Youth and Gang Involvement: Why do our youth turn to gangs and what’s to be done?

This question weighs heavy in our society. What is so captivating about being involved in a gang? There are several reasons our youth are attracted to gangs. A significant reason is traumatic events in their lives. According to “Trauma in the Lives of Gang Involved Youth: Tips for Volunteers and Community Organizations” (2009), a high number of gang members come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect as well as previous exposure to domestic and community violence. 

When youth experience trauma, gangs provide a sense of belonging, family, and friendship that sticks with them forever. Many times, this alliance with a gang leads to a life of crime, including robbery, assault, or even murder. Once these youth are indoctrinated into a gang, should they change their minds, they are seen as a betrayer who needs to be dealt with; most times by killing if they cannot find a safe place to stay out of the area controlled by the gang.  

Youth who have dealt with trauma are the most vulnerable when it comes to gang recruitment. So, what can we do to help them avoid the gang life? While we may not be able to help every young person in our society avoid trauma, we can step in and support them by

  • creating safe environments,
  • instilling a sense of hope about their futures,
  • removing barriers in their education,
  • and setting clear boundaries that will allow them to receive positive feedback rather than punitive consequences.

Seeking professional mental health counseling for youth who suffer from trauma is always advised whether he or she becomes part of a gang or not. It may take going to several counselors before they find one they can trust with their traumatic experiences. When we show youth there are adults who truly care for them and will act with their best interest at heart, they have a much better chance of avoiding gang involvement.