Teenagers often struggle to define themselves and their place in the world. They may choose to associate with a certain group because its members share similar beliefs, attitudes or interests. However, teens also look to others to fulfill their basic needs for such things as companionship, understanding and emotional support. When these needs are not met sufficiently or at all by the teens family, they become susceptible to joining gangs. A gang is a group of individuals who share common traits. They are often identified by the clothes or colors that they wear and have a name. Gangs are composed of leaders and followers.
They typically have their own methods of communication such as language, symbols, signs or handshakes. Joining a gang requires potential members to go through an initiation of some sort. Initiations into gangs often include the endurance of physical harm or engaging in some form of illegal or dangerous behavior, failure to give proper gang hand signals could lead to a beating. There are many reasons why kids join gangs, but like most youth activities, whether criminal or otherwise, most kids join gangs for companionship and love, social, economic, and cultural forces push many adolescents in the direction of gangs too.
Most commonly, teens become gang members to fill their need to belong. Oftentimes, such teens have dysfunctional families or are loners. Gangs are looked to for protection, loyalty and a sense of identity. Members consider themselves part of a family and view their gang as a source of pride. Gangs may fulfill the need for acceptance and recognition as well. However, members are required to do such things as steal from local stores, corrupt buildings with graffiti and engage in other crimes. The drug trade is harsh and dangerous.
Lower rung drug dealers do not drive BMW’s, wear gold jewelry, or get rich quick. They work around the clock, six or seven days a week, for low wages, often enforced by the threat of violence. Gang murders are committed to increase profits, to control renegade members, and to protect existing territories and markets. The more cunning and brutal the gang, the better its chances of success. One misconception about joining a gang is the thought of getting rich. Some young people think gang members are rich, drive expensive cars, and don’t have to work. However, very few gang members get rich.
Most of their money goes in one hand and out the other to support flash and style rather than for living. Drug dealing is actually hard and dangerous work. Dealers are always on the job. Many use pagers so if someone wants to buy drugs they can get in touch with them at any time of the day or night. They are always on guard, watching for police or rival gangs. They are constantly in danger of being killed. The odds of surviving are not in their favor. Prevention efforts can deter teens from joining gangs. The focus of such efforts is on an individuals sense of identity and belonging.
The allure of gangs tends to be most persuasive among outsiders with low self-esteem and poor impulse control. Integrating teens into groups based on common interests provides a positive environment for self-development to occur. Teens should be encouraged to go to community centers and after-school activities which allow them to associate with other teens. Efforts to strengthen family relationships are also helpful, since teens tend to look outside their families when needs for such things as acceptance, belonging, recognition, protection and loyalty are not met at home.
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