Dying To Belong- Children and Gangs

Pics taken from the web

Everyday hundreds of children throughout the world are dying because of their involvement in gang activity. Not only are they dying due to their involvement in gangs but they too are the perpetrators of gang violence, theft and even murder. In a bid to curb the involvement of children in gangs we need to take a closer look into the reasons why children become involved in gangs in the first place. When we understand the reasoning behind a child's decision making process prior to the joining of a gang, we have a better chance at influencing their choices.

What does a gang represent?

Human beings have a psychological need to belong to a group. The need to belong to something bigger than the individual. The need to form stable bonds with others in order to give and receive affection. We also have the need to be of value to the group, to be seen as worthy to belong. The need to belong is a major source of human motivation.

This is especially true with regards to children. Children like adults seek refuge in numbers, yet they are even more vulnerable to influence as they have not yet established an identity which will allow them to make informed decisions as to which 'group' to belong to. Children are searching for structure, stability and a sense of belonging.

Joining a gang is for the purpose of belonging. You feel like you've been counted worthy to be apart of something that is bigger than you.
Marlin Henderson - ex gang member

Unlike adults who can discern whether the groups identity (beliefs, code of ethics, etc.) is in line with their own, a child not having established a secure sense of self is vulnerable to be influenced by the group and take on their identity.

But gangs also offer children something which can become as addictive as a drug, the sense of power.

Many children who join gangs come from unstable homes in which they have either been victimized, neglected or have witnessed violence and the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Many of these children by the time they turn 6 years have witnessed scenes which would make grown adults cringe. The predominant sensation that children in such situations feel, is a sense of powerlessness. Being too young to 'make it on their own', the child feels trapped and angry.

Who does an angry child who feels alone in this world turn to for comfort? If not to another adult or group of adults who can provide the child with what he or she is searching for, then they turn to others who feel the same sense of powerlessness as they do.

Gangsters fundamentally feel powerless and so search to gain control and power over territory and others, the most boisterous display of power being the act of taking another's life.

"At Risk"
This group of kids is not considered gang members by law enforcement, but they know gang members and may associate with them on a casual or limited basis, mostly watching and imitating the older gang members. They are getting close to an age where they might decide to join the gang. They may like and admire the gang members in the neighborhood and the gang lifestyle, but do not participate in the gang’s criminal activity. This group is generally between 7 and 9 years old.

In order to positively impact a child's life it becomes apparent that more time, effort and money should be spent on programs geared towards reaching children in dire circumstances before they reach the age of 11 years. We need to run more programs which offer children an alternative to joining a gang. Groups which provide children with a sense of belonging, a sense worthiness, a sense of direction and a sense of prestige.

In short we must remember that gang life fulfills a need. Take away the need and you lessen the power of the gangs and the involvement of children in them.

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