Troubled Teen Issues

Teen Vandalism

Teen Vandalism

Although sometimes viewed as juvenile pranks, teen vandalism is actually criminal. To find out more about teen vandalism, continue this article.

Definition of Vandalism

The official definition of vandalism is given by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It says that vandalism is “willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of any public or private property, real or personal, without the consent of the owner or persons having custody or control” as stated in the most recent Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Fact Sheet on Juvenile Vandalism, issued in July 2000.

Vandalism includes a wide variety of acts such as:

  • posting graffiti in public places
  • breaking or throwing items out of windows
  • smashing mailboxes
  • stealing
  • trashing unguarded property, often empty buildings and/or lots and public or semi-public toilet facilities; school property is often a target
  • setting fires
  • tampering with equipment, such as vending machines and pay telephones
  • setting false fire alarms
  • damaging parked cars
  • damaging trees 

Understanding Teen Vandalism

Some of the behaviors and situations that are linked to teen vandalism include:

  • binge drinking
  • seeking money to buy drugs
  • peer pressure
  • feeling hostile towards the property owner 

In the case of graffiti, however, there may be other factors at works. At least some graffiti vandals (as the New York Police Department chooses to refer to them) consider themselves “graffiti artists” or “street artists.” It seems that these individuals view their efforts to be towards ornamenting or enhancing coupled with self expression. The international fame of Banksy, the English graffiti artist, and other graffiti artists has likely contributed to teen confusion about whether graffiti vandalism should be considered criminal.

And, in fact, teen’s graffiti creations-while not in sanctioned places-may have artistic merit. This possibility places this type of teen vandalism in contrast to types of vandalism in which items are devalued through being smashed or broken. That is, smashing property is wrong because it damages property. Graffiti is wrong because it is created in the “wrong” place. While addressing teen vandalism often involves reparation and repair of damaged property, addressing teen vandalism involving graffiti may also involve providing the individual with a sanctioned place in which to perform his or her “art” and opportunities to put the talent to a positive use.

Consequences of Teen Vandalism

Besides repairing damage to structures, covering graffiti, replacing ruined property, there are other high costs to teen vandalism. Publicly viewable vandalism changes the atmosphere of a place. It may give the impression that the people in the area do not value their space and that the area is not well-protected and perhaps unsafe. This may result in reduced use of the area in and around the damaged property. Property, such as subway cars, that has to be removed from service in order to be cleaned of graffiti or repaired also can cause disruption of service.

Addressing Teen Vandalism

Different approaches are taken to teen vandalism. Education is one approach. Making sure that teens can distinguish pranks from vandalism is one issue addressed. Repairing and restoring property, which has been found to ease public concerns as well, is another. Reparation is often part of the restitution if a teen vandal is caught.

A third approach to preventing teen vandalism is prevention. One way of preventing vandalism is providing alternative activities for teens. Teen centers, schools, and community groups may sponsor alcohol-free activities, for example. Patrols in areas that are susceptible to vandalism may also help discourage teen vandals from harming it.


National Criminal Justice Reference Service
The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention

Troubled Teen Issues

Gang Statistics

After nearly five years of decline from 1996 to 2001, gang problems seem to be on the rise again. This article talks about the statistical findings leading to this conclusions and some statistically sound approaches to gang involvement.

The Decade of Teen Gang Decrease

In 1995, the year that The National Youth Gang Center (NYGC) instituted the annual National Youth Gang Survey (NYGY), the percentage of respondents who report gang problems has been falling in every area type. The four area types are:

  • Larger cities (those with a population greater than 50,000)
  • Suburban counties
  • Smaller cities (those with a population of between 2,500 people and 49,999 people)
  • Rural counties 

In the first three years of the survey, gang problems were experienced more in more populous areas and less in less populous areas, with Rural counties having less than half the reports of gang problems as experienced in suburban counties, and a bit more than a third of the gang problems reported in Larger cities. The figures were from largest to smallest, 85.6%, 56.0%, 36.5%, and 24.3%.

By the period 1999-2001, those figures had fallen, in some cases, dramatically. Gang problems in rural counties were nearly cut in half (13.5%), while smaller cities saw their gang problems drop by nearly a third (25.9%). Suburban counties had a drop in gang problems of more than a quarter (40.8%). And Larger cities saw a reduction of about a tenth (77.6%).

By 2002, teen gang problems were back on the rise, particularly in the larger areas, and the most recent figures, from 2006, show a continuation of that trend. From 1999-2001 to 2006, Rural counties saw an increase of 1.5% to 14.9%. Smaller cities reported an increase of 6.7% to 32.6%. Suburban counties, though, had an increase of 10.2% for a total of 51%. And Larger cities rose 8.8% to 86.4%.

These gang statistics, however, do not tell the whole story. It is interesting to note that the majority of reports from smaller cities and rural counties, even with the increasing numbers of gangs, had no gang-related homicides, i.e., no homicides in which either a victim or a perpetrator was a gang member. Cities having populations of over 100,000 people, by contrast, tended to have at least one gang-related homicide.

While homicide was not closely associated with teen gang activity in all cases, other crimes carried a more significant link. In 2006, areas that reported an increase of gang-related crime found that it occurred in these areas, and in this order of frequency:

  • aggravated assault
  • drug sales
  • robbery
  • larceny/theft
  • burglary
  • auto theft 

The factors that were indicated as most important in increasing the level of gang-related violence were, in order of reporting:

  • conflicts between gangs
  • factors related to drugs
  • migration of gang members within the United States
  • the rise of newly formed gangs
  • the return to the area of gang members who had been incarcerated
  • conflicts within gangs
  • migration of gang members from outside of the United States 

Statistically Likely Signs of Teen Gang Involvement

Teens who exhibit multiple instances of the following signs may be involved in gang activity. These signs do not guarantee gang involvement, and especially when considered alone, may be representative of something entirely different.

  • knowingly associates with gang members
  • uses secret codes or signals to communicate with associates
  • fixates on particular colors of clothing or a particular logo used on clothing and to decorate other items: this may include posters, tattoos, jewelry, etc.
  • has unexplained physical injuries that seem related to fighting
  • has more cash or more valuable possessions than one might reasonably expect
  • shows particular interest in gang activities, gang-related media and entertainment, etc.
  • raises police interest
  • withdraws from family, school, and community activities
  • breaks his/her curfew and other rules
  • is determinedly secretive
  • exhibits declines in school performance