Groups of youths engaged in anti-social behaviour and petty crime should not be labelled as gangs, a report suggests.
The report favours using the term "group-related"
The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales says glamorising such offenders may encourage them become involved in more serious criminal behaviour.
But its 200-page report written by four criminologists acknowledges that some teenage gangs do exist in urban areas.
It cited poor family relationships and absence of positive role models as reasons why people might join gangs.
According to the report, young people themselves resent the way the word gang is used to describe any group behaving in an anti-social way.
It suggests the term "group related" rather than "gang related" is a better way to describe their activities.
"Distinctions need to be made between 'real' gangs and groups of young people which may commit low-level anti-social behaviour and crime," it notes.
However, the shadow home secretary David Davis criticised the YJB, which oversees the youth justice system, for quibbling over terminology.
He said people were not bothered about what groups of young people involved in crime were called.
The YJB report Groups, Gangs and Weapons found gangs featuring members under the age of 18 were often led by young adults.
Older gang members were said to "groom" youths by first involving them in fringe activities.
It also found family members and older friends can influence young people into joining gangs.
Graham Robb, YJB interim chairman, said: "Young people on the cusp of anti-social behaviour and offending must be given the right 'emergency exits' to avoid falling into more serious group offending and gangs in those areas where they exist.
"No agency - statutory or community - can tackle this alone. We must continue to work together to bring about change."
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said the government has recently announced measures to tackle issues raised by the report.
"The government is committed to tackling gang, gun and knife crime and to making communities safer for everyone, including young people," he said.
The "valuable work" undertaken by community groups has also been recognised with additional funding of £500,000, he added.