Adolescence is one of the most difficult and turbulent periods of life for both parents and their children. During their transit from childhood to adult life, teenagers seek to self-identify and try to find their place in the world; they learn to interact with their society, adopt social norms, and define their life priorities. Unfortunately, this process is not always smooth. Some teenagers experiment with substances, and some get involved in illegal activities. One of the biggest problems a teenager can get into during adolescence is becoming a part of a teenage gang.
Why would a teenager even want to join a gang? Experts believe it might be connected to a desire to gain authority and respect in the teenage society hierarchy: gangs usually attract adolescents who want to belong to a respected community that provides security and anonymity, and at the same time tend to be susceptible to peer pressure. Dr. Kenneth Sladkin, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Fort Lauderdale area, says that despite the high numbers of teens in gangs, the majority of them still do not accept criminal group standards: of the estimated eight hundred thousand gang members in the United States, the majority of their teenage members rather might be described as criminal “wannabes.” “For these kids, the gangs are almost like social clubs. They meet in school and talk about who’s in this gang or that gang. They’re not the youngsters who are staying out all night and getting mixed up in crime and turf wars,” believes Dr. Sladkin (HealthyChildren).
Does it mean the problem of teenagers participating in gangs is not worth attention? No. The percentage of actual criminals among teens is still high; besides, even passive participation in a gang (like described by Dr. Sladkin) still increases the chances that a teenager will become entangled in drugs (addiction or trafficking), vandalism, theft, and robbery (HealthyChildren). What is even more disturbing, even if a teenager quits a gang, the likelihood of him or her getting involved in illegal affairs in adulthood remains high. According to research, teenagers who joined a gang in adolescence had three times higher chances to receive illegal incomes between ages 27 and 33. This means that even if a teenager does not commit a crime now, he or she will do it later. Besides, even if they are not committing crimes, former gang members are at a three-times higher risk of developing substance addictions in a later age; they are also twice as likely to have poor health and be in need of receiving public assistance. This is not to mention a significantly lower likelihood of successfully graduating from school (University of Washington).
For those parents concerned about whether their child might become a member of a gang, there is a set of criteria regarding a child’s behavior and/or appearance to pay attention to; if at least some of the following is true in your case, you can suspect your child of being a member of a gang:
- dropping grades and/or problems at school
- problems with police
- radically changing friends and the closest environment
- sudden changes in clothing, especially involving specific color schemes and gang symbols
- not paying much attention to family or usual family activities
- hiding or not willing to talk about their extracurricular and outdoor activities
- possessing significant amounts of money while being unemployed and being unable or unwilling to explain their sources (Teen Help)
Joining a gang might be an extreme way of teenage riot; adolescence is the time when teenagers seek to establish themselves in a social hierarchy, and being a part of a gang might seem a considerable option for them. Although not all teenagers in gangs become criminals and commit crimes (mostly they are “wannabe criminals”), being a member of a gang can still lead to problems later: including substance abuse, poor health, getting involved in illegal activities, and so on. Usually, if your child has problems at school and with police, wears specific colors of symbols all the time, possesses a lot of money from unclear sources, and hides their activities from you, he or she might be a part of a gang.
“Teenagers and Gangs.” HealthyChildren. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
“Negative Effects of Joining a Gang Last Long after Gang Membership Ends.” Washington University. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
“Teen Gang Involvement.” Teen Help. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
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Writing an Expository Essay
Gangs - Gang Members Need Love
- Length: 1489 words (4.3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Gangs - Gang Members Need Love
Although gang members insist that gangs are the only way to ensure success today, others maintain that the only way to survive is to eliminate them. Many gangs threaten the safety of everyone in their 'hood (territory or neighborhood). Innocent people living in gang war-torn towns live in constant fear of death. However, for children who have no one to look up to and no future to look forward to, gangs can become their surrogate family. Gangs are not only a set of friends or a nights activity. Gangs are a way of life. There is no way to eliminate them, but changing the violent nature of many gangs is possible. Admittedly, gangs cause many serious problems, but they could end up helping more people than they hurt.
A gang can be defined as a group of people who unite to serve a common purpose and engage in violent or otherwise criminal behavior. (http://www.ci.torrance.ca.us) The types of crimes committed by gang members differ between gangs, but the crimes generally associated with gangs include vandalism, robbery, drug-trafficking, assault, arson, and murder. There are many reasons why teenagers may join gangs. The root causes of violent gang formation are poverty, stressed families, unemployment, under-employment, under-education, racism, and the breakdown of sociocultural institutions. (http://www.instanet.com) Many people join gangs for protection from violent people in other gangs. (http://www.public.iastate.edu) Other people join gangs for the sense of family that comes along with it. The youth gang satisfies a void - the child's desire to feel secure. It provides the child with a sense of identity, belonging, power, and protection. The gang provides a protective barrier against the outside world. (http://www.highways.com)
Gang life is dangerous and often deadly for the people directly involved and for their friends and family. However, not all those maimed or murdered are gang members or those connected with them. Innocent people are often caught in the crossfire and injured or killed. In some areas, as many as half of the victims of all gang murders are innocent bystanders. Their only mistake is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Osman 53) As Detective T. Wessel told the LA Times in October of 1991, "It's like bullets are flying everywhere. And where they land, heaven only knows." (Osman 55) Each gang has its own turf and graffiti marks its boundaries. Anyone not belonging in the area and who resembles a rival gang member may become the subject of an attack.
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Gang Members Gangs Fear Of Death Way Of Life Criminal Behavior Other People Surrogate Hurt
(http://www.ci.torrance.ca.us) This is one way that non-gang members can get caught in the middle of gang violence not directed towards them. Many things have been done to try to stop gang violence. Some of the ways that have been proposed to attempt to solve this problem are citizen participation, reducing availability of guns and other weapons, programs to address violence, and national training and assistance for emergencies such as crime, drug use, or violence. (http://www.ncjrs.org/txtfiles/progplan.txt) None of them have worked so far because they were not geared towards the typical teenage gang member. They are people just like any other adolescent, looking for love and support. Many of them come from broken homes, with one or both parents on welfare or taking drugs or both, and gangs take the place of their familial structure. Authorities put the the total US gang member figure at over 1.5 million. (http://uvince.uvm.edu:443) Of this figure, about half of the members are between the ages of 13 and 25. (http://www.instanet.com) No solutions to this problem that have been tried have worked, because they have not found a replacement to the comfort and support of belonging to a gang, however dangerous it may be to be affiliated with such an association.
People who have joined gangs do not see them in the same way as people other people do. People outside the gang life see only either the climate of fear created by the gangs or the sense of belonging experienced by those inside of them. What they do not see is the day to day reality of living inside their secrets - the initiations, the daily rituals, the network of friends and enemies, all of the information they each have that could get them killed upon suspicion of informing. A friend of mine who belongs to a gang once told me that a gang is more than your family, it is your entire life. Once a person has joined a gang, they can not see past it. The gang takes over everything, leaving no time for school, work, or any other commitments that a member may have made prior to joining. This may be considered unhealthy by outsiders, but it gives a focus to a person's life that otherwise would not have been provided in many cases. Gang life is hectic. Many times, the older members (those that can drive) sleep in a different city each night. This can go on for years, until someone this person gets too tired or old to perform their various jobs as well as someone else might be able to. Although gang members pretend to be unaffected by the violence they perpetrate onto others, they are perhaps the most sensitive people in the world. Having never known happiness, many are driven to the never-ending war of gang violence to get money to support their starving families, which are beyond wondering or even caring where the money came from. They hate themselves and those around them so much that they eventually become hardened to their pain and so can make the lives of those around them miserable without even realizing it. Many gang members take drugs constantly, which makes them believe they are invincible - and many times they are. Although many gang members are involved in drug trafficking, it is not a primary gang activity. (http://www.ncjrs.org) Many people think that without gang activity, there would be less of a drug problem, but this is not true. Drug addicts will find a way to get their drugs no matter what. Gangs can be scary, especially for those directly involved with them. In the words of a male gang member, "The scariest moment of my life has to be the first rumble I was involved in. I absolutely 'knew' I was going to die." Rumbles, or fights between two or more gangs or sets over their territory, hospitalizes at least two people per fight. Many times, people are hurt by people on their own set randomly shooting straight in front of him. These rumbles are their way of trying to prove their bravery. Once a person is jumped into a gang, there is no way out except to be beat out, which can kill the offender. It is this aspect of gang life that sickens people; the fact that gang members are willing to kill over an insult or a dirty look. But when you think about it, respect is a precarious thing - once it starts to slip away, one can never get it back, and respect is all-important to people who have never had any.
Even though gangs terrorize the people living around them and drive their members so completely insane that they have completely lost touch with reality, there are still aspects of gangs that are very good for society. For example, in order for gangs to commit any sort of crime as a group without getting caught, their organization must be very good. Fortunately, criminal activity is not the only thing that organization is good for, so people with leadership skills or people who possess the ability to work well in groups work well at other things also. In fact, since a gang would never take a member who did not pull their own weight and who would stick to whatever decision the gang leader made, gangs could become productive associations instead of destructive associations if good influences were put upon them. If this happened, the gang members would no longer be hiding in the shadows of their unhappy lives; instead, they would be given a chance to grow into healthy, happy people in the same way that the others around them have. Gangs would be like a support group for troubled youngsters to steer them away from more serious problems such as drug abuse and violence towards others. This may sound unrealistic, but all most gang members need is a little love and affection to give up their life of crime if they are stopped before they become too inground in their ways to turn their life around. Gangs tend to form where poverty, discrimination, and hopelessness exist. If a way can be found to give hope to people living in desperation, the poverty and discrimination will disappear by themselves, and the gang problem with them.
Gangs by Karen Osman copyright 1992 by Lucent Books, Inc (San Diego, CA)
2 anonymous sources (gang members)