Gangs 101

Kids join gangs for a variety of reasons, which sometimes are the same reasons kids participate in sports or join clubs in school. There is no scientific answer as to why kids choose to involve themselves in gangs, only sets of factors which are described as "pulls" or "pushes" (Decker & Van Winkle 1996). Here are some examples.

  • love, structure, and discipline
  • belonging, commitment, money, identity
  • recognition, power, protection
  • companionship, excitement, fun
  • feeling of self-worth and status
  • acceptance
  • family involvement (tradition)

The "pulls" include status and prestige among peers, opportunities for excitement, easy money, while "pushes" include social, cultural, and economic forces which lure kids toward gang involvement, often for protection and as a means of identity.

What is a Gang?

A gang is a group of people who want to be seen as different from others and want others to perceive them as a distinct group. They identify with gang names, colors, gang language or hand signs, and wear a certain type of clothing. They share the same kind of thinking, habits and lifestyle. Gang members are normally between the ages of 10 and 21, and come from every neighborhood, race, religion, culture, age, and economic level. These groups come together for the purpose of engaging in criminal activity.

What makes kids targets for gang membership?

  • Racism: When young people encounter racism both in school and in their personal lives they will often form their own group.
  • Poverty: Economic disadvantage. Often, kids turn to gangs involved in the drug trade for quick cash.
  • No Support Network: Most gang members come from homes where they feel unwanted or neglected. Kids may turn to gangs for the same reason-- their needs for love, parental supervision and involvement are not being met at home.
  • Media: Television, movies, radio, and music influence youth before they have established their own value systems.
  • Outlook: Low educational aspirations, poor academic performance, and lack of attachment to teachers.

What can kids do to empower themselves?

  • Develop good social and interpersonal skills.
  • Work on self-esteem and sense of personal responsibility.
  • Have a positive outlook and set goals for what you want to accomplish.
  • Flexible coping strategies (well-developed problem solving skills and and intellectual abilities).
  • Get involved in activities, sports, school clubs, a part-time job, volunteering, or after-school programs.
  • If threatened by gang members, calmly let them know you have no argument with them. If the threats continue, notify your teacher and parents who will then notify the appropriate authorities.