This article was contributed by Government Home Office

The Home Office leads on immigration and passports, drugs policy, crime policy and counter-terrorism and works to ensure visible, responsive and accountable policing in the UK. It is a ministerial department, supported by 26 agencies and public bodies.

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Gangs: signs and how to prevent involvement

Image: Mzaplotnik

Read our information for parents and carers based on Home Office advice on the tell-tale signs your child may be involved in a gang

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.

What is a gang?

The term gang means different things to different people. In relation to children and young people, it generally means a group who hang around in public places, lay claim to ‘their’ territory and are willing to come into conflict with other gangs who enter that territory. They may often take part in illegal activities, which can be anything from disturbing the peace to drug-related crime. (See this definition from Bedfordshire Police.) 

Why do young people join gangs?

  • Respect and status
  • Gaining friends
  • A sense of belonging
  • Excitement
  • To find a substitute family
  • Power
  • Protection
  • Money
  • 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 (such as their taste in music or fashion style) are typical of many teenagers, so view them in the wider context of your child’s general behaviour.

They may change to a specific style of dressing and you notice that their friends all dress in the same way.

They could start getting into trouble at school and/or at home and begin to talk differently, using new slang or language with an aggressive tone.

‘You may notice they have unexplained injuries and are staying out unusually late’

Your child may have money and possessions you didn’t give them and they can’t, or won’t, explain where they’re from. You may notice they have unexplained injuries and are staying out unusually late, or have graffiti-style tags on their possessions.

They could develop an interest in music that glorifies weapons or gang culture, or even have weapons themselves.

You may also find evidence of them accessing gang profiles on social networks or watching gang videos on YouTube.

Girls in gangs

It’s not just boys who become involved in gangs but girls’ involvement can be 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 choose, to do is wrong, or may feel helpless and scared of what might happen to them if they seek help.

Watch out for the general signs listed above. Girls related to, or in, gangs may also suddenly start shoplifting or be missing from home for long periods without explanation. Look for physical injuries (which may indicate violence from others and/or self-harming), particularly if they refuse to seek medical help for such injuries. They may also become fearful, withdrawn and/or prone to unexplained outbursts of anger.

Again, many of these changes could be explained by the fact they are teenagers coping with the changes that all that entails. But check out the advice below for tips on what to do if you’re worried.

What can parents or carers do?

The Home Office offers the following advice to help you support your child and help them make the right decisions if they’re being pressured into joining a gang. ​

  • 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.

Further reading

Gangs and young people: how you can keep your child safe

Support for children and young people in gangs

The Home Office advice

Read or download Helping Your Child Make The Right Choice

Read the report

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​May 2018

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