Gangs are neither just a big city or inner city problem, nor are they a problem of a particular race or culture. Gangs cross all ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, gender, and geographic boundaries. They bring fear and violence to neighborhoods, traffic in drugs, destroy property, involve youth in crime, and drive out businesses. Gangs pull teens away from school and home into a life of violence.
One of the scariest aspects of gang violence is it’s often indiscriminate and unpredictable. Gang members have been known to kick, punch, hit, or even kill their victims. People get hurt if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. If gangs or gang members are in your school or neighborhood, you know it.
Gangs can be organized around race or ethnic group, money making activities, or territory.
Gangs usually claim a particular area of town which they call their “turf. ” They spend much of their time fighting rival gangs to keep them out of this territory.
Most gang members are males ranging in age from 8 to 22 years old. Females, are moving away from the traditional role of being merely girlfriends of gang members and are forming their own gangs.
Gangs wear particular items, styles, brands, or colors of clothing. Some gangs wear bandannas of a certain color or baseball caps of a specific team. Some gangs mark their bodies with tattoos with their gang symbol or name.
Gangs often use special hands signs or handshakes to tell others the gang to which they belong.
“Gangsta ” rap paints a realistic picture of daily gang activity. The lyrics glorify violence, abuse of women, and disrespect for authority, especially the police.
What causes some teens to join gangs? Among the most common reasons are: to belong to a group; receive protection; earn money; end boredom and seek more excitement; be with friends and be more popular.
For some it is even a family tradition.
None of these reasons are good reasons to belong to a gang. Most of the other kids who don’t belong to a gang will be afraid of you and won’t hang out with you. If you think you will be safer joining a gang, you’re wrong. Most likely, you win increase your chances of being injured or killed. Think you’ll be rich? Not likely. Over a lifetime, gang members make far less money than those who are not in gangs. And by joining you usually don’t end up with a good education, making it hard to find a good job.
Joining a gang is like entering enemy territory. Belonging to a gang has a warlike existence where beatings and shootings happen all the time. Typical scenarios of joining a gang involve violence and rape. Boys usually have to fight several other gang members at the same time-this is called being “rolled-in” or “walking the line.” Girls may be forced to have sex with several gang members or fight other female gang members. New members may be required to prove themselves by beating up an innocent person, robbing a store, or shooting someone-including drive-by shootings. If you break the rules after joining a gang, your punishment may be death.
- Gang membership can severely hurt one’s health and future.
- Gang members may be killed or injured.
- Many put themselves in danger of disease, prison, and death.
- Many become dependent on alcohol and drugs.
- Gang members usually drop out of school, limiting their chances for higher education or good employment.
- They are likely to be involved in crime throughout the rest of their lives.
- They may commit serious and violent crimes that lead to lengthy jail time.
Parents’ Guide for Preventing Gangs
Many communities have serious problems with gangs. There are many kinds of gangs, but whatever kind you community is dealing with, gangs spell trouble. They cause fear, destroy property, threaten or hurt peaceable residents, and drive out businesses. Parents can do a lot to prevent gang problems or top reduce gang problems already in place. Most important, there’s a lot that parents like you can do to keep your own children from joining gangs:
- Learn about gangs and signs of gang activity.
- Sharpen your skills as a parent and use them.
- Join with others to make or keep your neighborhood gang free
- Young people (as young as 9 or 10) join gangs for reasons that makes sense to them
They give reasons like these: to belong to a group, for excitement, to get protection, to earn money, and to be with friends.
Gangs leave signs of their presence. Your child may adopt some of those signs as either a gang member or an imitator:
- Specific colors or emblems
- Special hand signals
- Gang symbols on walls as graffiti or on books or clothing
- Major and negative behavior changes, such as:
worse grades, staying out without good reason, “hanging” with known or suspected gang members, or carrying weapons, wearing certain kinds and colors of clothing in very specific ways, and possessing unexplained, relatively large sums of money.
Many gang members say they joined because the gang offered them support, caring, and a sense of order and purpose -all the things that most parents try to give their kids. The odds are that the better you meet these needs, the less need you children will see for gangs. Here are some parenting skills that are especially important:
Talk with listen to your child. Spend some special time with each child.
Put a high value on education and help your child to do his or her best in school. Do everything possible to prevent dropping out.
Help your kids identify positive role models and heroes – especially people right in your community.
Do everything possible to involve your children in supervised, positive group activities.
Praise them for doing well and encourage them to do their very best – to stretch their skills to the utmost.
Know what your children are doing and whom they are with. Know about their friends and their friends’ families.
Don’t forget to talk about gangs. The best time is before there’s a major problem. Tell your child that:
- You disapprove of gangs
- You don’t want to see your child hurt or arrested
- You see your child as special, and worth protecting
- You want to help your child with problems
- Family members don’t keep secrets from each other
- You an other parents are working together against gangs
Don’t forget to listen to your child as well !!
Everyone (except gang members) wants a gang-free community. Parents stand to lose the most -the well-being or even the life of a child -if gangs take or keep hold. But gangs are often violent and intimidating.
What can you do in the face of this?
First, develop positive alternatives. Are there after-school and weekend activities kids can enjoy? Can the school offer its facilities? Can parents organize clubs or sports? Can older kids tutor or mentor younger ones? Can the kids themselves help with ideas?
Second, talk with other parents. For one thing, you’ll find out what everyone else’s parent really said. For another, you can support each other and share knowledge that will help spot problems sooner than you can on your own.
Third, work with police and other agencies. Report suspicious activity, set up a Neighborhood Watch or a community patrol; let the police know about gang graffiti, get (and share with other parents) the facts on the gang problem in your community, find out what local services – nonprofit as well as government -will work with communities against gangs.
Fourth, get organized against the gang organization. Use your neighborhood association or a new group, Get help from a variety of sources right in your community, Try these kinds of people in addition to the police, priest or minister, family counselor, community association, school counselor or principal, athletic coach, drug abuse prevention groups, youth-serving agencies, and community centers – just to name a few.