According to the U.S. Department of Justice “there are more than 24,500 different youth gangs around the country, with more than 772,500 teenage and young adult members. A gang is defined as a group of people who engage in joint violent, illegal, or criminal activity. Teenagers join gangs for excitement and a sense of belonging.”
If youth are encountering gangs in school or in the community, they need opportunities to talk about these issues with adults.
Warning signs of gang affiliation
- Family conflict
- Lack of communication
- Changes in behavior and attitude
- Changes in dress style
- Increase in material possessions and cash
- Trouble in school
- Friends in gangs
Consequences of gang involvement
Gang involved youth are more likely to be victims of violence and more likely to commit crimes, that lead to higher rates of arrest and incarceration. Youth gang involvement leads to failing to graduate high school, becoming a teen parent and being unemployed.
Make sure the youth understand the following:
- You will live in fear of getting caught, killed, or going to jail.
- You will be forced to choose the gang over your friends and family, hurt innocent people, and perform criminal activity that can ruin your future.
- You will be exposed to violence, drugs, and inappropriate sexual behavior.
- Gangs demand loyalty. Members talk about being part of a family, but they can turn their backs on each other in a heartbeat.
- Gang leaders take the largest cut of all profits. You will earn very little, regardless of how big a role you took in getting the money.
- Having a criminal record means you will forever have difficulty getting a job, leaving the country, or voting.
- You will never feel good about yourself.
Solutions to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs:
- Provide interpersonal life skills lessons to help youth resolve conflicts.
- Provide reasons for the youth to stay in school.
- Provide tutoring for youth who are performing poorly in school.
- Enhance their self-esteem. Many join gangs because it gives them a sense of power.
- Teach tools to use to stand up to a bully. Gang members will often use intimidation tactics to get others to join their gang.
ARISE offers a library of life skills to help reduce the risk factors leading to gang membership. View the ARISE Youth Gang Prevention Program. This program contains life skills lessons for middle and high school aged youth at risk. It can be used with at-risk youth in schools, community-based organizations, detention, juvenile justice secure facilities, probation, group homes, mental health facilities etc.