Forensic Psychologists are often called upon to evaluate complex situations such as teen deviance or gang involvement. Yet, these issues require a much deeper investigation than most are willing to give. Therefore, this document will attempt to dissect and defuse the term gang, examine issues in an individual manner, and then provide a realistic plan of action that could ideally prevent further problems.
Teen Deviance and Gang Activity; An Individual Issue
Over the years, the media has helped to educate the world concerning the damage associated with teen deviance and gang activity. They have even made it extremely clear that the levels of teen deviance and/or gang violence have risen higher and higher with each generation. Unfortunately, the media does not portray the whole truth! They simply report what they believe will increase their ratings, which ultimately harms society more.
Therefore, the question becomes clear; is there better information out there that would first fill our need for knowledge, secondly help us to understand, and third ultimately put an end to the destruction of society’s youth? The answer is YES!
You see, through the use of forensic psychology one could begin to dissect the situation, examine each individual issue, and consequently launch a realistic plan of action. Of course, this requires the individual to keep an open mind, which first requires the individual to wash away all stereotypes, and return to the basics. For now, this means accepting the fact that there are two different definitions associated with the word “gang”. The first definition describes “a group of people with compatible tastes or mutual interests who gather together for social reasons (gang, n.d.).” Now, for the most part, these gangs are relatively harmless and present themselves in “club” form, such as, that portrayed by the girl/boy scouts, college sororities/fraternities, political campaigns, or workers unions. To say the least, any time three or more people come together for a joint cause, they are engaging in “gang” activity (Daniels, 2008). So, what criteria cause such an activity to become illegal? The answer to this question might surprise you.
To answer this question, and make comparison less complex, I have incorporated a visual aid. The chart below lists several groups, along with the “legal” criteria used to decide if a group is in fact “gang”/”illegal” related.
The Gangs of American Society CriteriaGroup
Has a recognized name (Daniels, 2008) Boy/girl scouts Sororities/ Fraternities Workers Unions Street Gangs
Meets/hangs out (Daniels, 2008) X X X X
Pass initiation (Daniels, 2008) X X (Dues) X
(Daniels, 2008) X X X X
Has a leader (Daniels, 2008) X X X X
Specific association (Daniels, 2008) X X X X
Claims and defends a territory (Daniels, 2008) X X X
Uses clothing, tattoos, colors, symbols (Daniels, 2008) X X X X
nonverbal signs (Daniels, 2008) X X
Special slang (Daniels, 2008)
(Chants) (Chants) X
Graffiti (walls, lockers, and
personal items) (Daniels, 2008) X X (Sometimes) X
Commits crime and/or violent acts (Daniels, 2008) (Sometimes) (Sometimes) X
Basically, it does not take long to realize the chart does not discriminate, so any group that possesses five or more of these characteristics should in fact be considered equally illegal (Daniels, 2008). In other words, most of us have been involved in some type of “gang” activity at one time or another. After all, it is absolutely natural for individuals to seek companionship within group atmospheres where they feel acceptance. Therefore, rather than examining “gangs”, I believe it becomes more important to examine society, and the variables associated with teen deviance in less general approach.
Who, What, When Where, & Why; The Individual
Between the ages of ten and twelve, things begin to become complicated for a child. Not only is he or she facing his or her ever-changing bodies, raging hormones, and other normal day-to-day challenges, he or she will begin to notice other things as well. These children will realize that they have more choices/freedoms, and such independence is not without consequence. You see, it is at this age that peers begin to split onto cliques, stereotypes form, and prejudice seems to take over. Therefore, a once healthy child could begin to struggle with issues of identity, jealousy, respect, acceptance, and self-worth. (Margolis, 2000). (Leading to the child becoming a bully or a victim of a bully). Matter a fact; this can be the beginning of an emotional roller coaster for the child, his or her parents, and society; especially if this child is left without guidance and is deemed socially unacceptable.
Of course, it is kind of hard to distinguish what constitutes the “norm” when today’s society is a collage of different fashions, which means it is even more important to understand that a child could lead an invisible socially unacceptable life. In other words, we may not notice the signs until the child does poor in school, refuses to associate with others, increases their defiance toward authority figures, or worse; drops out of school and/or engages in criminal activity (Daniels, 2008), which by then it is too late.
So, what causes children to act out and become deviant? The fact is I am not really sure if anyone truly knows. You see, some claim the problem starts in infancy, and that parental ties are to blame (Daniels, 2008). Others want to believe that the media turns our babies into radical teen killers, and still others believe peer-pressure has the control (Daniels, 2008). Personally, I feel that these are simply variables for a very complicated puzzle. Sure there may be correlations, but unless the outcome is always the same, I highly doubt that these variables actually cause anything. Therefore, I believe we need to back up and regroup, maybe even begin with an examination of youth literature.
Have you ever browsed the children’s section of a library? If you have, you may have noticed that there are many books geared toward young readers that explain childhood issues such as shyness, anger, and courage. There are even books that are meant to assist these young children as they deal with insults and self discipline. However, there does not seem to be many books geared toward the adolescent reader; thus leading me to wonder why! After all, it is the pre/teen that seems to have the most hardship when it comes to the expectations of society. What I am saying is that the teaching of societies values should not end in preschool. We must be willing to acknowledge and accept responsibility for our children’s feelings and experiences. This means that we must continually provide our children with unconditional love, guidance, and support; including various types of informational publications.
Take for instance a shy child. Sure, shyness is natural. For that matter, it is so natural that everyone will experience a touch of shyness at one point or another (Althea-1, 1998). However, when a child is overly sensitive, their shyness can cause severe feelings of anxiety, awkwardness, and insecurity (Althea-1, 1998), which will force the child to act or react in unnatural ways; especially when placed in new situations, and/or surrounded by people they do not know (Althea-1, 1998). Unfortunately, these children tend to become easy targets for the typical school bully, who generally attacks his or her pray with insults.
So, what are Insults? Are they really just harmless words as one may think? Does the old quote “sticks and stones may break my bones; but words will never hurt me” really stand true? The answer is NO! Insults are not harmless. They DO hurt (Johnston, 1996), and there are correlations that suggest a bully-suicide connection (Dotingo, 2008), which means that children need to be taught and re-taught that “we” understand t
hat insults hurt, but that those who practice such actions are soliciting our response. Therefore, if we believe in ourselves enough (this takes guidance), the words will not have such a grave effect. Not to mention the fact that insults generally stop if the perpetrator is ignored. Of course, this is assuming that the child has been taught self-worth. THIS, of course, brings us back to the subject of early education.
The fact is we need to look closer at our own lives, and remember that children absorb what they hear and see. As parents, it is pertinent that we present ourselves in a fashion that resembles what we wish to see mirrored in our children. This includes taking the time to create and become involved in programs that teach our children how to handle the different situations they face. For instance, many areas have programs like the Big Brother/Big sister (Margolis, 2000), or a “safe houses” that allow a child to engage in recreational activities while providing unconditional love and support (Barbour, 1999& Daniels, 2008). Such programs build confidence, and teach conflict management & other skills (Daniels, 2008). They also keep children supervised and off the street.
But then, no matter how devoted we are, there will always be children who slip through our net of protection, and these children will inevitably face the juvenile justice system; which leads to much harsher punishment than ever before (Barbour, 1999). Why? Because our society is fed up with “criminal” behavior, so they have jumped on board with the “Get-Tough on Crime Movement.” Unfortunately, what they do not realize is that such actions serve only as a revolving door (Barbour, 1999) for today’s youth. In other words, we have seized looking out for the best interest of our children, and are now placing them into the very situations we tried to protect them from (Barbour, 1999). Think about it. If you place two or three children together, do they not compare life notes and learn new tricks? OK, so what makes the judicial system believe that juvenile detention is not providing an atmosphere for such to take place? In other words, we are breeding criminal behavior, only to punish it, and incase you did not know there are now 28 states that now have a (juvenile) death penalty, which means that some child somewhere WILL eventually die for our negligence! In my opinion this is not public safety (Barbour, 1999), if it were, we would invest the 1 million dollars it takes to imprison 60 youth offenders, use it to invest in programs that would prevent 250 crimes (Barbour, 1999), and STOP giving up on society’s youth at a younger ages.
Althea-1. (1998). Feeling Shy. Garth Stevens Publishing Inc. Milwalkee, WI.
Barbour, S. (1999) Teen Violence. Greenhaven Press, Inc.
Daniels, P. (2008) Gangs. Greenhouse Press. Farmington Hills, MI
Dotingo, R. (2008). Studies Suggest, But Don’t Confirm Bullying-Suicide Connection. Retrieved on
Feb. 8, 2009 from the Center for the advancement of Health website: http://www.hbns.org/getDocument.cfm?documentID=1744
Gang. (n.d.) Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) Retrieved March 8, 2009 from the Dictionary.com
Johnston, M. (1996). Dealing With Insults. The Rosen Publishing Group’s Power Kids Press. New
Margolis, J. (2000). Everything You Need to Know About Teens Who Kill. The Rosen Publishing
Group Inc. New York, NY.
McIntosh, K. & Walker I (2008). Bullying & Violence; Youth with Aggression Issues. Mason CrestPublishers. Philodelphia, PA.