Why Do Teenagers Join Gangs?
In USA, there's hundreds of street gangs, such as Crips, Bloods, Nortenos, Surenos (Sur 13), Folk Nation, Latin Kings, and MS 13, as well as countless others. Not surprising to most, many of their members are teenagers or young adults. According to Government statistics, as much as 40% of gang members in the United States are under the age of 18. But what exactly is the reason why these teens decide to join gangs? While there may be a single explanation, it may also be a combination of different causes that contribute to their decisions. There's way too many factors to take into consideration, but there's about 5 factors that are more common than others.
Respect and Peer Pressure
Probably the number one reason for teenagers joining gangs, is for respect or because of peer pressure. To understand why a teen joins a gang, you have to live in their areas and understand the environment for teens. In gang neighborhoods, majority of the teens may be in a gang. This is almost equivalent to a cool club, because those who are not in the gang are viewed as outsiders and members of the gang may choose to avoid them for not being part of their club. So in an effort to be accepted by their peers and to be liked, many teenagers will join the gang. Most young people want to be accepted and want to be considered cool by their peers. Many kids may even have older siblings that are already in a gang or friends that joined one before they did, so they are pressured into joining.
Some teens may have been abused by their parents or someone else back in their past, or may just be scared of people in general. So they join gangs in an effort to dispense a little fear into people, sort of like a payback or a rebound effect. They want people to be afraid of them, so they can no longer feel afraid or so they can do to others what has been to them. It's the classic "you hit me, I hit you back" philosophy, but unfortunately, many of them end up hitting back at the wrong people and innocent people are affected.
Growing up in a gang neighborhood can be rough. Areas that have gangs are usually low income neighborhoods that are below the poverty level. There's very few ghettos in America that don't have gangs. They usually fit together, like a hand in a glove. These areas can be very dangerous for a young teen growing up. Not just because of gangs, but because you have many people addicted to drugs or commiting crimes in these places. A teen may feel overwhelmed by all of this or may be scared of being attacked, so they will join a gang to get protection. Most people are less likely to attack a person if they know they are in a set or if they are wearing gang colors.
Most gangs nowadays are not very organized like they were back in the day when people like Al Capone roamed the earth. Things like territory, turf, and colors are more important to many young gangsters today than making money. But there are still many gangs that do turn a profit, and may traffic drugs, guns or practically anything you can think of. Kids who do not belong to these gangs already may see the members driving expensive cars or flashing a lot of jewelry or cash. They see that and it makes them want to join too so they can start making money like that. Some kids are even approached by gang members and told that if they join, they can make lots of money. The allure of flashy cars, expensive electronics, and nice clothing is too much of a temptation for many teens.
For some people, joining a gang is a sign of patriotism, or love for one's "hood". For example, if there are two warring gangs in a city, one on the west side and one on the east side, a teen may grow up on the east side and feel a sense of pride for that. They may be proud that they are from the east, just like an American is proud to be from the United States. Imagine the hardcore fans of two football teams, both defending their team or the city their team is from. Lots of teens will get into the gang lifestyle because their whole area may be one single gang, and they feel a need to rep that gang because it represents their side of town. In the Bay Area, California, there are two gangs, Surenos and Nortenos. However, majority of mexican teens in Northern California that belong to a gang, are Nortenos. In Southern California, majority are Surenos. If a teen who is a Norteno grew up in Los Angeles, chances are, he would have been a Sureno instead. To them, it's all about your home, and representing it to the fullest.
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