With popular culture often beautifying dangerous activities and groups, kids might be superficially drawn to gang culture, sometimes to the point of considering gang membership. Because young people often make decisions without thinking things through, it is often up to parents to impart the pertinent information regarding big decisions. As a parent, you can shed light on the dangers of gang membership by explaining the hard facts about gangs.
Connect the risk of violence to gang membership. Bring light to the fact that much of school fighting is gang-related. Explain how a gang member, especially a new recruit, must live up to the pressure of his fellow gang members. According to the Concord Police Department in California, this includes “looking tough” at school. Gang members will push new recruits to get into fights with peers, especially those that already have a reputation for being tough. This often results in injuries for new recruits, who are not experienced in fighting but must fight anyway. Because school problems often lead to gang membership, children should be aware of the potential for even more problems at school after joining a gang, making gang participation counterproductive for those seeking refuge from school problems.
Emphasize the legal consequences of joining a gang. Explain how gang members not only are closely watched by the police but also by school officials. Tell your kids how once you join a gang, you must be on the constant lookout, rarely having an opportunity to let down your guard and relax. A gang member is at high risk for being convicted of crimes he didn’t personally commit. For example, a gang member who stabbed a classmate and handed off the weapon to you involves you in the crime. You are now at risk for the legal consequences, which include jail time, suspension and expulsion.
Bring up statistics. Use any of the myriad of statistics on the negative effects of joining a gang to explain how the disadvantages of gang membership are far-reaching. For example, mention how gang members are more likely to be dropouts, have less job opportunities, are more likely to become drug abusers and are more likely to die young. Mention related statistics, such as those found by the World Health Organization’s study “Young People’s Health in Context” on how constantly experiencing violence often leads to severe mental health problems and drug addiction. Practically any research that uses gang membership as a predictor will have negative results, giving you a wealth of risks to draw upon.
Point out the permanence of joining a gang. Explain to your kids that gang membership lasts a lifetime. Leaving a gang, while possible, is uncommon due to the extra risks involved. While in a gang, you automatically gain enemies: rival gangs and law enforcement. But after leaving a gang, your ex-gang becomes your enemy. As your ex-gang members likely know many things about you, including where you and your family live, they are more able to directly attack you and your family, putting you and your family at high risk for injury and death. Emphasize that gang membership is often a one-way street and a choice that your kids will likely regret their entire lives.
Help your child get his needs met in the community and at home in healthy ways. When a child's basic needs, such as self-worth, acceptance, recognition, companionship, purpose, security, identity and belonging aren't met, he is more likely to turn to a gang, according to the Concord Police Department.