The future of America lies within the hands of today’s youngsters, but there are some serious concerns regarding where these youngsters might take us. Youth gangs, along with the problems associated with them, are growing in many American cities. Children growing up in substandard neighborhoods often perceive that the only protection they have from gang activity is by joining one, an instinctual decision based on self-preservation. The inherent need of children and adolescents to be included as valued members of society, as evidenced in their intense concentration on creating bonds with their communities, can be used to help lead them into more productive fields that will not only benefit them as individuals but can work to benefit society as a whole as well.
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Joining a gang
Children typically join a gang young, often when they are only 12 or 13 years old. Although the demographics of gang members remain somewhat skewed toward the male gender, several girls have opted for membership in the gangs as well (Curry & Decker, 1998, p. 37). The switch from a production economy to a consumption economy has left a vast number of the populace on the have-not’s side of the fence, contributing to the feelings of inadequacy among those who live in impoverished areas and exclusionist perceptions among the elite, including the politicians. The result of this switch has been a rash of public policy that works to support and secure the wealthy while providing little help or incentive for the unskilled worker that is unqualified to meet the new service-oriented employment positions. Rather than choosing to starve on unskilled labor wages, typically at or below the minimum wage through such short-cuts as contract work and temporary employment, many gang members are choosing to remain members as a permanent lifestyle choice, effectively making the gang itself a major ghetto employer and the process of climbing the company ladder one of the increasingly violent, dangerous and/or illegal activities (Hagedom, 2001, p. 157). Youngsters coming into this gang atmosphere see the success and prestige of their older members and are encouraged to follow in this same path as an alternative to the impoverished and isolated form of existence they experienced with their parents and their parents experienced all their lives.
Given little hope, little love, little acceptance, and little opportunity, children experiencing significant risk factors such as family violence, poverty, and alienation from the rest of society frequently can find no other options to fulfilling their basic human needs than joining the inner-city gangs. Because of the prevalence of these types of conditions, the gang phenomenon has now spread through the large cities out to the suburbs and even into rural areas. While most of society works to create wealth for themselves while believing those less fortunate should ‘fend for themselves are ultimately harming young inner-city kids, society as a whole, and themselves as well. Society should demand that educational, vocational, and family programs are publicly funded and readily accessible to those individuals living in poverty. Through this type of system, young members of the community may be persuaded to follow a more beneficial path. More economic opportunities for youths lead to fewer joining gangs and thus fewer hurting others of society. Providing for the needs of the poorest of those is truly giving to oneself, a simple concept that those blinded by vanity and greed cannot see.
- Curry, G.D. & Decker, S.H. Confronting Gangs: Crime and Community. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury, 1998.
- Hagedorn, J.M. “Gangs and the Informal Economy.” Gangs in America III. R. Huff (Ed.). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 2001.