Gang Spotter Guide for Parents: How Do You Know If Your Child Is in a Gang?

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Gangs; they are a very scary but very real thing. What makes them even scarier is the fact that they are so secretive; many parents have no idea that their child is in a gang until it is much too late. Because we don’t hear quite as much about them as we used to, many people make the mistake of believing that gangs are disappearing and there is nothing to worry about anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth; gangs are still very prominent and they are always up to no good.

So how do you know if your child is in a gang? You strive to give them their independence, let them know they have your trust, and you always want to believe the best, but you may have to set these things aside if your instincts tell you something is wrong. While it may not be easy to tell for sure, there are a few tell-tale signs to watch out for. Remember, the sooner you know that your child is involved, the sooner you can do something about it and keep them safe.

Listen

Parents tend to talk more than we listen, which can be a big problem in terms of our children wanting to communicate with us. When your child wants to talk to you, even if it’s just a casual conversation, stop what you are doing and give him your full attention. Don’t just hear what your child is saying; really listen so that you can hear what is not being said. It’s also important to pay attention to what your child is saying even when they are not talking to you. Listen to conversations with friends, how they talk about other people, and how they talk to family members. If you suddenly notice a change in how they talk (i.e. a lot of slang terms or swearing), this may be something you should be concerned about.

If you really listen when your child is talking, you will know the names of their friends, what they are like, and what they do. This way, if those friends suddenly change and are replaced with new ones, you can ask about it. A lot of times if your child becomes involved with new people who happen to be in a gang, they will cut all contact with their old friends. You should also be concerned if there is suddenly nothing to listen to. If your normally sociable and talkative child suddenly has nothing to say to anyone, this may be a red flag. Gangs are extremely secretive and take every possible measure to keep others from knowing about their involvement. If your child suddenly stops talking to you, he or she could likely be hiding something.

Watch

It’s important to really know your children, and to do this, you must watch them. Watch how they carry themselves, how they interact with others, what they do when they think no one is looking; these are important things to know so that you are aware when there is a sudden change. Knowing if your child is in a gang or not is all about watching for change; if you don’t know your child, you will likely not notice if they are suddenly not the same.

Keep an eye on their behavior, their friends, and their style. A major red flag is if your child suddenly turns from the classy clothes you’ve bought to dark and baggy clothing or bandanas and chains. You’ve probably seen enough movies to have a general idea of what gang members look like, so if your child comes home with a new ensemble, you should definitely be concerned.

Watch also for sudden new and expensive things that your child brings home, or large amounts of money that he suddenly has. If your child is still in school, chances are that the only money they get is what you give them, so you should have a good idea of how much they have and what they can afford. If your son or daughter comes home with a brand new cell phone, iPod, or stereo that you know they could not possibly have bought, it’s important that you find out where it came from. They may tell you that they found it or a friend gave it to them; but this is usually not the case.

Along with secretiveness, watch for other signs of a strong desire for privacy; if your child suddenly keeps their bedroom door shut, puts a lock on it, or has a new box where they keep things locked, you need to find out what they are hiding. Do not let your child lock their bedroom door; it’s only asking for trouble and could be dangerous if there is ever an emergency in the house. Some parents have even gone so far as removing their child’s door completely.

Some things may seem a bit extreme, but aren’t you willing to go to any length to keep your child safe?

Ask

Nobody knows your child like you do; you can generally tell when they are hiding something, being dishonest or are worried. If you notice that your child is suddenly not the same, you need to start asking questions. Find out who their friends are and insist on having your child bring them over so you can meet them. If he refuses then don’t let him go out with them again until you’ve had a chance to get to know them. Always find out where your child is going, who they are with, what they will be doing, and when they will be home. While this may seem like a bit much, you cannot keep your child safe if you have no idea where they are once they walk out your front door.

When you start to notice strange behavior, sit down and talk to your child. You will probably know if they are lying. Keep in mind things that they say and bring them up at a later date, if their story suddenly changes, you may have a problem on your hand. The key to really knowing if your child is in a gang is to know your child. Know who they are, watch for changes, and don’t take their word for it when they tell you nothing is wrong.

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Elizabeth Danish

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