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When a teenager joins a gang

Human beings are sociable creatures, we are not designed to be on our own, so we create families, we join clubs, we go around in groups, and teenagers join gangs! The last activity may seem out of place in the list, but a gang is only another group, a larger group than a family, but they often refer to themselves as families. Teenage boys are far more likely to join gangs than girls. There may be girls attached to the gang but they are not part of the membership.

There are girl gangs and they seem to be on the increase, but at present limited in many areas. Signs that a teenager has become part of a gang may be a change in clothing and language; many gangs have their own colors and speak in their own type of code. Teenagers who start truanting from school, staying out late, hanging around with different people, start abusing drugs and alcohol, may well have joined a gang.

Parents will be bewildered as to why their teenager should want to be part of a gang, and the simple answer is, that gangs give teenagers a sense of belonging. Not all gangs are hard core criminal, dealing drugs and committing high-level crime, but they are likely to be damaging property, stealing from shops, fighting with rival gangs. Gangs are territorial, they believe that certain parts of town or city are their turf, and they will fight anyone who crosses into their territory. The teenager may have inadvertently done just that, and been offered a choice; pay a levy or join the gang.

Joining the gang will often involve some petty crime as initiation, such as shoplifting or small level arson. Once the crime has been committed, the teenager is now part of the gang. The parents need to understand that all the time the teenager is going through this, the gang is encouraging him and they praise him when he completes his task. Each time the teen commits a crime and gets away with it, or beats a rival gang member in a fight, they receive approbation and respect from their peers, and this is terribly important for the teenager.

Gang members are loyal to each other, they watch each other's backs, and the teenager finally feels that someone cares about them and that they belong. This loyalty, though often an illusion, is a strong tie for the teenager, and if they felt betrayed by their parent then they transfer their trust to the gang. It may well take an outsider to break the hold the gang have on the teenager, and removal to a wilderness camp or boot camp may be the only immediate solution, as being away from this influence has to be the priority.

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