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CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS

Creative Title Goes Here Halea McAteer Regis University

CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS Characteristics of Youth That Join Gangs or Engage in Gang Activity

There are various reasons as to why people join gangs; however, there are many matters involved with gang membership and why people start getting into this activity that is overlooked. The word gang can be defined simply as an organized group of criminals (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). This term is broad and true, but it is clear that a lot of the focus as of today is on youth in gangs. Why do they join? What psychological factors play into being part of a gang and joining a gang especially in teens and the youth? This paper will look into various reasons and factors as to why gang membership and activity is becoming so common as well as appealing for youth all around the world. There have been numerous studies conducted looking into this issue of why people join gangs. One common theme that continually appears in these studies is a lack of a male or father figure in these youths lives, or even a lack of strong family bonds (Bracki, Dolson, & Maurice, 1998). While there is no single factor that can be pointed out as the main cause of main cause of gang membership this proves to be a prevalent cause in multiple studies. Poor parental influence has proven to lead more youth to gang membership than many other factors (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). This seems to be this way for multiple reasons. First off, youth are more likely to join a gang if they already have family involved in certain groups. With this family tie to the gang, they are pulled into the gang life and criminal activity from a very young age (Bracki et. al., 1998). It has now also been found that if there is a lack of a strong male figure in a young boys life, he is also more likely to join a gang (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). This is because the child does not have the connection and leadership they would have with a father so they seek it elsewhere, such as with older youth or men in a local gang (Tapia, Kinnier, & MacKinnon, 2009). Recent studies have found that gang members compared to non-gang members do not feel as close to

CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS

their family members (Tapia et. al., 2009). This is interesting to note that non-gang members generally felt closer to their families. It brings up the idea again that children or youth who have closer family ties are less likely to join a gang. Another aspect that played into these youth joining gangs was if the families had lower incomes (Tapia et. al., 2009). One thing that may draw a younger person to join these gangs due to their income is they are offered security if they join a gang (Ralphs, Medina & Aldridge, 2009). Not only financial security, but there is also a bond created with members that make these youth feel safer, however this may only be this way at the start. They feel another sense of security when they start selling or doing other things for these gangs because they could receive a source of income far more significant than an entry level job their mother or a family member may have (Craig, Vitaro, Gagnon, & Tremblay, 2002). Another part of family income that plays into gang membership is it affects where families are able to live (Ralphs et. al., 2009). If there is a single mother working to support three children or more, it is highly likely that the family will not be able to afford a lavish house in a nice neighborhood. So, many times these families and the youth that join gangs at a young age are forced to live in neighborhoods with high rates and populations of gang activity. Living in these high-populated gang areas increases these teens and young adults likelihood of joining a gang (Ralphs et. al., 2009). This also becomes an issue because when these families are forced to live in areas with high gang activity, it is almost impossible to avoid. There are areas within cities that are run by gang members, and even walking into a certain building or hanging out in a certain place can associate a person with a gang (Ralphs et. al., 2009). There are large parts of cities that are owned, and operated by gang members. Many times the youth must avoid those areas or risk being sucked into gang life, or even worse, killed (Ralphs et. al., 2009). This is why it comes as

CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS

no surprise to find out those non-gang members in these highly populated gang areas are more anxious and unstable than gang members (Craig et. al., 2002). In order to avoid this type of life style in these low-income areas, it can be very difficult and that is why it is very common to find that youth who avoid gang membership tend to be more anxious in school, and withdrawn because this is one of the only defense mechanisms they have in order to avoid being sucked into the life of gangs. It is also interesting to note that areas and neighborhoods with a high rate of gang activity have higher rates of juvenile delinquency as well (Alleyne & Wood). It has been shown that if an adolescent is already drawn to aggressive and disruptive ways in and out of school, he or she is far more likely to join a gang than those who are not (Gatti, Tremblay, Vitaro, & McDuff, 2005). In school, many of these adolescents that join gangs show acts of aggression and violence before their activity in a gang. This concept could be linked back to the issue of the child not having a strong male figure or family issues, so they deal with it in the only way they know how to, with aggression (Ralphs et. al., 2009). In many schools located in areas with high gang activity, it has also been found that students who are heading in the direction of joining a gang show higher levels of anxiety and hyperactivity while in school (Craig et. al., 2002). They also show that gang youth score much higher on anti-authority attitudes (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). This only furthers the rate of aggression and outbursts these adolescents may show in school. These studies show that this violence and deviant behavior only increases once the juvenile becomes an official part of the gang (Gatti et. al., 2005). Male Hispanic immigrants are currently the largest population involved in gang activity in the U.S. (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). This research is only further supported by the fact that juveniles in school who joined gangs had a more difficult time acculturating compared to the

CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS

non-gang members at the school (Tapia et. al., 2009). This only increases the issue as time goes on because this group continually pulls in this demographic of people, and these groups go younger and younger with their recruits. By joining gangs, immigrants in schools feel like they have a place they belong (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). There is a specific group they belong to and a sense of comradery. It was found that young gang members in schools had a much higher rate of social recognition than non-gang members (Tapia et. al., 2009). However, with this came the results that gang members in this school were far less independent than those who were not part of a gang (Tapia et. al., 2009; Craig et. al., 2002). Both of these issues bring up the idea that young members of gangs rely heavily on other members for leadership in and outside a school setting. They bond together and the group becomes part of their identity, which seems to only seclude them further making acculturation that much more difficult. The youth that join gangs also show a recurring theme of low self-esteem, and this aspect affects all other parts that play into adolescent gang membership including delinquency, antisocial behavior, and aggression (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). By joining gangs, these adolescents feel a connection that they may be lacking in other parts of their lives, specifically those at home or at school. Alleyne and Wood (2010) state that adolescents in these areas can look to gangs for support and a sense of belonging. It has also been found that non-gang members have higher self-respect (Tapia et. al., 2009). People with higher rates of self respect are far more likely to be able to avoid gang activity because they do not need that extra social support that other people receive from being in a gang. In these situations, the child involved may feel a sense of unworthiness due to an extensive list of reasons such as the father leaving when the person was young (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). From these situations, and many others that come up while being surrounded by criminal activity and a possible unstable life at home, on

CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS

the streets or at school, these adolescents develop these insecurities and need to find stability and strong leadership somewhere else. This is when these teens and adolescents look towards gang activity. Gang activity is increasing, and continually attracting a younger audience as time goes on. Gang membership can do many things for youth in the U.S. currently, not only does it satisfy a desperate need to belong, and in many cases provide some sort of safety, but it also sometimes may be their only choice. Whether that be due to family ties, or simply the location of where they live. Many juveniles that join gangs have troubles with acculturation, but maybe they want it that way. It brings them into the life of gangs, which, in these juveniles minds, has a lot to offer them. However, all of these issues as to why the youth are inclined to join gangs seem to relate back to one thing, their home life. Whether that is due to family ties pushing them to gang activity, financial needs that could be met by working with a gang, lack of a father figure, simply living in a low-income area, or various other things. The gang fills a need that is not being met at home, and until that is fixed, the youth will continue to be drawn to this life.

CHARACTERISTICS OF YOUTH THAT JOIN GANGS

References Alleyne, E., & Wood, J.L. (2010). Gang involvement: psychological and behavioral characteristics of gang members, peripheral youth, and nongang youth. Aggressive Behavior, 36(6), 423-436. Bracki, M.A., Dolson, B. M., & Maurice, K. (1997). Pre-teen gang members: the father connection. Craig, W. M., Vitaro, F., Gagnon, C., & Tremblay, R. E. (2002). The road to gang membership: characteristics of male gang and nongang members from ages 10 to 14. Social Development, 11(1), 53-68. Gatti, U., Tremblay, R. E., Vitaro, F., & McDuff, P. (2005). Youth gangs, delinquency and drug use: a test of the selection, facilitation, and enhancement hypotheses. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 46(11), 1178-1190. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.00423.x Ralphs, R., Medina, J., & Aldridge, J. (2009). Who needs enemies with friends like these? The importance of place for young people living in known gang areas. Journal Of Youth Studies, 12(5), 483-500. doi: 10.1080/13676260903083356 Tapia, H. A., Kinnier, R. T., & MacKinnon, D. P. (2009). A comparison between Mexican American youth who are in gangs and those who are not. Journal of Multicultural Counseling And Development, 37(4), 229-239. doi: 10.1002/j.2161-1912.2009.tb00105.x