criminal activity (Curry &Decker, 2003). According to (Esbensen, 2001) members share an identity, typically linked to a name, such as Crip or Blood; and often other symbols like images or hand gestures. The question is how does a teen end up in a street gang? There are many reasons. Let's start with family life.

Family Life

Positive parental guidance is important in a teen's life. Teens need positive parental guidance to help them make the correct decisions, and to steer them away from negative activities. Unfortunately, there are far too many teens that come from a broken home (Huizinga, & Weiher, 1993). There are a number of reasons a broking home is so damaging to a young teen. Surrounded by negativity, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic disputes, teens stray away from their biological family and turn to another form of family, gangs (Howell, 1998)

Not having parental role models in the home is also very damaging to a teen (Wang, 1995). Teenagers of all walks of life, especially teens in the inner city, need a positive role model in their lives. Someone they can look up to, but most of the time teens gravitate toward the wrong type of role model. For young teen males, not having an adult male role model, a father figure, or any kind of positive male in their lives can result in the teen finding those figures in the wrong places (Miller, 1958)

Bad influences

Bad influences can range from friends, to family, to people you do not even know personally but see on television. Teens are very impressionable, so when they see their big brothers or sisters living the gang life, they want to do the same thing. According to (Moore, 1991) “some teens are virtually born into gangs as a result of neighborhood tradition and their parent's earlier (and perhaps continuing) gang participation.”

Entertainers teens look up to from music, television, and moves also can be bad influences. From gangster rap, gangster movies, television shows, and the Internet, the impact these outlets have on the minds of young teens has been highly debated. Most people believe that media portrayals, which glorify gang behavior, do nothing to reduce the teen's interest in gangs (Michael K. Carlie, 2002). Thus being a bigger influence on teens joining gangs then main stream media thought.

What excites and attracts teens to gangs?

When it comes to gangs, what excites teens to join? What attracts them? One thing that attracts teen is the fact that being a member of a gang can enhance status among friends (Baccaglini, 1993). Gangs are structured like the army. There are different ranks and positions in the gang. The more crime that is committed by the member, the higher up in the ranking they become. This is called, “earning your stripes.” There are no specific names for the rankings like in the army, but the people within the gang know who the leader is on down. Another thing that attracts teens to gangs is the chance for excitement (Pennell et al., 1994) by selling drugs, stealing cars, carrying a gun, fighting rival gangs, and making money.

Some teens join gangs not for the excitement and the thrills, but because the gang gives the teen something that he or she is missing. Teens in gangs tend to treat the gang and its members as an extended family. As (Vigil & Long, 1990) states, “Feeling marginal, teens join gangs for social relationships that give them a sense of identity”. “I joined the gang because I needed people in my life I could count on when Thangs got heavy.” And I know I am not the only one that feels that (DotJay,personal communication,March20,2010).”

Social and economic status

Social, economic and cultural status pushes many teens in the direction of gangs (Howell, 1998). Some research contends that the “underclass” status of teens also serves to push them into gangs (Wilson, 1987). The gangs pray on young teens living in poverty because they will do anything it takes to make fast money by selling drugs, robbing, and stealing. Life in the inner city is filled with a lack of social and economic opportunities that creates a barrier for teens. And, as a result, teens will start to feel like the gang is the only way out.

“Most youth gangs arise among the urban poor, though not always” (Laura, 2004). In the past few decades, there has been a large increase in gang problems in smaller cities, suburbs, and rural areas. According to (miller, W.B. 2001) a survey was done in 1999 where “66 %of large cities, 47% of suburban counties, 27 %of small cities, and 18% of rural counties reported youth gang activity.” A survey taken nine years later in 2008 By (Jeff Slowlkowski, 2010) of the National Gang Intelligence Centers, had the number of gang activity increasing of 12% from 2001 to 2007 then decreased only by 3% in 2008.

The consequences of joining a gang

There are many consequences for joining a gang but the important two are death or in prison. The gang life is a very violent life to live. Gang members never know when someone is going to come after them from a rival gang. So death is a very strong possibility. In some gangs, there is only one way out and that is death. So ether way it goes, for some teens, which join certain gangs never get out.

The other main consequence of joining a gang is prison. From selling drugs to hurting or even killing somebody, the gang life will lead them to doing one, two, or all three of these crimes. Doing these crimes will land a teenage gang member in jail or prison. And with the laws in place in some states, if they commit a felon at 16, they can be charged as an adult. That would be hard for any teen to deal with but that would be the consequence for joining a gang.

How to prevent teens from joining gangs

Teens need to be in a positive environment and it all starts at the home. Parents must be involved in their child's life so they do not have to feel like he or she has to go somewhere else for attention. Having a father figure, especially for young black teens, is very important to the development of the teen.

The community can play a big part in preventing teens from joining gangs. The Boys and Girl Clubs is a nice place for teens to go and hang out and do constructive activities like sports, homework, and most important staying off the streets. There are many after-school programs, sports outlets, and family activities that can help teens stay on the right track.


Teens joining gangs is a growing problem in our country that needs to be fixed. Parents are losing more teens to gang violence and to the justice system. Communities need to be cleaned up, and more options need to be Available for our teens. So from the parents to the community, there must be a way to protect our youth from joining gangs. The teenagers of today are the adults of the future so we must preserve our future by helping our young teenagers stay out of gangs.


1. Arlen, E., James, C.H., and John, P.M. (2010) Highlights of the 2008 National Youth Gang Survey. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

2. Decker, S. H. and Van Winkle, B. 1996. Life in the Gang: Family, Friends, and Violence, New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

3. Egley, A. & Arjunan, M. (2002). Highlights of the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey. OJJDP Fact Sheet.

4. Esbensen, F. A., Winfree, L.T., Jr., He, N., Taylor. T. J. 2001. “Youth Gangs and Definitional Issues: When is a Gang a Gang, and Why Does it Matter?” Crime and Delinquency, 47, 105-130.

5. Howell, J.C. (1998). Youth Gangs: An Overview Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

6. Huizinga, D., F. Esbensen, and A. Weiher (1993). "Examining Developmental Trajectories in Delinquency Using Accelerated Longitudinal Designs," in Kerner & Weitekamp Eds. Cross-national Longitudinal Research on Human Development and Criminal Behavior, Kluwer Academic Publishers, NY.

7. Mary H. Lees, M.A., Mary Deen, M.A., Louise Parker, Ph.D., (2008) Research Review: Gang Violence and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.focusas.com/Gangs.html

8. Mihailoff, Laura. "Youth Gangs." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. 2004. Retrieved May 28, 2010 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3402800449.html

9. Mike Carlie, ( 2002) A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs (Topic 12)
Mass Media Portrayals of Gangs and Gang Members

10. Teen Help, (2010) Teen gang involvement (Youth gangs and Violence, 2008)

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