Gang involvement can begin as early as elementary school. Children as young as 7 or 8 years old have been recruited to work for gangs. Parents and educators should watch for the signs that their children or students may be involved with gangs. Changes in a child’s behavior or activities which may be early warning signs of gang involvement include the following:
* Decline in grades
* Change of friends
* Keeping late hours
* Alcohol and other drug use
* Having large sums of money or expensive items
* Developing major attitude problems with parents or teachers
* Glamorizing gangs
WHY YOUTH JOIN GANGS
Youth join gangs for a variety of reasons which are influenced by their conditions in their family, school, and neighborhood. Some reasons include: excitement, physical protection, peer pressure, family tradition, perceived financial gain, seeing gangs as an avenue to gain respect and notoriety, or because they are bored. A vulnerable child will seek love and protection. Youth also seek the acceptance of their peers. Youth who lack parental guidance and support, or opportunities for positive involvement with their peers, will often turn to a gang to meet these needs. Once a child is lost to a gang, it is hard to get him or her back.
Gang involvement and violence usually are symptoms of social, family, or psychological dysfunction. Many problems can be prevented by understanding the dynamics of gang behavior, learning how to deal with it, and finding out what alternatives are available.
WHAT YOU AND YOUR COMMUNITY CAN DO
You can do a lot to prevent gang problems or reduce gang problems already in place. You do not have to act alone. Join with community leaders and make a difference. As an individual, you can:
* Call 9-1-1 immediately when there is an emergency in your neighborhood.
* Get rid of gang graffiti, paint over it.
* Ensure that youth have ample activities and after-school programs
* Provide youth with a safe environment for social and recreational activities
* Sharpen your skills as a parent
A neighborhood that is united in their goal to stop gang crime and violence can be an effective force in curbing gang activity.