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Why Hartford Teens Hustle

August 13, 2005

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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