The best way to know if your child or a child you care about is in a gang is to talk to them early and often. If you notice one or more of the following signs, you need to talk with your child right away to determine if they are considering joining, or are already involved with, a gang.
Signs to look for:
Shows interest in talking to or hanging out with known gang members, or attending gang parties
Aquires a new nickname (a moniker, such as "Snake", "Shorty, "Lil' Hood")
Makes a sudden drastic change in appearance - hairstyle, clothing, accessories with distinctive designs
Wears similar clothing as the surrounding neighborhood gang members
Insists on wearing certain color combinations, or specific athletic teams, and refuses to wear others
Shows a change in attitude towards family, friends, and authority figures
Develops an unusual desire for privacy (beyond normal teenage behavior) - refuses to tell you where they are going or who they are hanging with
Stops hanging out with old friends, won't let you meet new friends, or won't tell you the real names of new friends (they use nicknames, also)
Draws gang symbols or sayings on books, furniture, clothing, hands or arms with an ink or markers, or gets them permanently tattooed on body. See photos of common gang symbols.
Associates with suspected or proven gang members or gang nations as 'friends' on popular networking Web sites
Shows signs of suspected alcohol or drug use
Obtains large amounts of cash or merchandise with no explanation
Displays evidence of vandalizing property with graffiti (presence of spray cans, paint marks on clothing or backpacks, wide tipped markers, blank stickers) NOTE: Finding evidence that your child produces graffiti might reveal that he/she is a "tagger". While tagging is still an illegal act of vandalism, taggers are not automatically associated with gangs. Read more.
Shows disinterest in school and other previous activities
Increased level of defiance - frequently breaking curfew, having run-ins with the law, breaks school or parental rules consistently
Develops obsession the gangster lifestyle such as music, videos and movies
Talk with your child - these signs do not automatically indicate that your child is in a gang. Remember that many facets of gang life have been glamorized and made popular in our culture. Terms like "gangster", "lil' homie" and "O.G." have become acceptable in casual converstations. Young people who are far removed from the reality of gangs might use these terms loosley, not realizing the words' connection to gang rankings. They may also copy fashion trends seen in movies or music videos, not knowing when a "trend" is actually a claim to gang life.
Discuss these realities with your child. Find out how much they know about gangs, and how deep their involvement might be.