When it comes to their members, gangs do not discriminate. Members come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and age, ethnicity and sex are of no concern. The violence associated with the gang lifestyle offers excitement to teens and the common purpose, a feeling of acceptance. Sadly, this false sense of belonging lands puts many teen gang members behind bars. Those who get in too deep often end up seriously injured or dead.
The reasons why teens join gangs are vast, yet identifiable. A high number of teen gang members are delinquent before their initiations. To these teens, the recognition and money they stand to gain as a gang member are enough to draw them in. Gangs offer teens a sense of protection, which is a sense that someone from an unstable household often lacks. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, peer pressure, boredom and the search for a new kind of excitement are also factors.
Gang affiliation is not without its indicators. Teens that do not outwardly admit their ties might still display signs that are indicative of gang behavior. These teens often withdraw from their families, while at the same time, growing closer to their new gang friends. Changes in clothing color or style, new tattoos, graffiti, unusual drawings and hand signals are all gang-related signs. The Grand Rapids Police Department explains that declining academics, unfamiliar phone calls and the new use of drugs and alcohol are also red flags.
Parents who hope to discourage gang participation need to provide their teens with the tools to do so. Conversations about gang activity and its negative repercussions can be very empowering for teens and should include helpful strategies for avoiding all gang association. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention suggests reminding teens to stay away from places where gangs hang out and to refrain from using any hand signals and wearing clothes that might suggest gang affiliation. Holding teens responsible for their actions and planning more family time can also help.
Can a Teen Leave a Gang?
Teens who make the conscious choice to leave a gang are at risk of being killed or at the least, beaten by disgruntled gang members. For this reason, teens are cautioned against discussing the decision with their gang family. Instead, Michael K. Carlie, author of “Into the Abyss: A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs," recommends spending time with others who do not have gang affiliations. Other suggestions include joining sports teams, clubs and other activities that have a positive influence on behavior and fill idle time. Also, teens should surround themselves with supportive adults who will boost self-esteem and provide helpful advice.