There are many ideas people have about gangs especially who they are and what they do. People have ideas of how gangs function from movies such as, The Outsiders, or from plays such as, West Side Story. Also the President has made numerous comments about, MS-13. This the gang most people know about and have ideas about. However, there are many gangs around and with High School, Middle School and College starting soon, gangs will be targeting new members. Lisa Ling’s episode on CNN explains the myths and the truths about the gang issue.

For parents of teenagers it’s important that you watch this episode. You need to be aware of how this gang targets certain teenagers to join their gang. Most teenagers have no idea what they are getting into. However, once they are in the gang it is almost impossible to get out alive. Many teens who join do not feel accepted at home or school. They feel like they are failures at life. The gang gives them a sense of pride and acceptance. The attraction for the teenager is this gang will always accept them and it feels like love to them. Additionally, it gives them a sense of pride and they no longer feel like a failure.

While this is not true, a teenager who is desperate for acceptance and tired of feeling worthless is a teenager the gang targets. The gang is able to emotionally manipulate the teen because of the emotional pain the teenager is feeling. The teens who are feeling emotionally isolated may come from a physically abusive environment or they may not feel accepted at home. They may have a learning disability and believe they are a disappointment to their families. Teenagers with ADHD and other learning disabilities are targets for gangs. They are targets because they feel they do not fit in with the “normal” kids and they are a disappointment to their families. Therefore, when a gang or a group of guys approach them, they are somewhat excited because someone is interested. The rules for belonging is just go a long with what everyone else is doing and you are part of our group. They feel accepted by others and that they are important as a person. Furthermore, it removes the stigma that they are a nobody and they feel like they are a success.

The guys in the group encourage this feeling. If someone at school puts them down the other guys defend them. If parents criticize them or are abusive, the guys provide emotional support and a place to stay. These guys, this gang has become their family. As a result, many teenagers find themselves committed to this gang and doing what the gangs expect them too. In the Alive and Free Program we refer to these type of relationships as “fearships.” You are there and stay there because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t go along with a group. A “friendship” or friend would never encourage you to do something that is not good for you or you could get into serious trouble for doing. However, some teens don’t start to see reality until they are in the group and they see this is not a family and they are being used. The problem is many teenagers realize this reality to late. Trying to leave can cost them their lives so many teens resign themselves to a life as a gang member. Therefore, it is important for parents to know how these gangs operate so they can try to protect their teenager.

I have included a link to this show below. It is a very good documentary and will provide explains of how gangs act. It is easier to understand the mentality seeing it in action. As a psychotherapist I hear teenagers discuss gangs and not understand what they are considering. If you are concerned that your teen is becoming involved with a gang or maybe a target for a gang, please make an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in gangs. However, with the help of family and professionals hopefully we can save some teenagers. Please watch this episode

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience working with teenagers. He is a founding member of the National Alive and Free Advisory Board and is a guest cohost for the Street Soldier Radio Program. For more information about his work and private practice visit his website or Facebook page

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