Youth Gangs: What Parents Need to Know

Reviewed Apr 5, 2016

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Summary

  • Kids are attracted to gang life for many complex reasons.
  • Be aware of gang activity in your community.
  • Know what to look out for with your own child. 

You might think gangs are a concern in only a few, large cities. But gangs are active in every city in the United States, as well as in some suburban communities and small towns. This reality has many parents of teens concerned, particularly because gang members—and teens who hang out with gang members—are more likely to be exposed to crime, drug use, fights, and guns and other weapons. In fact, gang members are 60 times more likely to be killed than other youth. No matter where you live, you need to know the facts about youth gangs and ways to keep your child safe.

Facts about gangs

You might be surprised by some of these facts reported by the National Crime Prevention Council:

  • More than 1.4 million Americans belong to gangs, and the average gang member age is 17 to 18 years old.
  • Youth who eventually become gang members usually start hanging out with gangs at age 12 or 13.
  • Less than 10 percent of gang members are female. But teen girls who hang out with gang members also put their safety at risk.
  • Gang membership leads to criminal behavior. Gangs are responsible for nearly half of all violent crime in most communities, and up to 90 percent in some communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas.

Research has shown that not all gang members come from “broken homes.” Kids are attracted to gang life for many complex reasons. Here are a few:

  • to feel a sense of belonging
  • to identify with people like them
  • to feel powerful
  • for excitement
  • to feel safe
  • to get money
  • to get basic needs

What are the signs of possible gang membership?

Parents need to be aware of gang activity in their community, so they know what to look out for with their own child. What differentiates a gang from other teen social groups—like clubs or cliques—is involvement in criminal activity. If you’re unsure about the friends your child keeps company with and how they spend their free time, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my teen “look” or “act” like a gang member? Hand signs, graffiti (e.g., on notebooks, book bags or clothing), temporary or permanent tattoos, specific clothing styles, and wearing specific colors, bandannas and hats are some common symbols of gang loyalty.
  • Does my teen have low self-esteem or think of himself as “the kind of person that gets into trouble”?
  • Does my teen hang out with peers that I don’t feel good about?
  • Is my teen uninterested in school and school activities? Has school performance slipped?
  • Does my teen have unexplained cash or expensive jewelry, clothing, stereo or video equipment?
  • Does my teen miss his curfew for “no good reason”?

How do I keep my child from getting involved with a gang?

Make sure your child has the opportunity to participate in after-school activities. Involvement in school-sponsored clubs, sports or community or church-based groups will help keep your child out of trouble by providing:

  • supervision
  • an opportunity to develop an interest or skill
  • an opportunity to have fun
  • a place to make friends with positively active teens

Also, do what you can to foster a loving and supportive family environment. Establish rules and consequences for breaking rules, and always know your child’s whereabouts.

What if my child already is in a gang?

If your teen already made the choice to join a gang, he might think it’s too late to get out. But it’s not. In fact, one-half to two-thirds of gang members choose to leave within a year of joining. You might need the help of others to convince your teen to leave a gang. A school guidance counselor, local law enforcement agency or gang prevention organization can help you come up with an action plan to get your child out and keep him safe.

What else can I do?

Join a community effort to prevent and get rid of youth gangs in your area. Doing so will benefit the community and also send a message to your teen that you won’t tolerate gang involvement.

Resources

National Gang Center
www.nationalgangcenter.gov

National Crime Prevention Council
www.ncpc.org

By Christine P. Martin
Source: National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center; National Youth Gang Center; U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; "Keeping Kids Cool and Confident—and Out of Gangs" National Crime Prevention Council, 2012. Available at: http://www.ncpc.org/programs/crime-prevention-month/crime-prevention-month-kits/NCPC-Crime%20Prevention%20Month%20Kit%202012.pdf

Summary

  • Kids are attracted to gang life for many complex reasons.
  • Be aware of gang activity in your community.
  • Know what to look out for with your own child. 

You might think gangs are a concern in only a few, large cities. But gangs are active in every city in the United States, as well as in some suburban communities and small towns. This reality has many parents of teens concerned, particularly because gang members—and teens who hang out with gang members—are more likely to be exposed to crime, drug use, fights, and guns and other weapons. In fact, gang members are 60 times more likely to be killed than other youth. No matter where you live, you need to know the facts about youth gangs and ways to keep your child safe.

Facts about gangs

You might be surprised by some of these facts reported by the National Crime Prevention Council:

  • More than 1.4 million Americans belong to gangs, and the average gang member age is 17 to 18 years old.
  • Youth who eventually become gang members usually start hanging out with gangs at age 12 or 13.
  • Less than 10 percent of gang members are female. But teen girls who hang out with gang members also put their safety at risk.
  • Gang membership leads to criminal behavior. Gangs are responsible for nearly half of all violent crime in most communities, and up to 90 percent in some communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas.

Research has shown that not all gang members come from “broken homes.” Kids are attracted to gang life for many complex reasons. Here are a few:

  • to feel a sense of belonging
  • to identify with people like them
  • to feel powerful
  • for excitement
  • to feel safe
  • to get money
  • to get basic needs

What are the signs of possible gang membership?

Parents need to be aware of gang activity in their community, so they know what to look out for with their own child. What differentiates a gang from other teen social groups—like clubs or cliques—is involvement in criminal activity. If you’re unsure about the friends your child keeps company with and how they spend their free time, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my teen “look” or “act” like a gang member? Hand signs, graffiti (e.g., on notebooks, book bags or clothing), temporary or permanent tattoos, specific clothing styles, and wearing specific colors, bandannas and hats are some common symbols of gang loyalty.
  • Does my teen have low self-esteem or think of himself as “the kind of person that gets into trouble”?
  • Does my teen hang out with peers that I don’t feel good about?
  • Is my teen uninterested in school and school activities? Has school performance slipped?
  • Does my teen have unexplained cash or expensive jewelry, clothing, stereo or video equipment?
  • Does my teen miss his curfew for “no good reason”?

How do I keep my child from getting involved with a gang?

Make sure your child has the opportunity to participate in after-school activities. Involvement in school-sponsored clubs, sports or community or church-based groups will help keep your child out of trouble by providing:

  • supervision
  • an opportunity to develop an interest or skill
  • an opportunity to have fun
  • a place to make friends with positively active teens

Also, do what you can to foster a loving and supportive family environment. Establish rules and consequences for breaking rules, and always know your child’s whereabouts.

What if my child already is in a gang?

If your teen already made the choice to join a gang, he might think it’s too late to get out. But it’s not. In fact, one-half to two-thirds of gang members choose to leave within a year of joining. You might need the help of others to convince your teen to leave a gang. A school guidance counselor, local law enforcement agency or gang prevention organization can help you come up with an action plan to get your child out and keep him safe.

What else can I do?

Join a community effort to prevent and get rid of youth gangs in your area. Doing so will benefit the community and also send a message to your teen that you won’t tolerate gang involvement.

Resources

National Gang Center
www.nationalgangcenter.gov

National Crime Prevention Council
www.ncpc.org

By Christine P. Martin
Source: National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center; National Youth Gang Center; U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; "Keeping Kids Cool and Confident—and Out of Gangs" National Crime Prevention Council, 2012. Available at: http://www.ncpc.org/programs/crime-prevention-month/crime-prevention-month-kits/NCPC-Crime%20Prevention%20Month%20Kit%202012.pdf

Summary

  • Kids are attracted to gang life for many complex reasons.
  • Be aware of gang activity in your community.
  • Know what to look out for with your own child. 

You might think gangs are a concern in only a few, large cities. But gangs are active in every city in the United States, as well as in some suburban communities and small towns. This reality has many parents of teens concerned, particularly because gang members—and teens who hang out with gang members—are more likely to be exposed to crime, drug use, fights, and guns and other weapons. In fact, gang members are 60 times more likely to be killed than other youth. No matter where you live, you need to know the facts about youth gangs and ways to keep your child safe.

Facts about gangs

You might be surprised by some of these facts reported by the National Crime Prevention Council:

  • More than 1.4 million Americans belong to gangs, and the average gang member age is 17 to 18 years old.
  • Youth who eventually become gang members usually start hanging out with gangs at age 12 or 13.
  • Less than 10 percent of gang members are female. But teen girls who hang out with gang members also put their safety at risk.
  • Gang membership leads to criminal behavior. Gangs are responsible for nearly half of all violent crime in most communities, and up to 90 percent in some communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas.

Research has shown that not all gang members come from “broken homes.” Kids are attracted to gang life for many complex reasons. Here are a few:

  • to feel a sense of belonging
  • to identify with people like them
  • to feel powerful
  • for excitement
  • to feel safe
  • to get money
  • to get basic needs

What are the signs of possible gang membership?

Parents need to be aware of gang activity in their community, so they know what to look out for with their own child. What differentiates a gang from other teen social groups—like clubs or cliques—is involvement in criminal activity. If you’re unsure about the friends your child keeps company with and how they spend their free time, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my teen “look” or “act” like a gang member? Hand signs, graffiti (e.g., on notebooks, book bags or clothing), temporary or permanent tattoos, specific clothing styles, and wearing specific colors, bandannas and hats are some common symbols of gang loyalty.
  • Does my teen have low self-esteem or think of himself as “the kind of person that gets into trouble”?
  • Does my teen hang out with peers that I don’t feel good about?
  • Is my teen uninterested in school and school activities? Has school performance slipped?
  • Does my teen have unexplained cash or expensive jewelry, clothing, stereo or video equipment?
  • Does my teen miss his curfew for “no good reason”?

How do I keep my child from getting involved with a gang?

Make sure your child has the opportunity to participate in after-school activities. Involvement in school-sponsored clubs, sports or community or church-based groups will help keep your child out of trouble by providing:

  • supervision
  • an opportunity to develop an interest or skill
  • an opportunity to have fun
  • a place to make friends with positively active teens

Also, do what you can to foster a loving and supportive family environment. Establish rules and consequences for breaking rules, and always know your child’s whereabouts.

What if my child already is in a gang?

If your teen already made the choice to join a gang, he might think it’s too late to get out. But it’s not. In fact, one-half to two-thirds of gang members choose to leave within a year of joining. You might need the help of others to convince your teen to leave a gang. A school guidance counselor, local law enforcement agency or gang prevention organization can help you come up with an action plan to get your child out and keep him safe.

What else can I do?

Join a community effort to prevent and get rid of youth gangs in your area. Doing so will benefit the community and also send a message to your teen that you won’t tolerate gang involvement.

Resources

National Gang Center
www.nationalgangcenter.gov

National Crime Prevention Council
www.ncpc.org

By Christine P. Martin
Source: National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center; National Youth Gang Center; U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; "Keeping Kids Cool and Confident—and Out of Gangs" National Crime Prevention Council, 2012. Available at: http://www.ncpc.org/programs/crime-prevention-month/crime-prevention-month-kits/NCPC-Crime%20Prevention%20Month%20Kit%202012.pdf

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