America, we've got a problem facing our nation and this time it isn't the economy. It's our future. We are experiencing a hostile invasion on homeland soil and it's not a terrorist. It's an invasion that's causing a war on the very streets we walk during the day. Youth are getting jumped, sexed, drugged, stabbed, and even shot. Who's to blame for this internal American War? GANGS. Gangs, are creeping up on our teens enticing them, luring them, hooking them and killing them... Let's take a stand and stop the violence.
Gang involvement is on the rise. Reports show that gangs are present in every state in the US, where in 1970 they existed in less than half of all states. To date, there are approximately, 24,500 known youth gangs with about 772,500 youth members. That's about 7% of the US's teen population.
According to The National Gang Center and The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, boys are more involved in gangs than girls; however you might be surprised to find out that the number of female gang members is rapidly increasing. Gangs like to target young teens for recruitment. The most popular time for gang recruitment is during middle school and some reports show that children as young as 10 are joining gangs. A quarter of gang members are between 15 and 17 years of age and the average gang member age is between 17 and 18. Gangs target young vulnerable teens who are trying to fit in and be accepted. Once these teens are in a gang they are exposed to a life of violence and criminal activity.
Gangs are serious and they account for the majority of violence in the United States. Gangs get involved in theft, assaults, drug trafficking, and black market weapon exchanges. Just by being in a gang a teen significantly increases their chance of imprisonment and even death. Did you know that according to The National Gang Center youth gang members are 60 times more likely to die a young death by homicide? You can protect your teen from gangs by learning about gangs, identifying the signs of gang involvement, and knowing where to seek help.
Why Do Teens Join Gangs?
1. To Belong - These teens feel that they are misfits and have no place in the world. Gangs tap into these insecurities by promising the teen a family that will forever take care of them.
2. To Make Money - Gangs are an illegal money making industry. Teens can make a quick buck for dealing drugs, stealing, selling stolen goods, and even trading weapons.
3. For Protection - In socioeconomic challenged neighborhoods and areas with high crime rates, teens often join gangs in order to survive. Gang members "have each other's back" so they usually hang in groups to prevent rival members from "jumping them".
4. To Have A Place to Hang and Something to Do- Gangs instill their member that they don't need anyone else in life but their "brothers or sisters" and that the "family will always take care of them". So, members spend their time hanging out, getting into trouble and partying. Gangs throw some massive bashes with music, drugs, alcohol, sex and violence.
5. For the Thrill - Some teens like the thrill of doing something to see if they can get by with it. This can include engaging in illegal activities. Some teens may enjoy the "high" or "rush" they get from breaking the law and defying authority.
6. Peer Pressure - Gangs can put the squeeze on teens to join their life of crime. They will court, threaten and even entice their new recruits. Since they seek out young kids to join the group, oftentimes, these youth look up to the older gang members. So, the odds of joining a gang increase. Parentss know who your kids are hanging with.
What Are The Signs That Your Teen's In A Gang?
1. Change in clothing worn by your teen. Is your teen or his/her friends dressing similar and/or wearing the same color all of the time? What about the same accessories, Rosary Beads with particular colors, colored shoe laces to match clothing apparel, only one brand of clothing?
2. Gang writing on belongings. Does your teen decorate his/her notebook, book bag, jeans, etc.? Gang writing typically looks like graffiti and block style alphabet, symbols and numerals are also used frequently by gangs.
3. Changes in friends. Is your teen hanging with a group of teens that exhibit any of the signs of gang involvement? Are these the type of peers that you want your child associating with? If your child's in Middle School are his/her peers older? A teen hanging with much older peers is never a good sign.
4. Police encounters and increased trouble at school. Gang members usually fight authority, because they like to be in control.
5. Decreased interest in positive social activities. Are you finding that your teen just wants to hang out all of the time with his or her negative peer group and pulling away from the things he/she used to like to do?
6. Declining performance in school. Is your teens having truancy issues, or struggling academically for no known reason. Is he/she getting into more trouble at school?
7. Lots of money and no job. Have you found large sums of money with no explanation on how he/she got it or some lame excuse about how it was obtained?
8. Items showing up that you know your teen can't afford. Is your teen wearing some expensive new sneakers or expensive clothing that you didn't purchase or you know he/she can't afford?
9. Secrets. Have you noticed that your teen's become more secretive and guarded with the information that he/she shares with you?
10. Drugs. Have you found or been suspicious of drug involvement? If so, have your teen tested. Read my previous blog "Is Your Teen Using Drugs" to determine whether or not your teen is abusing drugs.
What You Can Do If You Suspect Your Child's In A Gang?
1. Recognize the signs of gangs. Knowledge is power.
2. Know who your teen's hanging out with.
3. Get your teen involved in the community or extra-curricular activities. Idle time for teens can lead to boredom and trouble.
4. Develop a good relationship with your teen. Keep the lines of communication open.
5. If your teen's heading down the wrong path, get him/her involved with a mentor. Research has strong support for the positive influences that mentors have in a child's life.
6. Set high expectations regarding academics and behavior.
7. Rally with other parents to keep kids out of gangs. Together we can make a difference. Let your teen know who their real family is.