A youth/street gang can be defined as a closely or loosely structured group of individuals who may express their identification by adopting certain dress attire, adoption of symbolic behavior to include nicknames of individuals, tattoos, hand signs, and the claiming of territory in a neighborhood (Stagg, 2006). Generally, gang activities include criminal acts of violence, drug dealing, threats, and anti-social behavior. Youth gangs are not simply a large city or inner city problem, nor are they an issue belonging to a particular race or culture. Gang membership crosses all ethnic, racial and geographic boundaries.
Recent research data shows that the primary age for recruitment into street gangs is 11-15 years. The average is generally around 18. However, kids as young as nine are considered eligible for recruiting. What is it that attracts the young people to join gangs and undertake a life that is full of danger, crime and illegal activities? Among the various reasons youth give for joining a gang, the following are most common. First, related to social reasons, youth join to be around friends and family members (especially siblings or cousins) who already are part of the gang.
Second, regarding protection, youth join for the presumed safety they believe the gang can afford (Decker&Van Winkle, 1996). Also reported by youth, albeit far less frequently, are more instrumental reasons for joining a gang such as selling drugs or making money (Decker & Van Winkle, 1996). Thus we find that there are many reasons why young people join gangs and risk factors fall within five domains: the community, the family, the school, the peers and the individual. A variety of factors have been cited as causes for involvement in gangs.
Social problems associated with gang activity include poverty, racism, and the disintegration of the nuclear family. Some experts have opined that the fact that gangs are glamorized in the media and by the entertainment industry also plays a huge role in influencing the mind of the youth. On a personal level, adolescents whose families are not meeting their emotional needs turn to gangs as substitute families where they can find acceptance, intimacy, and approval. Teenagers also join gangs because of social pressure from friends.
Others feel physically unsafe in their neighborhoods if they do not join a gang. For some people, the connection to a gang is through family members who belong-sometimes even several generations of a single family. Yet another incentive for joining is money from the gangs’ lucrative drug trade. Drug profits can be so exorbitant as to dwarf the income from any legitimate job: teenagers in one suburban high school in the early 1990s were handling $28,000 a week in drug money, with individual profit averaging $5,000 (Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2006).
According to the Los Angeles School Police Department, many youth join a gang to satisfy the need of belonging. Gang membership will provide the recognition, the identity, the attention, the support, the acceptance, of their peers. Many gang youth will join the gang to satisfy the need of belonging. It has been found that kids who join gangs generally come from poor or broken homes. This seems to suggest that they get the support and structure they need from gang life. They join gangs to fill their basic needs which usually are not being met at home and at school.
These are respect, support, family, recognition, respect, protection, identity, belonging, money, and control. Family plays a very important part in children’s lives. The absence of family support leaves the process of social development open to deviant influence. The weaker the relationship between parents and children, the more chance children will end up in some sort of gang affiliation. Gangs give youth a sense of security and structure that is lacking at home. Other family factors that are related to potential gang participation include:
“Rigid or ineffective parenting styles” which decreases emotional closeness and warmth between parents and children. Family conflicts, which create a highly-distressed relationship between parents and children. ” If the home environment is cold and uncaring, it affects the developing child. As indicated by Montemayor (1994), children in this type of family are at high risk for a variety of psychological and behavioral problems (Montemayor, 1994). Homes that are lacking structure or adult supervision greatly increase children’s chances of joining gang.
” For example, if parents are not able to provide structure, support, and supervision, children may turn to gang to fulfill their unfulfilled needs. Similarly, Brantley and Di Rosa (1994) indicate that those youth who willingly join gang do so in an attempt to satisfy needs unfulfilled in other aspects of their lives (Brantley & Di Rosa, 1994). The basic needs of youth who join gang may include the lack of family structure, lack of a nurturing home environment, lack of economic opportunity, and/or lack of a sense of belonging (Brantley & Di Rosa, 1994).