, pub-4807045201008872, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 meta name=", pub-4807045201008872, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Ginger High- Books R Us: HOW PARENTS CAN HELP DISCOURAGE GANGS BY MARY JO RAPINI


Tuesday, October 1, 2013


How Parents Can Help
Discourage Gangs
by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

Gang violence is not a new problem for Chicago, but recently it's gained much more attention in education news. Since many schools in the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago have been closed down, these students must travel longer distances through unknown and gang-infested territory to get to their new schools. The areas were deemed so dangerous that the city set up the Safe Passages initiative, which lines sidewalks with police and large "Safe Passage" signs to protect traveling students. Many news articles have criticized that the signs already have bullet holes in them, and recently a man with gang connections was shot near one Safe Passage route.
Texas is not exempt from gang violence. Even in small towns, gangs are a powerful force and, worse, they can be seductive to children. Gangs can offer children many things, including protection, security, a sense of belonging, camaraderie, entertainment, and an opportunity to build respect. In fact, recent research has suggested that gangs fulfill Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Gangs can recruit children as young as five to seven. Boys are more likely to be in gangs, although girls do join gangs.
Why Youth Join Gangs:

You have probably heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If not, it is fairly self-explanatory. Maslow claimed that human beings seek out specific needs in a specific order. That is, physiological needs, which include basic items like food and shelter, will be sought out first for survival. When that need is met, the individual will seek out security and protection, also for survival. Social needs include feelings of love, companionship and play, which are often met by friends and family. Esteem includes respect and the construction of a reputation. These four needs are considered the "deficiency needs." Maslow believes that if these four needs are not met, then it could cause the individual anxiety or depression. Unfortunately, these are the needs that gangs fill the best.
1. The most basic need, physiological; gangs "take care of their own." They have a strong sense of loyalty and companionship, and they may occasionally help out members' families.
2. The second need, safety, is a very common reason that youth join. If youth are surrounded by violence or feel neglected, they may seek out protection from a gang. Ironically, this often brings more violence to their lives from criminal activity and rival gangs. However, there is still the sense that a fellow gang member is watching their back.
3. Gangs also fulfill social needs through their sense of loyalty and belonging. They also offer a sense of "play" by throwing parties or engaging in petty crime, such as graffiti tagging.
4. Esteem. Gang members may feel a sense of empowerment and pride after completing a successful robbery or mugging. They may express themselves as artists through graffiti.
5. Gangs can even fulfill the fifth and final need, self-actualization. Self-actualization includes creative pursuits and the creation of an identity.
Gangs often begin with friends who are toxic to your child. Once your child is part of a gang, it is much more difficult to intervene. Gang members are terrorists, because they often have little regard for anyone or anything. Their violence and crime extends outside of rival gangs to innocent bystanders. The police (and often citizen) response is to crack down on gang violence, but research has shown this is not necessarily the best option. In 2010, Dr. Vigil, a professor at the University of California, noted, "Law enforcement and suppression tactics, already overtaxed as a solution to a problem they did not start, are having only moderate and uneven success in addressing the gang problem. It doesn't make any difference how many jails we build or how many cells are set aside for each new gang cohort, the strategy we now have has failed. It has failed because it is not based on facts, on science, on human development, or on common sense. We need to be honest in recognizing this fact and be bold and courageous in charting a new course" (Vigil 2010). Vigil's point is that gangs represent a human development issue, not necessarily insufficient law enforcement. Gangs are filling a void for adolescents, and it is our duty as parents to figure out what is missing from their lives before they join a gang.
How Parents Can Stop Their Children From Joining Gangs:
Teaching parents to be aware of gang behavior in the early stages can help them change their child's current path. Parents need to know the friends of their child, and be alert to friends who are toxic or aggressive who could get their child into trouble.
1.    Talk to your child. Does your child feel alone or friendless? These are situations to begin working with immediately. A child with low self-esteem is easier to tempt into gang like behavior.
2.    Educate your child. If you are a parent, make sure you are parenting your child. That means sending them to school, getting them tutors when they need additional help, and taking them to museums, science events, and other educational activities on weekends. If parents value education, their children do as well. Educated kids see a hopeful future, and have long-term goals.
3.    Be sure to praise your child on what they do well. One of the most seductive things about a gang is the opportunity to build a reputation for their actions. Children need to know they matter and belong to the family. If you are a single parent, make sure you have a strong same-sex mentor for your child. A girl needs a strong female mentor. A boy needs male mentors so he can learn how to be a man. Many gang members value manliness and demonstrations of courage and strength. Young boys may be intrigued by these demonstrations if they do not have a positive role model. Many young boys also join gangs because they have a father, uncle, or brother in a gang who acts as their role model.
4.   Get your child involved in group activities. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports, and church groups all help give your child a sense of identity, belonging, and accomplishment. Being around caring adults helps children construct an identity about who they are and who they are able to become. Youth who join gangs often have a fatalist view of the future and create short-term solutions to their situations, such as criminal activity.
5.    Be aware of peer pressure. If your child is surrounded by gangs or family members who are gang members, it becomes much easier and much more seductive to join. Gangs often host parties to entice new recruits, which are exciting to bored children. Pay attention to who your child is around and influenced by. It may mean you will have to move or find a safe place for your child, but do what is necessary to avoid a destructive path for your child to follow.
6.    In the Houston area, a web site to go for help is If you want out of a gang and you don't know where to turn, call the Houston Police Force and ask for the gang division. They will help you get out safely.
It always saddens me to see the faces of six-year-old children shown with the 17-year-old murderer they became. The grin of the six-year-old did not have the parenting or family support they needed to avoid the gang life, which was on display all around them each day of their life. A murderer is a murderer, and it is too late at that point to change the outcome. If parents become more aware and stand firm in support of their children, we can become a force of hope against the terrorism of gangs.

With special thanks to Sarina Rapini MPA , for helping me help parents. Losing a child to a gang is a tragedy of the worst kind.

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at and more about Rapini at



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