Gangs often begin with friends that are toxic to your child. Once your child is part of a gang it is much more difficult to intervene. Gang members are terrorists, because they often have little regard for anyone or anything. Their violence and crime extends outside of rival gangs to innocent bystanders. The police (and often citizen) response is to crack down on gang violence, but research has shown this is not necessarily the best option. In 2010, Dr. Vigil, a professor at the University of California, noted, “Law enforcement and suppression tactics, already overtaxed as a solution to a problem they did not start, are having only moderate and uneven success in addressing the gang problem. It doesn’t make any difference how many jails we build or how many cells are set aside for each new gang cohort, the strategy we now have has failed. It has failed because it is not based on facts, on science, on human development, or on common sense. We need to be honest in recognizing this fact and bold and courageous in charting a new course” (Vigil 2010). Vigil’s point is that gangs represent a human development issue, not necessarily insufficient law enforcement. Gangs are filling a void for adolescents, and it is our duty as parents to figure out what is missing from their lives before they join a gang.
How Parents Can Stop Their Children From Joining Gangs:
Teaching parents to be aware of gang behavior in the early stages can help them change their child’s current path. Parents need to know the friends of their child, and be alert to friends who are toxic or aggressive that could get their child into trouble.
1. Talk to your child. Does your child feel alone or friendless? These are situations to begin working with immediately. A child with a low self-esteem is easier to tempt into gang like behavior.
2. Educate your child. If you are a parent, make sure you are parenting your child. That means sending them to school, getting them tutors when they need additional help, and taking them to museums, science events, and other educational activities on weekends. If parents value education, their children do as well. Educated kids see a hopeful future, and have long-term goals.
3. Be sure to praise your child on what they do well. One of the most seductive things about a gang is the opportunity to build a reputation for their actions. Children need to know they matter and belong to the family. If you are a single parent, make sure you have a strong same-sex mentor for your child. A girl needs a strong female mentor. A boy needs male mentor so he can learn how to be a man. Many gang members value manliness and demonstrations of courage and strength. Young boys may be intrigued by these demonstrations if they do not have a positive role model. Many young boys also join gangs because they have a father, uncle, or brother in a gang that acts as their role model.
4. Get your child involved in group activities. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports, and church groups all help give your child a sense of identity, belonging, and accomplishment. Being around caring adults helps children construct an identity about who they are and who they are able to become. Youth who join gangs often have a fatalist view of the future and create short-term solutions to their situations, such as criminal activity.