Gangs are a group of people who deliberately engage in illegal behavior. Those people are gangsters who are commonly seen as dangerous criminals and social outcasts; but they do not join gangs for no reason. “Adolescents may be interested in joining gangs because of its supportive features. For example, gangs can offer a sense of confidence, individuality, and connection to something greater than oneself” (McNeil, Herschberger, and Nedela, 2013)The senses they lack are caused by the people they encounter and the things they experienced, which have negative influence on their philosophy and values. Most of the gangsters join gangs because they have undergone difficult childhoods or traumatic experiences, such as witnessing spousal abuse and being discriminated by their peers. In fact, this violence comes from everywhere—family, school and society. Without protection or self-discipline, teenagers go beyond the limit of mental toughness. It is tempting for adolescent to get off track and fall into the abyss of gangs. Therefore, violence in family, school and society are the three major factors associated with the proliferation of gang memberships.
Teenagers experiencing violence due to family issues are more likely to join gangs. Families have the biggest influence on people lives during their youth. While family is supposed to be a warm shelter and a stable environment for children to grow physically and mentally, not everyone’s childhood goes smoothly. When teenagers witnessed or are constantly involved in the family issues, like having quarrels and fights with parents or siblings, they virtually pile up their anger and pressure. This will encourage them to run away from their family and get rid of the domestic violence. In this way, teenagers tend to feel depressed and start to have a whim of joining gangs as their second family. For example, Lefty is a child who grew up with violent tendencies introduced in Father Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart. Domestic violence becomes an everyday occurrence during Lefty’s childhood. Lefty’s father always beats his wife badly after getting drunk. When Lefty could not bear the violence at home, “Lefty calmly goes into his parents’ bedroom, retrieves a gun from his father’s bed stand, and walks out to the living room. Lefty points the gun at his father and say, “You are my father, and I love you.
If you ever hit my mother again…I…will…kill you” (Boyle, 44). Parents unintentionally create tension among family members while they argue and fight with each other as a means to solve their problems. “For family, victimization, either through witnessing or experiencing family violence, will positively correlate with the frequency of violent youth behavior” (Wright and Fitzpatrick, 2006). According to the research, if parents set up a negative example of venting anger towards their children through violence, it will wreak havoc on the child’s mental health and cause them to act as violently as their parents do. It is clear that domestic violence weakens or even destroys family relationships, which will lead children to find another place to seek for a sense of belonging. Domestic violence is a push factor for teenagers’ joining gangs; on the other hand, gangs may provide an illusion of a safe community for innocent children which also serve as a pull factor. Gangs function as families do.
“Gangs may provide the adolescent with the protection and support that adolescents lack in the home. As a result, it is important to ensure the structure of the family is functionally stable so that adolescents will not feel the need to go elsewhere” (Wright and Fitzpatrick, 2006). Therefore, joining gangs becomes the best solution to escape from insecurity and harm. Unfortunately, involvement in gangs with delinquent gangsters may results in even more severe consequences. School violence is a big factor that encourages teenagers to join gangs. “While this seems obvious, perhaps even unnecessary to point out, the fact is that the school is becoming an arena of increasingly serious and constant violence” (Burke, 1991). Kids are likely to be harassed and bullied since they mostly lack concentrated monitoring from teachers in public schools. Moreover, teenagers are too vulnerable to protect themselves from school violence which includes physical and verbal abuse. Despite the fact that teenagers could get physical harmed, it is likely that verbal abuse may have as much negative effects as physical abuse does.
Students may also be laugh by their peers because of academic failure or acting weirdly and specially compared to others. In Tattoos on the Heart, Father Boyle gives an example of a child being mentally harmed by school violence. “The little kid had regularly been late for school and missing class” (Boyle, 43). When Father Boyle asks him about the reason for his absence from school, the kid cries and says, “I doesn’t got that much clothes” (Boyle, 43). Even though the book does not introduce the occurrence, it can be assumed that the kid was born into a poor family and his parents cannot afford enough clothes for him to change every day for school. As a result, his classmates mock his appearance and clothes. This verbal abuse is considered part of bullying and school violence. According to the website, “It is possible that in specific contexts, gang activity may be a developmental extension of bullying behavior.
For example, aggressive victims (i.e., bully-victims) may be particularly vulnerable to joining gangs in an effort to seek support, form social connections, or receive protection from or control over other aggressive peers” (Bradshaw and Waasdorp, 2009). From the research, it is clearly known that one of the main reasons for teenagers to join gangs is to avoid being bullied and mocked by peers. By joining gangs, adolescent are full of strength and power since they believe there is a group of gangsters to back them up and support them as a family. On the other hand, poverty can be related to school violence. Wealthier kids can buy fancy clothes and expensive stuff to show off while poor kids might be looked down upon and bullied. Many think that by looking clothes, they can tell whether they have better life quality. The gap between their life qualities creates huge burdens and heavy pressure on teenagers that leads them to join gangs in order to seek support. The potential risk of joining gangs is incredibly huge.
There are better choices than looking to gangs for help with school violence. Students can get advice from their teachers, focus on their studies and balance their attitude towards gap of wealth. Outside the schools and families, society is mixed with much more severe violence that brings teenagers to gangs. “A higher incidence of weapon-carrying and guns in particular, among youths has been identified as a key factor in the recent increase in youth violence. Weapon-carrying increases risk of death and serious injury to both the carrier and others” (Page and Hammermeister, 1997). Since guns are widely-possessed as weapon for self-protection in 21st century, the potential violence will increase and affect the safety of all people. However, guns are not only for the motives of self-protection, but also the cause of social violence. “Research has shown that weapon-carrying among youth appears to be more closely associated with criminal activity, delinquency, and aggressiveness than to purely defensive behavior” (Page and Hammermeister, 1997).
Fr. Boyle mentioned a story of gunshots by street gangs. A teenager saw his brother being killed by the gangster right next to him on the street. He chose to wreck revenge on the killer by joining the gangs that are the enemies of the killer’s instead of showing forgiveness and mercy. In this case, because of the surrounding social violence, teenagers may join gangs to seek help for retaliating on their enemies. Revenge is a fast and clear way to deal with personal grudge; yet, the only thing it brings is even more chaos and hatred. Teenagers join gangs for diverse reasons. Most of them have experienced tough incidents and psychological trauma because of violence from family, school and society.
Parents can set a bad example for their children who then turn to violence and join gangs; peers pressure and verbal abuse at school urge them to seek support from the gangs and prevent them from being bullied; social violence, such as gunshots, provoke vengeance that encourages teens to join gangs. Some teenager may be trapped by different situations. “We all find ourselves in this dark, windowless room, fumbling for grace and flashlights” (Boyle, 128). Once the teenagers need guidance to solve violence issues, they have no need for the gangs to help them out. Hopefully, those who lost their way can find the light switch. “And you hope, and you wait, for the light—this astonishing light” (Boyle, 128).
Boyle, Gregory. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. New York, NY: Free, 2010. Print. Bradshaw, Catherine P and Tracy Evian. Waasdorp. “Measuring and Changing a “Culture of Bullying.” School Psychology Review 38.3 (2009): 356-61. EBSCOhost. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. Burke, Jim. “Teenagers, Clothes, and Gang Violence.” Educational Leadership 49.1 (1991): 11- 13. EBSCOhost. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
McNeil, Sharde’ N., Jennifer K. Herschberger, and Mary N. Nedela. “Low-Income Families With Potential Adolescent Gang Involvement: A Structural Community Family Therapy Integration Model.” American Journal of Family Therapy 41.2 (2013): 110-20. EBSCOhost. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. Page, Randy M and Jon. Hammermeister. “Weapon-Carrying And Youth Violence.” Adolescence 32.127 (1997): 505. EBSCOhost. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. Wright, Darlene R and Kevin M. Fitzpatrick. “Violence And Minority Youth: The Effects Of
Risk And Asset Factors On Fighting Among African American Children And Adolescents.” Adolescence (San Diego): an international quarterly devoted to the physiological, psychological, psychiatric, sociological, and educational aspects of the second decade of human life 41.162 (2006): 251-62. EBSCOhost. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.