Youth gang violence is on the rise in America, and within the Hispanic community gang membership has had a dramatic increase over the past few years. In Los Angeles County alone, there are over 625 Hispanic gangs with the average gang member age at 15 years old. Recent studies have shown that Hispanic individuals make up more than 50 percent of the gang population in America, and that number is growing.
In order to keep your children safe from gang violence, it is important to recognize the signs of youth gang involvement:
- Obsession with certain colors and sports teams apparel
- Kids may decorate their arms with tattoos that are gang signs or symbols
- Kids may use hand signs or their own ‘language’ to communicate with friends
- Kids who begin isolating themselves from their family and instead come to see the gang as a ‘replacement family’
- Hanging out with peers who have a reputation for violence and trouble in the community
- Unexplained money and jewelry
- Evidence of drug use
- A change in personality or behavior
- Use of a nickname instead of their given name
If you suspect your child might be involved in a gang it is important that you talk to him or her about it. It may be uncomfortable for both of you – they may be scared or unwilling to talk, but let them know that you are there to listen and support them.
It is also important that you make it clear to your child that they do have a choice about their involvement in the gang, even though they may feel like they don’t. Let them know that they do not have to follow the crowd.
When speaking to your child, you
may be more effective if you:
- Stay calm and rational, no matter how angry you may be
- Listen carefully to what they say without interrupting them
- Ask questions, rather than making accusations
- Point out the risks and consequences of carrying a weapon such as a knife or gun (many people who are hurt by guns or knives have their own weapons used against them)
- Work with them to find alternatives to being in the gang
Understand that many kids join gangs because they do not receive adequate family attention. The gang provides love, identity and status; in turn they develop loyalty to the gang.
There are local community organizations and services that can help you. If possible, ask your child’s school for information about these organizations or speak to your local sheriff’s office. For more information about gangs and gang involvement, and how to help a child who has become part of a gang, visit: www.cyoutreach.org/