In recent years, gang activity has seen a steady decline in urban areas. However, gangs have not gone away, rather they are on the move. Increasingly, suburban areas are experiencing crimes that have gang ties. Suburbs are attractive to gangs for a number of reasons. For one thing, suburbanites have a “lack of awareness” which “creates “fertile turf” for gang activity. What sorts of things can be done to stem the growth of gangs in the suburbs?
To me, the biggest reason kids join gangs is for a sense of accomplishment or belonging. For the purposes of this discussion I am going to focus on the sense of accomplishment.
Everyone wants to feel they are important or worthwhile... to achieve a sense of accomplishment. I personally believe this is why video games are so popular. Beyond the obvious sense of diversion, there is an immediate sense of accomplishment when one masters a level or defeats an enemy.
Gangs provide this sense of achievement and accomplishment to many students. Instead of just being a nobody, they achieved member or leadership status in a gang. That membership had to be earned, and with it comes a sense of pride and belonging. I think many kids turn to this route because they aren't feeling a sense of success and accomplishment in schools.
To help this problem I believe there should be a greater focus on vocational education as a part of high schools in America. While I certainly believe every student is capable of attending college, some simply aren't interested. A student that has no intention of going to college really doesn't need to suffer through Algebra II and feel unintelligent. If that same student was interested and excelled in automotive technology, they could get their sense of achievement there instead of turning to a gang. Welding, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and carpentry are all skills that could give students a sense of achievement and prepare them to enter adulthood as a positive, contributing member of society. Most students who join gangs also lack a sense of focus or hope for the future, and spending their school time preparing for a career could provide this for many of our students instead of pushing them to academic subjects that frustrate them and make them feel inferior.
Kids join gangs for a couple of reasons. In very violent areas, they seek the protection of a group. Sometimes it's how they make a living (drugs, crime, etc). Sometimes it's just to be a part of a larger group.
If kids have other things that appeal to them, academic accomplishment, sports, etc., then they don't need gangs. For this you need a good, productive school setting.
If they have jobs, then they don't need gangs. For this you need a growing economy.
We are lacking in some of these areas a little more lately. That makes it tougher to prevent gangs in any area.
I would say that there are two major approaches that we can and should take. First, as with all anti-gang activity, we should provide more sorts of activities that youths can participate in. This keeps them from having a lot of aimless and empty time that can be filled by gang activity. Second, I believe that we need to educate families more and encourage families to spend more time together even in our busy world. I think that gang membership often stems from a desire for belonging and for having people who care about you. Suburban families ought to be able to provide this to their children if they would only realize that it is important.