Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is my Child a Gang Member?

If you see a cluster of the following in your teen, start asking questions:

Insistence on wearing certain items or styles or colors of clothing or jewelry. Tattoos, especially temporary ones or ones drawn on the skin with ink. Graffiti marks on or in notebooks or bookbags.

Fascination with gang- or violence-related themes in movies or music. Truancy for reasons that are vague or unacceptable. Hand signals, strange words or other patterns of covert communication or patterns of movement among neighborhood youth who associate with your child.

Possessions of value (bikes, jackets, sneakers) that suddenly appear without your child having the financial means to buy them. Insistence on spending time with only a few people instead of a wide circle of friends based on common interests. Minor run-ins with the law or curfew violations.

Withdrawal from family activities or secretiveness about whereabouts or activities. Evidence of drug involvement; while all drug use may not be gang-related, drugs and gangs tend to "go hand in hand,"

Desire to carry, or actual carrying of, a "weapon" such as a knife or even scissors or a nail file. Fascination with weapons.
Questionable activities among your son's friend's parents, older siblings or other relatives. Be especially concerned if your son is developing "friendships" with young adult males a few years older than he is, especially if those friends also have had trouble with the law.

You need to be aware that gangs "need" kids of a certan age. Gangs, they say, have to have someone to do visible and dangerous things, such as deliver drugs or messages on the street -- tasks that more sophisticated adults might balk at. Young teens are easy marks because
1) they may not understand the seriousness of the legal consequences of their actions;
2) they may be willing to do things because of the promise of "big" money that would seem insignificant to adults, and
3) they're more easily sucked in by the power, prestige and "glamor"of being in a gang.

Gangs are alluring to kids because they offer them structure, support and security --things that become even more attractive if they're missing at home. Like a family, a gang offers a sense of belonging, But unlike a family, the structure and support are not their to encourage the child to stay in school and improve his own life but to continue and enhance the gang and its illegal activities. And the security, is only there so long as it's convenient for other gang members. "You could say to kids, "If you get in trouble, do you think gang members will do anything for you?'

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