According to HealthyChildren.org, a key reason teenagers join gangs is because of peer pressure and a desire to fit in with what their peers are doing 2. However, aside from peer pressure, other reasons, like having low self-esteem and a desire to feel safe, offer clues as to why teens are tempted to join gangs.
Independence and Identity
It's natural for teenagers to want to become independent and have their own identity. According to Valerie Ulene's article, "A Teen's Friends are a Powerful Influence" in the Los Angeles Times, teenagers are looking to distance themselves from their family, and so they copy behavior and attitudes from their friends 1. This gives them peer approval, but it also enables teens to have their own identity outside the family. So, if a teen's friends are gang members, it is likely the teenager will also want to join the gang.
Popularity and Belonging
Many teens feel a sense of belonging and community in a gang, and being a gang member can make teens feel popular, with a chance to have some fun. According to "Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs" by James C. Howell and published by the U.S. Department of Justice's Juvenile Justice Bulletin, many gangs seem attractive to teens because the gangs seem cool and popular, and they give teens an opportunity to attend parties and socialize and meet members of the opposite sex 3. Howell also claims that popular culture can idealize gangs, which will influence teenagers into joining.
Gangs can boost feelings of belonging and self-esteem, and vulnerable teenagers may join gangs to boost their self-esteem because being a gang member can give them feelings of power and influence. Howell mentions a number of factors that give teens low self-esteem, like doing badly at school or breaking up with a boy- or girlfriend, as potential reasons why a teen might be drawn to gangs. HealthyChildren.org claims that gangs can be appealing for teens who have low self-esteem and whose families do not provide them with feelings of love and acceptance 2.
Teenagers may join a gang out of fear for their own safety from other teenagers and gangs. According to the book "Into the Abyss, A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs," by Mike Carlie, Ph.D., gangs provide feelings of safety and security 4. Teenagers, in particular those from dysfunctional or abusive homes or those who experience a lack of parental support, might be attracted to the safety and support of gangs. Howell also claims that teenagers who live in unsafe neighborhoods are also at risk for joining a gang.
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