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Updated 3-12-2009
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Kids and Gangs: Protecting Your Child

Kids and Gangs: Protecting Your Child

From a handout distributed by the Salt Lake Area Gang Project
Information adapted from "Drug Free Children & Teens" by the National PTA

Whether you realize it or not, your children can be at risk to join gangs. The reasons that kids join gangs are complex and varied. However, as a parent, you have a lot more power to keep your kids from joining gangs than you may think. The time to begin is now, whether your child is 5, 10, or 15 years old.

Your Children Need Good Social Skills

Children and teens who have good skills to deal with other people are less likely to join gangs. To build self-confidence and respect for others in children, parents need to teach them the following:

  • Honest communication. They need to learn how to express feelings such as anger, joy, love and fear. They must believe it's okay for them to do so without being teased or punished. Since children learn by example, you must also express your feelings honestly. Be a good listener. This helps teach your children to be good listeners too.
  • Cooperation. They must learn to cooperate, negotiate, and put themselves in another person's shoes. Practice by talking about what TV programs to watch or where to go on vacation. Praise your children for cooperating, especially when they don't get what they want.
  • Personal responsibility. Teach your children to be responsible for their actions. Give them family jobs for which they are responsible. Make sure they are able to handle the tasks. Gradually increase their responsibilities. Let them know that even if they don't get it right at first, what counts is that they are trying hard and learning from the experience.
  • Ability to make decisions. Instead of solving problems for your children, give them chances to think about solutions for the problem. Help them think about the choices they have, and the consequences for each choice.
  • Ability to give and receive unconditional love. Love your children for who they are, regardless of what they do or how well they do in school, sports, or other activities. Even if you are angry at them, let them know that you still love and respect them. Help your children learn they can feel angry at someone and still love them.

Your Children Need a Balance Between Love and Discipline

Children often use gangs to replace a sense of belonging that they don't find in their family. To show your children that they are loved and valued:

  • Spend time alone with each child. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it helps you to get to know each other.
  • Plan family time. Make time for your family to play, eat meals together, and take trips (even to local parks or activities). Keep family traditions and have family meetings to talk about plans, feelings, and complaints.
  • Listen to your children and ask their opinions. Help your children talk with you, without fear of punishment. Even 5-year olds have a lot to offer if you give them a chance. Do not talk down to your children. Even though adults are older, children's thoughts and feelings deserve respect.
  • Talk to your kids about ways to deal with peer pressure from friends. Help your kids make up some simple ways to respond to peer pressure. Tell them they should answer and then leave. For example, if they are challenged by a peer who says, "If you are my friend, you would," your child can respond, "If you were my friend, you wouldn't ask." Then, they should walk away.
  • Set firm limits with your children and teens. Kids need to know clearly what is expected of them and the consequences for acting otherwise. Do not rescue your children from the consequences of their actions.

Teach Your Children About Gangs

Learn about gang activity in your area. Talk to your children about the negative things that gangs do, and how they can affect your child, their friends, your neighborhood and your family.

  • Do not allow your children to dress in gang-style clothing. Explain to your children that these clothing items can put them in danger, and that you will not purchase them or allow them to be worn.
  • Point out violent messages on television and in movies. Violence is not a solution for problems. Talk to your children about ways that they can solve problems without fighting or violence.
  • Get to know your child's friends and their parents. Be aware of their attitudes towards drugs, alcohol and gangs. When children feel pressure to use drugs or join gangs, it usually comes from their friends.
  • Start educating your children at an early age. While 5-year olds may not understand about the effects of joining a gang, they can learn how to say "no" to negative behavior. Give your kids consistent messages about the negative consequences of gangs. Teach you children about recreational activities that they will enjoy, as well as hobbies and interests. These things can replace gangs as something to do.