Most young people aren’t in gangs and don’t want to be. But the small number of young people who do belong to a gang can have a significant impact on their communities, families and themselves.
Why do young people join gangs?
There are various possible reasons why a young person might want to get involved in a gang.
- Respect and status.
- Gaining friends.
- A sense of belonging.
- To find a substitute family.
- Peer pressure.
Signs of involvement
A young person may exhibit just some or all of these signs if they’ve started becoming involved in a gang - although some changes in behaviour, for example in music taste or fashion style, can also merely be typical of the self-exploration of teen life.
- Change to a specific style of dressing.
- Poor behaviour at school and/ or at home.
- Talking differently – new slang or language with an aggressive tone.
- Carrying weapons.
- Unexplained injuries or sums of money/possessions.
- Staying out unusually late.
- Graffiti style tags on possessions.
- Interest in music that glorifies weapons or gang culture.
- Acessing gang profiles on social or networking websites like Facebook or Twitter frequently.
Girls in gangs
Girls can also be involved in gangs. Their involvement is often harder to identify. Girls who are members, or who are in some way related to a gang member (friend, cousin etc.) can be at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence.
They may not realise that what they are being pressured, or choosing to do, is wrong, or may feel helpless and scared of what might happen to them if they do seek help.
Signs that a girl may be involved with a gang
- Changes in physical appearance (for example wearing more ‘adult’ clothes, or wearing baggy clothes and no make-up).
- Unexplained money or possessions.
- Getting involved in fights.
- Committing crimes such as shoplifting.
- Regularly staying out late or going missing from home.
- Abusing drugs and/or alcohol.
- Physical injuries (which may indicate violence from others and/or self-harming).
- Refusing to seek medical help for such injuries and becoming fearful or withdrawn or prone to unexplained outbursts on anger.
How can you prevent your child from joining a gang?
- Encourage them to get involved in positive activities and to think about their future employment.
- Get involved in your child’s school activities.
- Know your child’s friends and their families.
- Always know where your child is and who they are with.
- Help them to cope with pressure and how to deal with conflict without use of violence.
- Speak to them about the serious consequences that occur from violent or illegal behaviour. Help them to understand the dangers of being in a gang and find constructive alternative ways to use their time.
- Keep lines of communication open.
- Be aware of what your child is doing on the internet.
- Look for ways of disciplining children that do not involve harshness, anger or violence.
- Work with other parents and schools to watch their behaviour.
- Contact local voluntary organisations that provide mentoring and other support for young people.