Why youth join gangs? What are some factors that cause some teens to stay in longer than others?
The reasons for youth joining gangs include the need for support, community, safety and respect. In looking for support, the youth joins groups as they think they cannot make it alone. Membership in a gang is perceived as a solution to problems that they think they will face and the difficulty of facing them alone. Such individuals do not prefer to be gang members but perceive their problems as one that cannot be solved using any other means. For this reason, joining a group is due to the need for support from others. Joining gangs is also a seen as an important for the protection of the youth from individuals or members of rival gangs. The youth particularly those without affiliation to any gang is sometimes vulnerable to attacks from other gangs. Lack of associations reduces the ability to protect themselves from such attacks. For this reason, joining a gang provides the protection against torment by members of other gangs.
Another reason to join gangs is members of the family or friends belong to them. The youth might be following in the footstep of others close to them since they look up to those ahead for guidance. The youth perceives older members of the society as role models. Some youth have a lot of free unsupervised time. The free time between school activities and performing other responsibilities or being at home is often dedicated to membership in the gangs. The youth might be taking advantage of parents spending most of their time working away from home to be with friends in the gangs. Lack of control by the parents means the youth are not accountable regarding explaining how they use their free time. The gangs are also perceived by the child as providing opportunities for them to get money. The gangs are mostly involved with activities that are both legal and illegal leading payments that are largely shared by the members. The financial reason for joining gangs are primarily influenced by the desire for quick gratification where some youth want to make quick money. Among the illegal activities is selling drugs to others in school or neighborhood. Some of the youths are also involved in delivering of packages and being stationed at particular locations to be on the lookout for authorities (Melde, Diem, and Drake, 2012).
Gang membership for the youth is not necessarily a permanent association. Some of the youths outgrow the reasons for joining these gangs, and it is no longer necessary for them to be members. However, some youths stay in the gangs longer than others do due to reasons that include endless threats that the individual faces. Some of the threats that the individual faces might not be short term. If the individual continues to face threats of assault and violence, they will remain in the gang for a long time. Most members of the gang who do not transition to higher learning or gainful employment also stay longer in the gangs due to lack of alternatives in life. Spending time in jail or prison can also be a factor in staying with the gang for long. After being away for some time, the person comes back to society and is tempted to rejoin the gang (Melde, Diem, and Drake, 2012).
Melde, C., Diem, C., & Drake, G. (2012). Identifying correlates of stable gang membership. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28(4), 482-498.