The increase in gang-related violence reinforces the need for parents to know where their children are, who they are with, and what they are doing.
Signs of Gang Involvement
How can you tell if your child is involved in a gang? Here are some early warning signs parents can look for:
- School attendance and performance decline.
- They change friends and you never meet their new friends.
- They get into trouble with the law. Theft, truancy, running away, graffiti, vandalism, violence, and possession of weapons are common problems associated with gang activity.
- They may be afraid to go to school because of threats of violence.
- They may use nicknames or refer to their friends by nicknames.
- You may notice alcohol and/or drug use.
- You notice a change in dress and appearance. They want to wear only specific colors, over-sized clothing, bandannas, baseball caps, etc. Look for gang logos on the inside of coats and hats. They may also use tattoos to identify themselves.
- You see a lack of interest or a complete withdrawal from school activities, sports programs, hobbies, etc.
- Your children become difficult to communicate with. They become argumentative when you talk about their activities and friends.
- Your children may not spend much time at home and may not want to attend family activities.
Being aware of these signs is only a small part of dealing with the problem. Let's look at a few of the causes and results of gang activity, and some preventative and reactive measures.
There are many reasons why kids join gangs. Some kids feel like their home life is unhappy. They feel they don’t get attention or recognition. Discipline, enforcement of rules, communication, and love may be lacking or non-existent. In some homes, communication and conflict resolution comes in the form of arguing and physical violence and you may notice kids mimicking this type of behavior.
Other kids join gangs because of peer pressure and a lack of self-esteem. They get a sense of status, camaraderie, and identity by being involved in a gang. They are easily influenced, and may not be strong enough to say no to activities they know are wrong. Some kids are pressured to join gangs, while others join to get protection from other gangs. The money generated by criminal activity can also be a motivating factor. Having access to large amounts of money can be especially tempting.
How can you reduce the chance that your children will become gang members?
- Be a good role model. You must set the standards for acceptable behavior. Kids who are exposed to dishonesty, drug / alcohol abuse, violence, and a lack of respect for people, property, and authority are more likely to exhibit similar behavior.
- Build positive self-esteem and discuss the dangers of gangs. Kids who have the proper self image don't need to rely on gangs for recognition or status.
- Take an active interest in your child's activities. Get them involved in after-school sports or activities.
- Monitor and control their behavior. Be firm but fair when it comes to discipline and enforcing the rules.
What can happen to kids who join gangs? The initiation into some gangs involves being jumped in. This usually means getting into a fight to see how tough they are. Some kids are seriously beaten by several members as part of this jumping in process. Others are required to commit criminal acts.
Although some kids are able to outgrow this stage, others cannot. Many gang members develop serious patterns of alcohol and drug abuse, criminal behavior, and violence. Some are seriously injured or killed, others end up in prison, and many are unable to obtain good jobs because of their past.