Gang life and family are fraught with contradictions. The family is idealized as a place for nurturance, support, and protection. However, the majority of gang youths come from families under severe strain; families often unable to provide these things. The gang is often demonized (not without reason) as a source of delinquency and violence. Yet gangs also act as an important source of support for these youths, compensating for what is lacking in their home life. Gangs can act as surrogate families to youths, providing a sense of belonging, identity, status, and protection. Youths who do not receive these things from family or other social institutions may seek them elsewhere, and in the socially disorganized neighborhoods where gangs exist, they are an alternative option.
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BILL MCCARTHY MONICA J. MARTIN