12 Step To Become Proactive to prevent children from joining gangs

How can we prevent children from joining gangs?

As parents, teachers, school administrators and mentors, it's essential we have as much insight as possible to understand why young people today might be interested in joining gangs so we can be better equipped to speak to our children

Parents play a crucial role in preventing their child from becoming a member of a gang. It has been shown that teens who have involving and satisfying relationships with their parents are more likely to do well in school, have better social skills and have lower rates of risky/delinquent behaviours than their peers. Alongside parents, other significant adults in a child’s life can also have a substantial impact on the choices that a child makes.

The following is a compilation of articles that address some critical issues, including:

  1. Risk factors that increase the likelihood that a child will join a gang
  2. Try to Understand Why Your Children Might Join Gangs
  3. General Reasons for Gang Membership
  4. Personal Reasons for Gang Membership
  5. Characteristics of Gangs
  6. Gang Recruitment Tactics
  7. Early Warning Signs
  8. Consequences of Gang Involvement
  9. What Can You Do?
  10. Gang-Fighting Tips
  11. Protective Factors and Values

Step 1: Risk factors that increase the likelihood that a child will join a gang 

Risk factors in the individual

  • Use drugs 
  • Are violent or aggressive
  • Have beliefs that justify breaking the law 
  • Are hyperactive 
  • Are unable to resist others who draw them into delinquent activities 
  • Have a learning disability

 Risk factors in the child’s everyday contexts

  •  Their parents have pro-violent attitudes 
  • They have only one parent (even if there are other adults in the home), or no parents • They have delinquent siblings 
  • They have a poor educational record at primary school 
  • They have poor attachment and commitment to school 
  • Their household is poor 

 Risk factors in the community

  •  Drugs are available 
  • There are some delinquent young people in the neighbourhood 
  • They don’t like their neighbourhood 

Risk factors in society

  • Cities have pockets of poverty within them
  •  There is a high proportion of young people in the population, together with low levels of education and high levels of unemployment (particularly youth unemployment) 
  •  Limited state services (for instance, a lack of policing)
  •  State corruption 
  • The state itself is violent 
  • Access to illicit economies 
  • Access to small arms

Step 2: Try to Understand Why Your Children Might Join Gangs

  • Many times children feel they have no choice. They may prefer to not become a gang member, but they cannot see any other way to avoid the situation. Children may be living in fear daily and see joining a gang as a solution to problems. The pressure to join a gang may be extreme. Parents must provide children with a safe, loving home environment plus help them get to school safely. It is also the parents' responsibility to see that school is a safe place to learn and play.  
  • Children may join a gang as a means of protection from rival gangs.
  • Children often choose to join gangs if their friends or family members belong.  
  • Children often have unsupervised time. If this becomes excessive, children will search for something to do to prevent boredom. Gang activities can fill the excess time.
  • Gang activities appear exciting to children. Children, especially teens, like to take risks. Gangs provide many opportunities to take risks and find excitement.  
  • The appeal of obtaining money fast can be overwhelming for children. We live in a society that advocates immediate gratification at any expense. Gangs are involved in drugs and other criminal activities that give children opportunities to get money quickly.
  • Teach your children to have pride in their accomplishments and to legitimately earn money.
  • Children who feel valuable and important in the home will feel more comfortable with others. Parents need to teach children how to share, compromise and take turns, how to listen to what others have to say, and how to be a group member.
  • Children may feel that they do not have a sense of purpose in life and seek gang activities to reinforce their self-esteem. Parents must strengthen children's understanding of purpose by setting expectations for their personal behaviour.
  • Children may join a gang to retaliate for personal injury or damage to friends or family. Parents must develop a support group in the community that can deal with children's sorrow or frustration.

Step 3: General Reasons for Gang Membership


The primary age group of gang members generally ranges from 13 to 21 years. Interviews of gang members indicate that joining a gang is seldom understood by the gang members themselves, but can vary from brotherhood to self-preservation as listed below.

1. Identity

Gang members cannot achieve identity in their environment, so they gain it in the gang culture. They often visualise themselves as warriors against the outside world, protecting their neighbourhood.

2. Protection

Joining a gang in a community with several gangs offers considerable protection from violence and attack from rival gangs.

3. Fellowship

Studies indicate that a tight family structure is lacking in the home environment. Gang activity offers that closeness, that sense of family that is often lacking in the home.

4. Intimidation

Membership can become very dangerous at this level of "recruitment." New members are forced to join by threats, violent beatings, and initiations to increase membership.

Step 4: Personal Reasons for Gang Membership

There are a variety of personal reasons for young people joining gangs.

These include the excitement of gang activity, the need to belong, peer pressure, attention, financial benefit, family tradition, and a lack of realisation of
the hazards involved. This also is a way students with poor self-concept increase their self-esteem. These young people seek to attain recognition for their activities, whether criminal or not. Gangs supply that extra pat-on-the-back that they might not receive at home or at school.

Parents need to be aware of what's going on in their child's life. If young people cannot communicate their concerns and problems to someone significant at home or at school, they could make an adverse decision to join a gang, which would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Step 5: Characteristics of Gangs


Characteristics in gang behaviour can range from a poor general attitude to clear-cut personality disorders that can at times parallel the criminal mind. Caution is wise when thinking one can place all gangs into one behavioural category.

A gang member on his/her own "turf" in school or in the community may be openly hostile. Outside the turf, the gang member may seem likeable, open and friendly. But he/she has his/her own code and sense of fairness and can quickly turn on one when the code is violated. This can often result in sudden noncooperation, or worse, violent retaliation.

The gang member is a good con artist and can easily manipulate his/her environment as it suits his/her needs. Appearance can be very deceiving. But, a gang member can also display poor internalising skills, be chronically angry, resentful of authority, and can be an accomplished liar.

The more violent gang member can be callused, remorseless, lack realistic long-term goals, be prone to easy boredom and have poor impulse control.

Today in many mature, modern criminal street gangs violence is often a means to an end. Material profit, through drug trafficking and other illegal activities, is the prime objective.

Studies in new gang behaviour indicate that violent gangs have a strong capacity to deal with fear and are therefore not easily intimidated by authority. They have cut fear off. They experience the excitement at every stage of a crime, are concrete thinkers, have little interest in responsible performance or a display of ownership.

They consider themselves basically decent human beings and therefore justified in what they do. Each gang member wants to be in charge but often has poor leadership skills, is chronically angry and defensive, cannot be structured or do tasks for a protracted period.

Step 6: Gang Recruitment Tactics

Gangs pressure kids into gangs by using the following methods:

• Peer pressure, offer protection.
• Threaten the safety of friends or family members.
• Offer money for what appears to be simple activities.
• Challenge kids to take risks.
• Attend parties where gang-related activities are occurring.
• Family members already belong to a gang.

Step 7: Early Warning Signs

Graffiti is a clear marking of territorial boundaries which serves as a warning and challenge to rival gangs. It is also used to communicate messages between gangs.

Youth hanging out around public parks, high schools, fast food stands, convenience stores and other hang outs for teenagers. Frequent use of public phone booths by people who actually receive calls there.

Increase in crime - Gang related acts such as vandalism, assaults, burglaries, robberies, and even random drive-by shootings.

Step 8: Consequences of Gang Involvement


Short Term:

  •  In trouble with the law
  • Drop out of school.
  • Withdrawal from family.
  • Risk of injury in a "jump-in" by your own gang.
  • Drug trafficking/weapons.
  • Involvement in "dirty-work."

Long Term:

  • Lose opportunity for education and employment.
  • Spend time in jail or prison.
  • The possibility of losing family and friends.
  • Risk of personal injury.
  • Risk your own family's life.
  • Endless amounts of threats, assaults and drive-by shootings.

Step 9: What Can You Do? 

 - Get involved!

Become aware of what's going on in your neighbourhood and community. When incidents occur such as vandalism, loitering and drug activity, report them to the police immediately.

- Get rid of Graffiti!

Graffiti serves as a territorial marker to gang members. When you see graffiti on block walls, houses and sidewalks, report it to law enforcement officials, and remove it immediately, after taking photographs.

- Parental Intervention

Be aware of changes that occur with your children such as dress changes, selection of friends, truancy, violence and disregard for persons or property. Also, be aware if your child has purchased new and expensive items or if your child has extra money that cannot be accounted for.

Changes in behaviour and dress can be a regular part of adolescence or an indication of inappropriate identification and association. Know the difference by being an involved parent.

Parent, neighbourhood and law enforcement involvement is the only way gang activity will be curbed. Remember, this is your community--not that of the gangs!!!

Step 10: Gang-Fighting Tips

A single call to local officials has minimum impact. To be really useful, have everyone in your neighbourhood call your representative or proper authorities.

If you're worried about gang retaliation, keep in mind that calls to local government offices and police can be made and kept anonymous.

Police do not usually ask for your name and address unless you are a victim or a witness who wishes to testify. If you give your name and address to the police for one of these reasons and you are hesitant to have the police come to your home, inform them at the time of the call. Be sure to make this very clear to them when you call. Remember, gangs will continue harassing and threatening the community until you put a stop to it.

Step 11: Protective Factors and Values


Protective Factors are factors that may protect youth against delinquency and substance abuse.

Protective factors include, but aren’t limited to the following: Individual: Positive/resilient temperament Healthy sense of High self expectations Positive expectations/optimism for the future

  #1 Family:

  • A good relationship with parents/bonding or attachment with family
  • Opportunities and reward for family involvement
  • Having a stable family 
  • High family expectations

  #2 School:

  • Programmes such as conflict management, trauma counselling, peer counselling, human rights education are used to modify behaviour. 
  • In addition, sport and cultural activities and the introduction of entrepreneurial training are introduced.
  • School motivation / positive attitude toward school 
  • Student bonding and connectedness 
  • Academic achievement/reading ability and mathematical skills 
  • High expectations of students

  #3 Peer:

  • Involvement with positive peer group activities and norms 
  • A good relationship with peers 
  • Parental approval of friends

#4 Community:

  • Economical, sustainable/stable community 
  • Positive social norms 
  • High community expectations 
  • Neighbourhood/ social cohesion


In the opinion of our group members, parents, teachers, and the community should join hands and work together to take on the responsibility of educating the children and the students so that they become useful individual and national aspirations can be achieved.  Gangs in South Africa have been created in a particular crucible of economic disenfranchisement (Steinberg, 2004), and there is little that any prevention programme can do to tamper with their existence. However, applications that successfully prevent delinquency can successfully prevent children’s involvement in gangs, and this will reduce their risk of injuries related to gang violence.

Carefully-planned outreach programmes (that reach out to young gang members), or those that work with offenders in the justice system, also offer some hope in terms of disengaging young people from gangs. Common factors in the success of these programmes are tailoring the plan to the needs of the young person involved, working in more than one domain of the young person’s life (e.g., school and parenting) and ensuring that the programme ultimately leads to employment.

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