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Gang Problem Hits Home

Elwood, Indiana—
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
From a very disturbed parent:


What’s with 9 people being killed in a week up there? Doesn’t sound like the safest place to be.

I wondered if that would make state or national news. NO, it is very crazy around here right now. Some of the shootings have been gang-related…others drug-related. There were actually six shootings in just two days last week…several of which occurred right during the day not far from my office! We have a HUGE gang problem here. A gang unit was established with the police dept last summer and just recently our probation dept. started a gang program where the court is identifying dangerous kids (gang) and putting them in this intensive program. There were about 200 threats received in the past week that some of the local schools are going to be targeted today. I’ve already had calls from parents saying they are not sending their kids to school today. The newspapers say none of the shootings are related, but there definitely were several related and have been rival gangs in retaliation for other shootings….

Any suggestions?

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Many communities have serious problems with gangs. There are many kinds of gangs, but whatever kind you community is dealing with, gangs spell trouble. They cause fear, destroy property, threaten or hurt peaceable residents, and drive out businesses.
Parents can do a lot to prevent gang problems or top reduce gag problems already in place. Most important, there’s a lot that parents like you can do to keep your own children from joining gangs:

· Join with others to make or keep your neighborhood gang free.
· Learn about gangs and signs of gang activity.
· Sharpen your skills as a parent and use them.

Young people (as young as nine or ten) join gangs for reasons that makes sense to them, if not to adults. They give reasons like these:

· for excitement
· to be with friends
· to belong to a group
· to earn money
· to get protection

Gangs leave signs of their presence. Your child may adopt some of those signs as either a gang member or an imitator:

· gang symbols on walls as graffiti or on books or clothing

· major and negative behavior changes, such as worse grades, staying out without good reason, "hanging" with known or suspected gang members, carrying weapons, wearing certain kinds and colors of clothing in very specific ways, and possessing unexplained relatively large sums of money

· special hand signals

· specific colors or emblems

Many gang members say they joined because the gang offered them support, caring, and a sense of order and purpose - al the things that most parents try to give their kids. The odds are that the better you meet these needs, the less need you children will see for gangs.

Here are some parenting skills that are especially important:

·Do everything possible to involve your children in supervised, positive group activities

·Do everything possible to prevent dropping out

·Help your kids identify positive role models and heroes - especially people right in your community

·Know what your children are doing and whom they are with. Know about their friends and their friends’ families

·Praise them for doing well and encourage them to do their very best - to stretch their skills to the utmost

·Put a high value on education and help your child to do his or her best in school

·Talk with listen to your child. Spend some special time with each child

Don’t forget to talk about gangs. The best time is before there’s a major problem.

Tell your child that:

· family members don’t keep secrets from each other
· you an other parents are working together against gangs.
· you disapprove of gangs
· you don’t want to see your child hurt or arrested
· you see your child as special, and worth protecting
· you want to help your child with problems

Everyone (except gang members) wants a gang-free community. Parents stand to lose the most -- the well-being or even the life of a child -- if gangs take or keep hold. But gangs are often violent and intimidating.

What can you do in the face of this?

· Develop positive alternatives. Are there after-school and weekend activities kids can enjoy? Can the school offer its facilities? Can parents organize clubs or sports? Can older kids tutor or mentor younger ones? Can the kids themselves help with ideas?

· Get organized against the gang organization. Use your neighborhood association or a new group. Get help from a variety of sources right in you community. Try these kinds of people in addition to the police, priest or minister, family counselor, community association, school counselor or principal, athletic coach, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA / YWCA, Scouts, drug abuse prevention groups, youth-serving agencies, and community centers - just to name a few.

· Talk with other parents. For one thing, you’ll find out what everyone else’s parent really said. For another, you can support each other and share knowledge that will help spot problems sooner than you can on your own.

· Work with police and other agencies. Report suspicious activity, set up a Neighborhood Watch or a community patrol; let the police know about gang graffiti, get (and share with other parents) the facts on the gang problem in your community, find out what local services - nonprofit as well as government - will work with communities against gangs.

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