Warning Signs of Teen Gang Involvement

Teens already experience plenty of violence. Yet, if a teen has a low sense of self or if he or she yearns to be accepted by peers, there’s a possibility that a young adult might join a gang to get what he or she can’t get at home.


You could say that a gang is a group of people with similar interests. Yet they have become to be seen by the public as groups that tend to participate in criminal and violent activity. Gangs often choose a symbol or color to represent them. They create special signs and choose an area of a community as their territory. As many communities have seen, many gangs will have war with each other and be violent with one another.


This is one of the dangers of gangs for teens. Although a teen might finally feel a part of a group, feeding his or her need to be accepted, he or she will likely end up engaging in violence. In fact, according to National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center,  gangs are the source of much of the serious violence that occurs in the United States. Sadly, many gangs actively seek teens because of their vulnerable need to be accepted. There are over 24,500 youth gangs in the United States and the number of teens and young adults that are involved in gang activity is more than 772,000.


Here are a few indicators of whether your teen might be involved in a gang or gang-related behavior:

  • 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 a clear explanation
  • Run-ins with the police and other authority figures
  • Known gang symbols on belongings, including books and clothing.


Teens who might be more vulnerable to joining a gang are those who have witnessed violence, experienced trauma, or suffered a major loss. In fact, the presence of violence among teens is a growing concern, particularly with the frequency of school shootings across America. A study at Boston Medical Center found that one in ten children and teens had observed a shooting or knifing by the age of six. Half of the violence reported occurred on the streets and half in the home. In Los Angeles, children and teens witness 10-20% of homicides. At least one third of American children and teens have witnessed domestic violence between their parents, and most have witnessed multiple occasions of violence.


Often, violent behavior among teens is related to mental illness or previous experiences of trauma and/or violence.  In fact, up until recently, it has been thought that those who are the victims of violence, meaning that they experience violence inflicted on themselves, are at risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For instance, if a teen has experienced a car accident, rape, or physical/sexual abuse, he or she may be vulnerable to developing PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety and fear. However, research is indicating that simply being a witness to violence can be just as traumatic. This is true of children and teens that have witnessed domestic violence between their parents, have been exposed to violence in the news, and who have witnessed violence in their urban communities.


Today, gangs exist in every state, and a gang member is 60 times more likely to experience death by homicide than the general population. Sadly, one-fourth of gang members are aged 15-17, and 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.


If you feel your son or daughter is a part of a gang, contact a professional in the community you trust. It’s important that  you and the rest of your family have all the support you need in order to create safety for your teen.