Why Teens Join Gangs and How to Help Them Get Out

teen gangs boy aloneThis is a story written by a 15 year old Youth Services participant:

“I was nine years old  when all my gang activity started.  I feel like the whole reason I became a gang member was because I wanted to be a part of something and feel like I fit in.  I was willing to do whatever it took no matter what.  I had to do a lot of things that will haunt me for the rest of my life.  I never killed anyone but I caused a lot of harm to a lot of people.   

“It all started when my sisters stopped coming around me.  All I wanted was to be around my sisters so I figured if I hung out with people they hung out with I could be around them.  Not long after though it went from hanging around my sisters to “putting in work” with my older home boys.  The day I got the initiation into the gangs was a day I will never forget.  I did not have to get jumped in because my dad was the leader of my gang, but I still had to prove loyalty. 

“That night we had a party and all got drunk.  One of my homies who had gotten a little too drunk said he didn’t think I was “down” and didn’t know why he was letting me drink with him.  He told me to go with him so I did.  He took me to a rival gangs members house and gave me a gun.  So I stuck the gun out the window and pulled the trigger three or four times and we drove off. 

I tell this story because I want people to know everything I lost because of gangs.   I lost my dad and brother to gang involvement (shot and killed).   I feel like a lot of kids in the world don’t understand how much they could lose by being in a gang, until it is too late.”

What Gangs Provide

maslows hierarchy of needsAs a case manager at Youth Services, I work with a lot of kids who identify themselves as associated with gangs at many different levels.  Human behavior is often aimed at meeting needs and the decision to join gangs is no different — kids join gangs to meet their needs. 

If you look at Maslow’s Hierchy of Needs as a model for what a person needs to survive then you start to see a teen’s perception of what a gang could offer.  For example, if a family is broken and not meeting a teens needs for love and acceptance a gang can offer a sort of makeshift family.  If a teen feels an inability to achieve economic or social success in a conventional way, a gang offers a structure to meet these needs through criminal activity.  If a teen is feeling unsafe in their home our neighborhood or have been bullied at school, the idea of a group that has their back no matter what happens becomes appealing.  To be successful gang prevention needs to look first at what gangs are providing and then find alternative ways to meet these needs. 

Recently I asked a 17 year-old girl I am working with why she joined a gang and this is what she said;  “It felt like my family when my dad’s side of my family wasn’t accepting me.  But when you get locked up your homies aren’t really there for you.”

Helping Teens Get Out of Gangs

Psychology Today offers a helpful list to guide parents and concerned friends who want to help a teen get out of a gang.  

1. Recognize the signs of gangs. Knowledge is power.

2. Know who your teen is hanging out with.

3. Get your teen involved in the community or extra-curricular activities. Idle time for teens can lead to boredom and trouble.

4. Develop a good relationship with your teen. Keep the lines of communication open.

5. If your teen’s heading down the wrong path, get him/her involved with a mentor. Research has strong support for the positive influences that mentors have in a child’s life.

6. Set high expectations regarding academics and behavior.

7. Rally with other parents to keep kids out of gangs. Together we can make a difference. Let your teen know who their real family is.

Gang Prevention Resources in the Salt Lake City area:

What are other ideas to help teens who are involved in gangs? Share your thoughts here!


About agnesrobl

I have worked as a case manager for Youth Services for two and a half years. I facilitate an anger management group, a girl’s empowerment and support group and a life skills group that focuses on drug recovery. I also help individual clients work on personal goals.
This entry was posted in Communication Tips, Family Counseling, Parenting Tips, Safe Place, SLCO, Substance Abuse, Success Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Teens Join Gangs and How to Help Them Get Out

  1. Cynthia says:

    Admiring the hard work you put into your website and in depth information you offer.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information.
    Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google

  2. Troy says:

    Thanks for shareing this. I am a consern community person who is trying to help young men and women to stay out and get of gangs. Your information has help me to start a program. I need more information on how. As I have to heart and know some young people who wants to get ou.

  3. agnesrobl says:

    Hi Troy-
    I believe that successful gang reduction programs often have a community integration component. I really like the concept of Homeboy Industries in LA. Here is the website to give you some ideas http://www.homeboyindustries.org/
    Salt Lake has a program called Youth Works that teaches gang involved youth to work on houses and Seattle has a program that teaches them to make coffee. The idea is higher community involvement and skill building.
    Thanks for reading!

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