5. There’s a reason they hate school: To most gang members, incarceration is preferable to school as 80% of them have moderate to severe learning disabilities: An overlooked fact is that the great majority of gang youth have difficulty in school before they become truant, delinquent, and gang involved. Most gang members fear school and feel a sense of shame and futility about it. They only succeed in school with lots of support, mentors, an opportunity for participation in extra-curricular, and classes appropriate for a teenager with disabilities and a scattered education. Without this support, gang involved students tend to fail, act out and purposely move in the direction of getting expelled. Who wants to be in a situation where success feels impossible?
6. Don’t be the Lone Ranger: Gang kids disappear in the gaps between the adults who are all working solo and in time grow tired. Gang youth usually have a school principal, guidance counselor, probation officer, parents, social worker, school psychologist and teachers who have never met in one room and shared their resources or established a vision for this difficult teenager. If you want to be successful with gang youth, make sure you include the adults who control the teenagers life in your planning, and keep your program connected to potential employers, recreation, clubs, local police, therapists, churches and other people who can provide experiences essential to a teenagers development. As you connect people, you extend your reach, create advocacy, and increase the chances that positive experiences will outnumber the ones that pull towards self-destruction.
7. Plan for the inevitable ups and downs that accompany change: Expect resistance and self-sabotage, and have a plan in place when they fail: Gang involved teenagers will often resist new activities even though these are rewarding. This is normal. Most of us experience a good dose of shyness or fear when asked to do something unfamiliar, especially if it exposes us to possible failure in front of peers. Success is also an unfamiliar feeling to gang members, and they will often engage in self-sabotage, whether this means fighting with the coach or being late to that great job you got them. Expect this. It is part of the process. Plan what you will do when, not if, failure occurs. Growing up is a long process, and troubled kids do stupid things; Expect it, plan for it, learn from it, and get these kids back into the game, just as if they were your own children. And if they end up in back in jail, be there as well. As “Happy” from Primera Flats told me after he became a good adult with a job, great kids and a good marriage:
Here are a couple of quotes from kids that we should LISTEN to. . .
“They didn’t give up on me. I fell so many times.
They just wouldn’t give up on me.”