One of the things that can greatly increase the chances of your teenager becoming involved in teen violence is involvement with gangs. Gangs account for a majority of the serious violence in the United States (1), and these gangs are not shy about recruiting teens. The number of youth gangs throughout the U.S. tops 24,500, and the number of teens and young adults involved in gang activity is higher than 772,500 (1). If your teenager is involved with a gang, chances are that he or she is also involved in teen violence.

Gang: a definition

Loosely described, a gang is a formalized group of people with similar interests and goals. However, gangs have become more narrowly defined to apply to groups that involve themselves jointly in criminal activity, usually of a violent nature. Gangs usually choose a common symbol, create special signs, and claim certain “territory.” It is common for gangs to have “wars” with each other, increasing the chance of your teen committing violent acts if he or she is a member of a gang.

Gangs: statistics

Here are some quick stats regarding gang violence and teen violence due to gang membership (1):

  • With Denver as an example, it was found that even though only 14 percent of teens are in gangs, these teens are responsible for 89 percent of violent crimes. Teen violence is quite prevalent with involvement in gangs.
  • Gangs exist in every state, where in the 1970s they existed in less than half of the states.
  • A gang member is 60 times more likely to experience death by homicide than the general population
  • One-fourth of gang members are aged 15-17
  • The average age for a gang member is 17 to 18 years old
  • There are more males in gangs than females, although the number of females in gangs is on the rise.

Why teens join gangs

There are various reasons that teens choose to join gangs. Even though thoughts of violence may not originally prompt joining the gang, once a part of the gang a teen is expected to commit violent acts, such as joining gang fights and committing violent crimes (like armed robbery). Some of the reasons teens join gangs include the opportunity to make money, thrill seeking, protection from bullies, desire for prestige, and a chance to belong. Interestingly enough, few teens are actually forced into joining gangs. Most teens can refuse to join a gang and not fear retaliation (1).

Warning signs of gang involvement

There are warning signs that your teenager might be involved with a gang. Here are some of the tip-offs that your teen might be involved with violent, gang-related behavior (2):

  • Sudden changes in clothing worn by your teen, especially if it involves wearing the same color schemes all the time.
  • A desire to hide activities from you.
  • Changes in who your teen’s friends are.
  • Loss of interest in family activities
  • Declining interest in school (including dropping grades) and extracurricular activities.
  • Having relatively large amounts of money without clear explanation
  • Run-ins with the police and other authority figures
  • Known gang symbols on belongings, including books and clothing.

Teen Gang Involvement Sources:

  1. “Youth Gangs,” National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center [online].
  2. “Gang Involvement Warning Signs,” National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center [online].