How do you know if your child is in a gang? You must simply watch for signs of gang involvement. As a parent you may have done everything possible to protect your children from gangs, but they may elect to join one anyway, for a host of reasons such as economics, protection or camaraderie. Remaining vigilant to the signs of gang involvement is important, as early detection may help you embark on some corrective actions to convince your child he is headed down the wrong path. In this regard, I offer a few general guiding principles.
As noted earlier, for the vast majority of new gangsters their entrance to the gang rarely occurs suddenly or overnight -- it's evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Thus you need to watch for warning signs of possible gang involvement early and often, as children may be exposed to the pull of gangs at a very young age. Evidence is growing that some street gangs are targeting children, including girls, as young as eight or nine for membership or other forms of participation (acting as sentries during crimes or holding drugs, for instance). By the time your child is a teenager -- the typical age when a youth becomes involved in a gang -- it may simply be too late, as the precursor influences are likely exercised well before then.
The following are some commonly reported warning signs of gang involvement by a young person. They are neither all-encompassing nor actual proof of gang involvement, so I caution parents to be extremely careful when judging on the basis of this list. Parents are urged to look for multiple signs indicating possible gang involvement, because some of these indicators taken alone, or even in small combinations, may mean very little.
The warning signs of gang involvement
• Change in type of friends, from whom your child may wish to keep you at a distance. Also look for situations in which your child begins to ignore long-standing previous friendships.
• Drawing gang symbols and using gang handwriting (usually graffiti-like, hard to decipher and characterized by crossed out and upside-down letters and gang symbols). Check school notebooks for evidence of such.
• Wearing jewelry with distinctive designs on the right or left side of the body only.
• Practising obscure hand signs or using hand signs to communicate with friends in public settings.
• Using strange language or slang.
• Changes of behaviour, including excessive secretiveness, defiance, aggressiveness and social withdrawal. Also look for out-of-the-ordinary defiance of authority figures, including parents and teachers.
• Behaviour, performance and truancy problems in school.
• Sudden interest in gangster-influenced culture such as gangsta rap, gangster movies and websites.
• Adopting the gangster style of dress, sometimes referred to as "sagging and bagging" (drooping oversize pants, bandanas, certain sports logos). Pay attention to use of a dominant colour in clothing (for example, youth associated with a Crip set will dress predominantly in blue, while Bloods wear red).
• Drug and alcohol abuse as well as possession of large quantities of marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy pills.
• Possession of unexplained cash or goods (stereo equipment, jewelry, automobiles), which may be the proceeds of theft or drug dealing.
• Physical injuries that your child is unwilling to explain to you or report to the police.
• Withdrawal from or change in attitude toward favourite sports, recreation or social activities.
• Association with other youth who display some or all of these warning signs.
• New tattoos or brand marks of nicknames, gang signs, gang symbols or initials.
• Negative contacts with the police, which could include arrests or warnings/diversion referrals under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
• Unusual fear of police, such as avoiding them in public settings.
• Possession of fake or real weapons, including guns, knives, extendos (telescoping metal batons) and homemade armaments.
• Staying out late beyond normal curfew.
• Change of hairstyle.
• Disclosure of gang membership.
• Confirmation of gang affiliation by friends, family members, educators or other witnesses.
• Missing valuable personal effects, perhaps sold to raise money for the gang or buy drugs or firearms.
• Use or possession of gang codes and ciphers, languages unto themselves that gangs use to protect sensitive information.
• Unusually territorial or protective attitude towards community, school or bedroom.
• Reluctance to go to school, perhaps indicating rival gang tensions or unpaid drug debts.
• Excessive use of codes and seemingly nonsensical acronyms in MSN or BlackBerry messages.
• Heavy use of cellphone and/or pager.
• Adoption of a new nickname: look out for names that are either very menacing or imply violence ("Crazy," "Psycho," "Shooter") or that contradict some attribute of your child (for example, "Shorty" to describe a tall young man).
• Brief late-night visits or phone calls to your home from other youth or adults, which may indicate drug dealing and possible gang involvement.
|Excerpted from Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous World of Canadian Street Gangs by Michael Chettleburgh. Copyright 2007 by Michael Chettleburgh. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.|