Gang membership is growing rapidly in the United States. From 2009 to 2011, the number of gang participants increased by 40 percent, according to the FBI's 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. Of course, no parent wants their teen involved in a gang, and the key to stopping their participation starts with watching for warning signs and providing a nurturing environment.
You can help keep your teen out of a gang by understanding why she might feel compelled to join in the first place. While some parents might think only teens from broken homes join gangs, that’s not true. Despite their home situation, teens join gangs to feel like they belong, identify with similar people, feel powerful, feel safe, get money or have their basic needs met in some way. They might also join if another family member or friend is involved in a gang.
It’s important to keep an eye out for signs your teen is becoming involved with a gang, according to the ValueOptions health and wellness website. Look at how your teen dresses and acts. Is he making hand gestures, using graffiti on notebooks or clothing, or wearing specific clothing styles, colors or symbols? Is he involved with friends who you don’t have a good feeling about, or has he recently changed friends? Does he seem uninterested in school, or have you noticed a sudden slip in his academic performance? Does he suddenly have any unexplained expensive items, such as jewelry or clothing? Is he staying out past curfew without giving you a reason? While these signs don’t necessarily mean your teen is involved with a gang, you should sit down and talk with him and seek further help from a school, church or community center if necessary.
You can’t always be your teen’s best friend, but you can do your best to foster a loving and open environment at home. Strive to ensure your teen is comfortable talking to you. Regardless of how busy your schedule is, spend time with her. Find out about her friends or love interests. Take an interest in her academic life and support her extracurricular activities. If she's going out with friends, find out where. If she can’t give you a specific answer, she probably doesn't need to go. Establish rules and consequences for breaking them, and be consistent in enforcing them.
School and Community Involvement
Encourage your teen to participate in school, church or community activities and clubs. When your teen is involved in extracurricular activities, he has adult supervision, develops other interests and skills, has fun and makes friends with other teens who may be a positive influence. Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA or YWCA, and Boy or Girl Scouts are all positive club options for teens. Many cities also offer teen centers where teens can hang out, play games, participate in activities and take field trips.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends
- ValueOptions: Youth Gangs: What Parents Need to Know
- National Crime Prevention Council: Keeping Kids Cool and Confident and Out of Gangs
- SchoolFamily: Stay Informed, Keep Your Teen Out of Gangs
- Violence Prevention Institute: Why Young People Join Gangs and What You Can Do