What is a Gang?
Gangs can generally be identified by their formal organizational structure; identifiable leadership (but not always); territoriality; recurrent interaction; and, most consistently, involvement in serious, criminal and/or violent behavior. Gangs can be distinguished from groups primarily by their:
- Exclusivity – members cut themselves off from non-members;
- Criminal and antisocial behavior;
- Violent rivalries with other gangs; and
- Loyalty that overrides ethics or common sense — the gang comes first.
Why do Kids Join Gangs?
Commonly cited reasons: surrogate family (perception that affection, affirmation, understanding as well as physical and emotional support can be found in gangs, and is absent at home); failure in mainstream society’s challenges (i.e., school, sports, peer relationships); identity, recognition, and respect (confusing fear with respect, substituting gang membership for individual identity); protection; intimidation or peer pressure; money; glamour/role models; excitement and rebellion; and/or a family history in gang membership.
What to Watch for: Indicators of Gang Interest / Affiliation
With the exception of bona fide gang tattoos, there are few, if any, single indicators that can be taken as airtight guarantees that a particular person is involved in gang activity. The following list can serve as a guide. However, if several of these become observable, they should serve as a red flag, and professional intervention should be sought.
- Extreme loyalty/exclusivity to core group of friends.
- Secretiveness/defensiveness about activities with friends.
- Disengagement from family.
- Loss of interest in normal activities and interests.
- Delinquency issues: problems in school, police, etc.
- Out of control behavior: curfew, runaway, defiant.
- Use of new, unfamiliar slang.
- Dress: Sagging (baggy pants), colors (generally red or blue), team jackets.
- Tattoos/Drawings on self or clothing.
- Graffiti on clothes/notebooks/baseball caps/bedroom walls and furniture.
- Sudden appearance of unexplained money/possessions.
- Flashing hand signs (hand gestures) to friends (or even when alone).
- Use of new nickname, referring to friends by nickname.
- New interest in “Gangsta” rap music (not soft rap).
- Initial onset of drug and alcohol use, or increased usage, is often seen in conjunction with gang involvement.
How to Discourage Your Children from Joining Gangs
- Discourage your children from hanging around with gang members. Meet your children’s friends. Find out who they are and what influences they have over your children, and how they and your children spend their free time.
- Occupy your children’s free time. Give them responsibilities at home. Get them involved in after school sports, city recreation, or church activities.
- Develop good communication with your children. Good communication is open, frequent, and has a positive tone. It allows your children to come to you to discuss any topic or problem. It does not condemn or put down.
- Spend time with your children. Plan activities that the whole family can enjoy. Spend time alone with your children. Expose them to different places outside of your neighborhood, such as, parks, museums, the beach, the mountains, camping trips, etc.
- Do not buy or allow your children to dress in gang-style clothing. If your children dress in this manner, they are expressing an interest in gangs and will attract the attention of the gangs.
- Set limits for your children. At an early age, children need to know what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
- Do not allow your children to stay out late and spend a lot of unsupervised time out on the streets.
- Do not allow your children to write or practice writing gang names, symbols or any other gang graffiti on their books, papers, clothes, bodies, walls or any other place. Teach respect for other peoples property.
- Be an informed parent. Learn about gang activity in your community. Learn how gang members dress, how they talk and their behavior.
- Participate in your children’s education. Meet their teachers and visit their school. Set high standards for your children.
- Be a good example. Be an active, not passive, parent.While there is a great deal of information on gangs and gang related activity, what is listed here is a small portion. For more information, contact your children’s school or local police department for additional gang information.