August 13, 2005
ZULYNETTE MORALES, WILFRANK RODRIGUEZ and KIJUAN SMITH
Hustling is happening now, in our communities. We have seen people
die over it, and we have friends in jail because of it.
We are three of the 40 researchers, all age 14 to 17, at the Institute
for Community Research in Hartford, hired through the Summer Youth Employment
program in 2004. Together, we have chosen to study teen hustling, which
is when teenagers sell illegal products (such as bootleg CDs or drugs) or
services (such as sexual favors).
Last summer, we learned how to conduct research. We hypothesized
that peer influence, family and finances lead to teen hustling.
Peer influence is when you choose to do something of your own free will,
but it's based on what your friends are doing. This is different than peer
pressure, which is when your friends try to make you do something that they
do. We found that peer influence is one of three main reasons that teens
start hustling. We interviewed one teen who said that when he started to
hustle, all his friends already hustled, so they helped him. Other teens
we interviewed said that if your friends have nice things that you want
and you know they hustle, you'd probably ask them how to start. Most teens
felt that if you hang around hustlers, you're more likely to hustle.
We also found that family is a factor that leads to teen hustling - but
not in the way we first thought. In a survey we gave to 135 teens from Hartford,
we asked if they had a father figure in their household, because we thought
that might affect whether they hustled. Yet we found no relationship between
teens having a father figure in the household and reporting that they hustled.
What our survey did show was that teens with a family member who hustled
were more likely to hustle.
To look at the relationship between income and teen hustling, we handed
out maps to other Hartford youths and had them locate areas where they knew
there was a lot of teen hustling going on. Then we looked at census data
from 2000 showing income levels in Hartford. When we compared the data,
we saw that the most hustling was happening in areas where the income was
lowest. Areas where income was high had little to no hustling. This shows
that in a place where there are not a lot of jobs but there is a lot of
hustling, there will be more teens hustling.
We don't want our peers or younger kinds to get involved in hustling, so
we are using our research to try to deter it. During the school year of
2004-05, we put on workshops for 12- to 18-year-olds and talked to them
about the dangers of hustling. We figured that if teens knew about available
jobs, they could work instead of hustling. So we created a website where
youths can find job postings. We also set up a bulletin board at Weaver
High School where teens can get job descriptions. We showcased our research
at the state Capitol, to let legislators know this is an important issue
in our communities. We also held a rally at the Capitol, asking for more
funding for youth employment.
If you want to learn more about connecting youths to jobs, you can go to
our website at www.freewebs.com/projectobject. This is a simple and effective
way to fight teen hustling.
Zulynette Morales, 16, and Wilfrank Rodriguez, 16, are students at Bulkeley
High School in Hartford. Kijuan Smith, 17, is a student at Weaver High School,
also in Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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