Gangs are groups of children, adolescents and young adults who share a common identity and are involved in wrongful or delinquent acts. Most gang members tend to be adolescents or young adults, however, recent trends indicate that children are being recruited into gangs at a much earlier age, some when they are in elementary school. Traditionally, gang activity has been confined to cities but gangs are no longer just in large cities, they also exist in smaller towns and rural areas. Gangs can include people of every gender, race, culture and socioeconomic group.
One of the worst effects of gang membership is the exposure to violence. Gang members may be pressured to commit a crime to become part of the gang. Consequences of gang membership may include exposure to drugs and alcohol, age-inappropriate sexual behavior, difficulty finding a job because of lack of education and work skills, removal from ones family, imprisonment and even death.
Risk factors that can lead children and adolescents to join a gang include:
- Growing up in an area with heavy gang activity.
- A history of gang involvement in the family (family members who are current or former gang members).
- A history of violence in the home.
- Too little adult supervision.
- Unstructured free time, particularly during after-school hours and on the weekends.
- A lack of positive role models and exposure to media (television, movies, music) that glorifies gang violence.
- Low self esteem.
- Sense of hopelessness about the future because of limited educational or financial opportunity.
- Underlying mental-health issues or behavioral disorders, such as oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Parents can help to decrease the risk that their child will become involved in a gang by:
There are many signs that parents and guardians can use to tell if a child is involved in a gang. These include:
- Having unexplained money, items, or clothing.
- Wearing clothing of all one type, style, or color, or changing appearance with special haircuts, tattoos or other body markings.
- Using of hand signs, special slang or words with hidden messages, or having gang graffiti on walls or personal items.
- Associating with known gang members.
- Withdrawing from family, not obeying curfews, worsening attitude with adults and peers.
- Using or possessing drugs.
- Carrying weapons.