Gang membership of juveniles is the object of discussion of many concerned academicians and field workers. What drives these young members of society to resort to the allegiance and illegal activities of a gang? Through a thorough research, this paper aims to understand the different factors that contribute to youth gang membership. With these factors, it may be possible to conceptualize a feasible plan or program that will effectively prevent or lower juveniles from joining gangs.
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Gangs have been defined as a collection of individuals who have promised allegiance to one another and have named this allegiance with the purpose of elevating their status, via the formed group, through criminal activities. (Struyk, 2006) From the mere definition of a gang, it can already by ascertained that these groups are maladaptive and that any who choose to become members of such groups are in need of assistance.
Over the course of history, gangs have been noted to be the cause of much of the violence occurring in certain neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are often in the lower end districts of the city – the places where family income is barely above the minimum and getting by every day proves to be a struggle. Professionals involved in different sectors of society have become concerned with the growing impact these gangs have, not only on the individuals that comprise them but also on society in general. (Ramsey et al, 2003) The activities these gangs engage in are so encompassing in their scope that even those who avoid them get caught in between. Drug trafficking, gang wars and vandalizing public property are only a few examples of these activitites.
The rise of juvenile participation in gangs has been the cause of much fear and unrest in many communities. The weight of having to wonder whether their children, their teenagers, and under-aged adolescents are steeped in the very same criminal activities that promise rebellious natures, violence and even death results in many efforts on the part of concerned individuals to try and prevent juvenile gang membership.
It has been observed that levels of delinquency among youth skyrocket after they become gang members and decrease considerably after they exit the group. (Gordon et al, 2004) This stresses the fact that joining a gang can only increase a young individual’s tendency to engage in negative and outright criminal acts. Why, however, do such young individuals join in gangs? What drives them to seek membership in such violent and shady organizations instead of other more adaptive ones?
The most basic reason for individuals to participate in gangs is the fact that society has failed to provide for the basic needs of these individuals, specifically the youth. Conditions of poverty and lack of opportunities to improve their situations lead these young individuals to participate in gangs instead. Because of a feeling of want, because of the inability to access something they need, these adolescents decide to try to make their own access by joining a gang and making their own rules in a society that they feel has neglected them.
In adolescents, a sense of belonging is derived from gang membership. Rejection from peers has proven to be very important in adolescents and being accepted into a setting that provides a family-like atmosphere and gives them a sense of acceptance. The status symbol of being a gang member also gives them an added sense of self-esteem. (Esbensen and Dischenes, 1998; Hixon, 1999)
Most gang members are usually part of neighborhoods wherein gangs and gang violence is rampant. Becoming a member of a gang protects an individual from the violence that is fast overtaking their community. (Esbensen and Dischenes, 1998; Hixon, 1999) “Gang membership is driven in part by the function of street gangs. Gangs are perceived as a source of protection in a violent world” (Hixon, 1999) Having an older sibling who is a member of a gang also gives a younger individual a greater tendency to participate in gang activities. Seeing his or her older sibling’s experience desensitizes that younger individual from the violent activities and lifestyle that is often characteristic of gangs.
Among gang members, it has been noted that males and females differ in the reasons for joining gangs. Self-esteem, for example is a good example of this. For individuals with high self-esteem, females have less inclination to join a gang but males have a higher tendency to join because of it. The factor of isolation also has different effects on individuals. Males who feel isolated will tend to shy away from gang activity whereas on females, isolation does not play a significant role in determining gang participation. Surprisingly, attachment to their mothers affected whether males would join a gang or not but did not affect females with their decision on the same matter. Also, contrary to popular belief, risk seeking behavior was found to be a good predictor of female gang membership but not of male gang membership. (Esbensen and Dischenes, 1998)
Numerous studies have been conducted in the hopes of providing the groups involved in gang prevention with indicators of gang membership. Individuals who are suddenly more focused on wearing a certain color of clothing are deemed to have a higher tendency of being part of a gang. The wearing of a color that represents their gang is highly important to gang members as a means of identification to their group. The sporting of a tattoo is also common among gang members. Also, sudden increase in antisocial behavior indicates possible gang involvement. Performances in school-related activities also tend to drop for students who have involved themselves in gangs. (Struyk, 2006; Dishion et al, 2005)
It is clear that many have involved themselves in the movement against youth gang membership. Gangs are not organizations for young adolescents. The lifestyle taken up by gang members is not one that these young lives should be exposed to. This paper aims to identify the definite factors that lead to gang membership in juveniles. It is hoped that understanding these factors will lead to construction of effective prevention programs and techniques.
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