When you imagine a gang member, what kind of person do you think of? Probably a man, living in a big city, most likely. Someone who grew up on the streets, is into drugs, and probably didn’t have a good childhood, Maybe he’s in his mid-late 20’s, or 30’s, or even 40’s. Yeah, that sounds like a typical gang member, right?
Wrong. The average gang member is 17-18 years old. About 1/4 of gang members are 15-17… 1/6 members are 14 and younger.
Yeah, that’s right. Most gang members are your age. They are high school students just like you. Some haven’t even gotten to high school yet. And also, gangs aren’t just made up of guys. About 1/3 gangs members are females.
How exactly do they end up in a gang, and why do they do it?
First off, the definition of a gang is: “A group of people with similar interests and goals; most often they are groups that involve themselves in criminal activity, usually of violent nature. Gangs usually have a symbol, a color, create hand signs for themselves and claim their territory.”
A lot of people believe that gangs only exist in large cities. Yeah, 74% of large cities have gangs roaming their streets. That’s a pretty huge number. But who knew that even 57% of suburban areas, and 34% of small cities have gangs? Even 25% of rural areas now have gangs. Gangs also exist in all 50 states, which wasn’t the case just twenty years ago.
So, whether people are aware of it or not, gangs are pretty much everywhere.
While there certainly are instances where teens are forced to join gangs, most of the time they join voluntarily. Teens usually join to make money, for the thrill and excitement, for protection from bullies, a desire for prestige and power, and/or a chance to belong. Many of them may get picked on at school and not have any friends. Being a part of a gang will, in their minds, give them a group of “friends” who will protect them and take care of them, and maybe even “take care of” the bullies and mean people at school.
Why would a gang want members who are so young? Well, because they do a lot of the dirty work. When teens are in gangs, they are expected to commit violent acts and crimes, including: gang fights, armed robbery, drug dealing, gun play, vandalism, and theft. They might even get mixed up in sex trafficking or be told to murder someone. According to research, 89% of violent crimes in gangs are committed by teenagers.
Some teens might think that joining a gang sounds cool. Really? Do those crimes sound cool and fun to you? Being in a gang is the opposite of cool. It could ruin your future, get you arrested, and even get you killed. It could get your friends and family killed, too. Gangs often get into wars with other gangs, and they will not only be after you and threaten your life, but they will threaten your loved ones, too.
If one of your friends has been acting different lately and you’re afraid they might be involved in gang activity, here are some of the warning signs:
- Sudden changes in clothing, especially if they wear the same color all the time
- Hiding their activities from everyone
- Hanging out with different friends
- Loss of interest in school and other activities
- Having large amounts of money with no explanation
- Run-ins with the police
- Having the same symbol on many of their belongings
- Has a new nickname
- Starts drinking and doing drugs
- Change in appearance (hair style, hair color, piercings, tattoos, etc)
If your friends tells you they’re in a gang, here’s what you do:
- Ask questions. How long have they been in? Have deep are they in, how connected are they and what have they done for the gang so far? If they’re not in that deep, it will be easier for them to get out.
- Tell them how you feel, and the truth about gangs. Tell them that you don’t want to lose their friendship, and that you’re worried about them. This gang is not their family, they only tell them that to get them to do stuff for them. They don’t really care about them. Gangs do bad things to innocent people… do they really want to do that? Do they really want to risk getting killed or getting arrested?
- Get help. If your friend wants help, talk to a trusted adult. Everyone needs to make sure your friend is safe in case the gang gets upset with them.
Gangs are bad news, straight up. There are no benefits to joining a gang. It’s sad that gangs have been so successful in luring teenagers who need the things that they think gangs will give them. But really, it’s all a bunch of lies. Gangs will do nothing but ruin your life. Don’t get involved, and if your friend is a gang member, do everything you can to get them help and get them out.