Seven Things to Keep in Mind
1. Why gangs exist: Gangs are primarily composed of kids who are not succeeding in school and have no healthy interests or activities outside of school: This creates a group of kids who have nothing to do with their time, nothing to look forward to, don’t feel good about themselves and have no sense of future. These are horrible things to have in common and base friendship on, but this is what attracts gang youth to each other.
2. Why incarceration doesn’t solve the problem: You can’t punish someone who has nothing to lose: Jail is nothing to be afraid of when a person has no future and nothing in the present to look forward to. He knows his life will be exactly the same when he gets out.
3. Don’t waste time on the symptom: Leaving the gang is not the goal: It is not hard to leave a gang. The hard part is developing healthy interests that create the potential for positive peer groups and new friendships. I have worked with scores of gang members who became decent adults. It happened naturally as they gained skills and self-esteem. They never made a big announcement about “leaving the gang,” and their true gang friends were glad to see them doing better in life.
4. Focus on the solution: All kids must have at least one activity that brings them a sense of pride, competence and belonging: The best thing you can do for an at-risk or gang involved youth is make sure they are succeeding at something which makes them proud, keeps them busy, and allows them to identify with someone and something besides gang life. This can be a club or church group, sports, horseback riding, classic car restoration, a job, musical instrument, learning to dj, camping, art projects, etc. When a person has something to lose or look forward to, they take fewer risks. When they have a sense of pride and a positive identity, they do not develop a need to prove themselves through violence or numb themselves through addiction.
For more, tune in Friday!