It’s hard to know what to do when a young person informs you that they’re in a gang. Many people believe that once you’re in a gang, you’re in it for life. The truth is that it’s harder to get out of some gangs than others, but there are options for leaving. Here are some steps you can take if a child you care about admits to being involved with a gang:
1) Ask Questions:Try to identify any information about the child’s involvement, such as how long they have been with the gang, what they are expected to do for the gang, what is their level of involvement (are they affiliated or hard core members?), and what are the options for leaving the gang.
2) Discuss Consequences of Staying in the Gang:Young people know that being in a gang is dangerous – that may have been part of the allure. Focus on the consequences that gang life could have on them and their future, such as:
- Loss of Freedom – “You will never be your own person in a gang. You will always do what is ordered, wear what they say, and spend your free time building up the gang. What about your dreams?”
- Arrest record – “If you get arrested, an arrest record will make it hard for you to get a job. I want you to have a future.”
- Prison – “In California, if you are 14 or older and you commit a serious crime, you can be tried as an adult. This means that you can get the same punishment as an adult – even life in prison or the death penalty. Are you willing to face that for a gang?”
- Injury or Death – “You will be just another enemy to those rival gangs – those bullets won’t care that you’re my child. You could get injured, or even killed. I don’t want to lose you.”
- Threats to Family – “Once those gangbangers know where you live, your house will become a target. How would you feel if they attacked your grandma or your baby sister, just to get to you?”
- Future – “A gang may seem cool now, but what happens when you get tired of the lifestyle? What if you want to get married or start a family? What if you want to get a legit job, who’s going to hire you with all of those gang tattoos?”
3) Offer Your Support:Let them know that they are not alone. if you are not the child’s parent or caregiver, decide what level of support you are willing to offer, and how to get the child’s family involved. Ask them if they are ready to leave the gang:
- If they are ready to get out, let them know that getting out of a gang isn’t easy, but it can be done. Some critical steps need to be taken to protect the child as they try to get out.
- If they will not commit to an answer, you should reinforce your clear expectations: “I do not want you to be a gang member. I cannot support your gang affiliation, and will not allow gang activity to come into my house or around my family. I will support your efforts to get out of a gang, but I cannot support your decision to stay in a gang.”
- Establish some age-appropriate boundaries and consequences to help maintain a safe home environment for you and the rest of your family.