In this complicated world we live in today, we see big evidence of corrosive elements targeted to injure and destroy our youth, and one of the most corrosive elements is the influence of gangs. This is a serious concern that needs our immediate attention. A “gang” is defined as any group of three or more people who form an allegiance, to the exclusion of others, and engage in unlawful acts or criminal behavior. The impact of gang influence is reflected by studies on crime trends that show the increase of youth violence, even surpassing adult crimes, and the most common denominator in the commission of violent crimes by young people is gang membership. This is something we should not take for granted.
Since young people who join gangs come from every neighborhood, race, religion, culture, and economic level, parents need to know how to most effectively protect children from this menace. It is also important that parents know the signs that might indicate that a child is identifying with or has become part of a gang. Wearing of gang-style clothing; gang-style doodling on homework, notebooks, bedroom walls, or personal property; significant changes in behavior and attitude, including withdrawal, secrecy, and disrespect for authority; association with a new group of friends and rejection of relationships with longtime friends and acquaintances; use of hand signs and monikers and a different style of language; an interest in gangster rap or heavy metal music; and increased contact with law enforcement officers, beginning with truancy, curfew violations, graffiti marking or vandalism, or possession of drugs or alcohol; are just some of the signs.
This social condition is so alarming that it needs prompt actions. There are positive things that we can do. We can begin while our children are small to protect them from future gang involvement by strengthening our families. Everything we do to strengthen the family can help protect our children against the influence of dangerous groups. Every individual has a basic need to belong. If the family is not fulfilling that need, something else will. Sometimes, even in strong families, children will make poor choices but if parents do everything possible to make the family the most attractive option, then most children will surely make the right choice.
Efforts to educate our children about gang problems may need to start earlier than we think. Experts advise letting our children know early that there are people who are not good for them, and that gangs are bad. With older children, discussing issues surrounding gangs and violence can be vital to preventing their involvement in it, or to intervening if they are already involved. There are many effective ways to steer our youth away from gang influence but the most that parents should give highest priority are constant family prayer and family counseling, going to church together as a family, involvement in church programs, and wholesome family activities. This will make the family closer to each other. Of course, at times it may not seem that these have any effect, but they surely will in the long run. The more frequent these are done the more likely our children can avoid the misery, wasted opportunities, transgression, physical injury, or even death that may come with gang involvement.
Even when we have done our best, children sometimes become involve with the wrong group. We should not dilute our values or lower our expectations but instead we should be patient and maintain our efforts to communicate with our children. Gang-involved youth usually place a very high value on personal respect. While we must let them know that their inappropriate behavior is not acceptable to us, we must also let them know that we love them and we are concerned for them as individuals. Whatever choices our children make, we must not give up on them. Children are our treasures, and helping them avoid the pitfalls of the world is worth the best and most inspired efforts we all can give.