Increasing Gang Violence and Troubled Teens| C.A.R.E.
Gang culture among young people, in itself, is nothing new. Indeed, youth-gangs have been a major part of the urban cultural landscape since at least the 1830s. Troubled Teens see these gangs as family and lose ties to their own true family.
Street-gangs are organized groups that are often involved in drugs, weapons trafficking, and violence. The presence of street-gangs in school can be very disruptive to the school environment. Street gangs may not only create fear among students but also increase the level of violence in school. The percentage of students who report the presence of street gangs in their schools indicates the existence and severity of the gang problem in schools.
Parents, educators, and other concerned adults should watch for signs of gang involvement. Parents can:
- Learn the signs of gang activity such as graffiti, hand signs, clothing styles, or colors.
- Learn why youth join gangs and how to counter those influences.
- Communicate effectively with children
- Get involved in programs that create healthy outlets—sports, hobbies, youth clubs, etc.—for youth
- Know their child’s friends
- Discuss with their child consequences of being in a gang
- Contact their local law enforcement agency or juvenile probation department to find out up-to-date information on gangs
- Go to religious leaders for advice on programs their child can get involved in
- Start a program to report and immediately remove any graffiti in their neighborhood.
Gang involvement can begin as early as elementary school. Experts have identified high-risk characteristics that can contribute to a youth being vulnerable to gang membership. Anyone — male or female, wealthy or low-income, from any ethnic or racial background, from a functional or dysfunctional family may decide to join a gang.
Researchers agree that most gangs share certain characteristics. Although there are exceptions, gangs tend to develop along racial and ethnic lines, and are typically 90 percent male (Bodinger-deUriarte, 1993). Gang members often display their membership through distinctive styles of dress--their "colors"--and through specific activities and patterns of behavior. In addition, gangs almost universally show strong loyalty to their neighborhood, often marking out their territory with graffiti (Gusted, 1991). All of these representations can be visible in the schools.
Because gangs are, by definition, organized groups, and are often actively involved in drug and weapons trafficking, their mere presence in school can increase tensions there. It can also increase the level of violence in schools, even though gang members themselves may not be directly responsible for all of it; both gang members and non-gang members are arming themselves with increased frequency. Students in schools with a gang presence are twice as likely to report that they fear becoming victims of violence as their peers at schools without gangs (Trump, 1993). Moreover, a 1992 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey reports that schools with gangs are significantly more likely to have drugs available on campus than those without gangs (Bodinger-deUriarte, 1993). In Gaustad's words, gangs create a "tenacious framework" within which school violence can take root and grow (1991, p.24).
Why Gangs Develop and Why Students Join Them
Gangs take root in schools for many reasons, but the primary attraction of gangs is their ability to respond to student needs that are not otherwise being met; they often provide youth with a sense of family and acceptance otherwise lacking in their lives. In addition, gangs may form among groups of recent immigrants as a way of maintaining a strong ethnic identity. Understanding how gangs meet these student needs prepares schools to better respond to them. Two factors are primary in the formation of juvenile gangs.
First, gang membership gives youth a sense of belonging and becomes a major source of identity for its members. In turn, gang membership affords youth a sense of power and control, and gang activities become an outlet for their anger. Third, the control of turf is essential to the well-being of the gang, which often will use force to control both its territory and members.
Second, recruitment of new members and expansion of territory are essential if a gang is to remain strong and powerful. Both "willing" and "unwilling" members are drawn into gangs to feed the need for more resources and gang members.
Schools need to involve parents of gang and non-gang youth in the school's concerns and activities in respect to the gang problem. Schools should develop parenting and gang awareness classes. Schools should establish relationships with organizations and agencies in the community that have knowledge about the problem and provide services to deal with it. Schools should provide special training to administrators, teachers, and staff to increase knowledge about the gang problem and community resources.