Gang and Gang Crime – The Facts
A gang is a group of people who may be involved in crime and violence. Many young people will not realise they are in a gang, they will just think they are in a group of friends. Being in a gang is not illegal – only the criminal offences committed are illegal.
Why do young people join street gangs?Young people can join gangs for a number of reasons. They can join to get:
- a sense of belonging
- power over other people
- money from crime
Being in a gang – the fantasy and realityChildren may think that being in a gang will give them a glamorous lifestyle, but the reality is very different. Being in a gang puts children and young people at more risk of:
- committing crime
- dealing or taking drugs
- ending up in prison
- being a victim of violence or even death
Gangs and the lawAlthough there are no laws banning gangs or gang membership, there are laws to prevent the criminal activity of gangs. These laws include the following:
- in court, if an offender is part of a gang, it could lead to a longer sentence
- drugs like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy are illegal to have, or carry
- it is illegal to carry or keep a gun without a licence, including fake or replica guns
- police and school staff can search young people for weapons at school
- carrying a knife for someone else
- carrying a knife for protection
- carrying a knife with no intention of using it
Involvement in Gangs – What to look out for
There are some signs you can watch out for that can show possible gang involvement. While almost all of them are normal teenage behaviours, you might want to take action if many of the signs are shown at the same time.
BehaviourHere are some examples of changes in behaviour to watch out for:
- has your child seemed distant or detached from the family?
- is there a sudden loss of interest in school, or have they stopped attending school?
- has their school work suddenly started to get worse – for example have they had worse grades or bad reports?
- has the school or college reported worrying changes in behaviour?
- has your child dropped out of after school clubs?
- have they started to use new slang words?
- do they suddenly have unexplained money or possessions?
- have they started to stay out late without giving a reason, or are they vague about who they are out with?
- do they have a new nickname?
- is there a new person in their life who they appear to be influenced or led by?
- have they lost touch with old friends and just hang around with one group?
- do they have aggressive or intimidating views towards other young people – even old friends?
- do you think they might be using or dealing drugs?
- has there been a sudden change in appearance – like dressing in a particular style or colour similar to all the other people they hang around with?
- have there been any unexplained physical injuries?
- have they started to use graffiti style ‘tags’ (signatures) on possessions, school books, walls or buildings?
- have they started displaying signs of group behaviour: ways of talking and acting in line with other members of the group, or perhaps using hand signs?
Other things you should know
- girls are increasingly likely to be gang members
- gangs will often have profiles on networking websites like Myspace or Bebo, so be aware of what your child is doing on the internet
- internet chat rooms and text messages can be used to bully people into joining gangs (bullying, intimidation and peer pressure play a large part in gang recruitment)
- chat rooms and texts can also be used to organise crime or violence
Preventing and Dealing with Involvement in Gangs
The best thing you can do to help prevent your child getting involved in a gang is to talk to them about it. Find out what they think about gangs, and let your child know about the dangers of being in one. Apart from this, there are a range of other things you can do as a parent to make your child less likely to get involved in a gang.
Get involved in your child’s life
- praise and acknowledge your child’s achievements and effort
- make your child proud of the family roots
- talk more to your child
- get involved with your child’s school and after school activities, if you can
- encourage your child to take part in after school activities
- take the time to get to know your child’s friends and their families
Help your child to lead a positive life
- be a good role model – remember children learn from what they see and experience at home
- encourage good study and play habits
- help them to think about risks and danger – to themselves and others
- teach them how to cope with peer pressure
- teach them how to deal with conflict without using violence
- set limits and boundaries
- stick to your rules and avoid double standards – always set a good example
- teach them that actions have consequences, and that they should always have respect for others
- don’t let younger children stay out late or spend a lot of time on the streets
- limit access to alcohol, and if you do let them drink, keep an eye on how much
Work togetherRemember that other people can help you. Have a chat to your child’s friends’ parents. If you are worried, they probably are too, and there will be times when they see your child when you’re not there. By working together they can help you watch out for the signs. And maybe there are other family members who could talk to your child about the dangers?
If your child is already involved in a gangYou will need to talk to your child but this could be a tricky conversation – they may be scared or unwilling to talk about it. But it is important that they know that you want to listen and support them. It’s also important to be clear that your child does have a choice even when they think they may not – they don’t have to follow the crowd.
Your approach will be more effective if you:
- stay calm and rational, no matter how upset you are
- ask questions, rather than making accusations or rash statements
- listen carefully to what they say without interrupting them
- really try to understand the situation from their point of view and why they have joined the gang
- ask them what you can do to help, rather than telling them what they have to do
- point out the risks and consequences of carrying, or worse still using a gun or a knife (remember that many people who are hurt by guns or knives have their own weapon used against them)
- try to come up with an agreement on what to do next
- work with them to find alternatives to being in the gang
Gangs: You and Your Child
Advice to parents on gangs and helping your child make the right choice (click here to open in new window)