Although juvenile delinquency is not a new phenomenon, lately we see a growing trend of children becoming gang members as early as in elementary school. Adolescence is an especially troublesome period when the risk of getting involved with a gang is high. It’s normal that teenagers want to fit into a group they identify with and gain independence from their parents, but sometimes they identify with wrong and dangerous role models. Joining a gang can drastically endanger and change an adolescent’s life for the worse.
Kids coming from families with a history of abuse, neglect, or criminal behavior are especially at risk of joining gangs. Other risk factors in developing juvenile delinquency include delinquent peers, neighborhoods with high crime rates, insufficient adult supervision, lack of positive role models; school; and community activities etc.
Parents – the greatest protective factor against juvenile delinquency
A strong, healthy family and good relationships between parents and children are the most important protective factors in the prevention of juvenile delinquency. By encouraging healthy self-esteem, positive temperament, and an optimistic expectation for their child’s future, parents play the crucial role to build the protective factors against juvenile delinquency and substance abuse:
-Know, listen, closely monitor and understand your children. Try to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and encourage them to come to you for help in any situation.
–Educate them about the negative consequences of criminal behavior by explaining physical injuries, imprisonment, and even death.
-Support children getting involved in activities that make them feel accepted, happy, and optimistic – sports, afterschool programs, art, or positive community organizations.
-Meet their friends and their friends’ parents. Other parents with the same concerns and determination to prevent juvenile delinquency can be of great help by being supportive and sharing useful information, etc.
Warning signs your child might be in a gang and early intervention against it
Parents must be involved in a child’s life and be aware of any unusual changes in behavior such as:
-Aggressive, disrespectful, and generally worsening attitude toward parents, teachers, or peers
-Unexplained money, clothes, cell phones, or other items.
-Use of slang and code words indicating secrecy
-Associating with delinquent peers or known gang members
-Wearing one-type or one-color of clothes, gang tattoos, and body markings
-Use or possession of drugs, weapons, knives, knuckles etc.
If you suspect your child might be in a gang, you must react. Gang activity is difficult to confront. You and your kids may fear retaliation and you might be dealing with the legal consequences of your child’s criminal activities. You can seek help at local police departments or gang prevention organizations. You need all the help you can get and trained professionals (mental health counselors or Juvenile Officers) can be of great assistance in evaluating and treating the problems that helped develop juvenile delinquency. Get involved with school programs for dealing with delinquency in children and adolescents. Check for community support from organized mentoring, tutoring, supervised recreation, etc. Breaking away from gangs is usually a gradual process. Try to involve your child in activities that strengthen positive experiences and feelings of success (academic success, positive role models, volunteering, or a new job). In some cases it may be necessary to move.