Adolescence is a turbulent period in an individual’s life. It is a time of searching for one’s personal identity and coping with several expectations, challenges, problems and frustrations. During adolescent period, individuals are confronted with the necessity of effectively managing the psychological, emotional, and behavioral adjustments to physiological changes and the assumption of new roles within the family structure, the high school setting, and one’s peer group (Stark, Spirito, Williams, & Buevremont, 1989).
If young people are not sufficiently guided by adults at this sensitive period, they become vulnerable to bad influences lurking around them. Because they seek a sense of belonging, gangs see them as easy targets to recruit. Arthur (2009) claims that gangs may pose a threat to society, to security and the orderly operations of facilities and the community. The risk they pose depends on their level of sophistication and their reach affects small communities as well as large nations (Arthur, 2009)
Gangs prey on young people who are in school. When students get involved in gangs, the schools are definitely affected. “Gang activity in school is often marked by the prominent display of certain colors and clothing by students, graffiti with distinctive symbols, elaborate handshakes, conspicuous displays of expensive goods, and frequent references to bravado activities” (McEnvoy, 1990).
There has been a multitude of strategies tried to control and manage gangs. One is to surround premises with gang members with police officers as an attempt to intimidate them and to prevent any trouble. McEnvoy (1990) argues that such a “siege mentality” is highly destructive to the learning climate in schools and does little to reduce inappropriate behavior when gang members are unobtrusive to the officials.
On the other hand, mere acceptance of gangs as a reality of life with the hopes that they will just remain low key without anything being done to prevent their negative actions is also not successful
There is no single, miraculous solution to gang problems, but some attempts have had better chances in minimizing gang involvement. McEnvoy (1990) cites two general approaches which are promising. One is creating a neutral environment. The other is providing alternative activities which are productive and gives the gang members a sense of fulfillment. The option of redevelopment of deteriorated neighborhoods in which gangs flourish is a wise, albeit expensive one, but may be well worth it in the end. Arthur (2009) recommends taking a proactive approach to managing gangs.
Neighborhood programs and opportunities that give gang members options to use their talents in more constructive ways gives them hope that they are useful people who are needed by the community in another sense. Redevelopment may not just take physical building of deteriorated neighborhoods like constructing parks and community centers where gangs are welcomed provided they adhere to rules of the community. Redevelopment may also come in the form of involving them in community projects. McEnvoy (1990) suggests encouragement of gang members already in schools to be involved in extracurricular groups to encourage new loyalties and creation of opportunities for success beyond the classroom.
Extracurricular activities in music, art, photography, etc. may keep these gangsters in school since it taps their interests. Such activities may also give them opportunities to offer their services to the community. Inviting gang members for school projects and activities gives them a sense of duty and responsibility. Training gang members for programs such as peer-assistance movements where select students receive guidance and training in helping peers gives such gangsters a complete turn-about role of being positive role models to others.
It may be a long shot, but giving people a second chance is a worthwhile option in helping them turn from the dark and face and embrace the light.
Arthur, B. (2009) Managing Gangs and STGs: Proactive Approaches for Safety and Success, Corrections Today.
McEnvoy, A. (1990) Combating Gang Activities in Schools. Education Digest, Vol. 56, Issue 2.
Stark, L. J., Spirito, A., Williams, C. A., & Buevremont, D.C. (1989). Common problems and coping strategies: Findings with normal adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 17, 203-211.