for Parents

As parents, you want your children to be safe and the older your children get the harder it may seem to keep them that way. As a parent you have a lot more power than you think to prevent your children from joining gangs. This website provides information for families to learn about the dangers of gangs and of ways to help keep their children safe.

You, the parents, are the first defense against gangs.  You have the opportunity to:

  • Be a good role model,
  • Know the early signs of gang involvement,
  • Understand why children join gangs, and
  • Learn what to do to prevent your child from joining.

Click for more information:

Q: I’m not sure if my child is involved in gangs, what do I look for ?
A: click to view answer

There are some common warning signs that a youth may be involved in gangs. In most cases, a youth who shows two or more of these signs may indicate they are involved, or very vulnerable, to gangs.

      • Shows interest in talking to or hanging out with known gang members, or attending gang parties.
      • Shows unusual interest in particular colors or logos (these depends on the city – check with law enforcement or school officials to know what is common in your areas)
      • Makes a sudden drastic change in appearance – hairstyle, clothing, accessories with distinctive designs
      • Interested in gangster music, videos, movies or websites
      • Acquires a new nickname ( a moniker, such as “Sorty”, “Lil’ Hood”, “Sniper”)
      • 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)
      • Uses hand signals to communicate with friends
      • Has specific drawings or symbols on books, walls, clothes
      • 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, however some tagging ‘crews’ are involved in violence and are very similar to a gang.
      • Has unexplained physical injuries (looks like they have been in fist fights)
      • Has unexplained cash, jewelry, clothing
      • Uses gang-style slang
      • Exhibits negative changes in behavior such as:
        • Withdrawing from family
        • Declining school attendance, performance or behavior
        • Staying out late with no reason
        • Being unusually secretive
        • Exhibits signs of drug or alcohol use
        • Increased level of defiance – frequently breaking curfew, having run-ins with the law, breaks school or parental rules consistently

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.

If you are worried your child is involved get help! Contact the school, police department, church or an organization in the community. Click on resources to find this help in your County.

Q: My child is involved in gangs, what can I do? Where do I get help ?
A: click to view answer

Programs and Services

Below are tips on how to discuss your child’s gang involvement.  Additionally, there are organizations providing services for youth and families in each county that are available to you.  To find services, click on your county.

Family Support

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?, And until you end up in prison, you will be in and out of County Jail”.

Injury or Death “You will be just another enemy to those rival gangs – those bullets won’t care that you’re my child. You are going to get injured or killed. Don’t do that to me. 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?”

What about us? “While you are in jail, how are you going to be part of this family, attend birthdays, funerals, help out?”

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.

4) 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.

Q: How do I talk to my child about the dangers of gangs ?
A: click to view answer

Learn About Gangs and Gang Activities In Your Area So You Know What To Look For

Talk about the negative things that gangs do and how they can affect your child, their friends, your neighborhood, and your family.

  • Point out violent messages on television and in movies. Talk to your children about ways they can solve their problems without fighting or violence, and demonstrate the strategies in your own life.
  • Talk to your children about choosing the right friends who make the right choices. If they are going to be pressured it will be by the kids they are closest to and those are the hardest to resist.
  • Start talking about these things at an early age. While five-year-olds may not understand about the effects of joining a gang, they can learn to say “no” to negative behavior.

-Adapted from the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations

Q: How do I prevent my child from joining a gang ?
A: click to view answer

Good Social Skills

Children and teens who have good skills to deal with other people are less likely to join gangs or to be involved in negative behavior.  To build self-confidence and respect for others in their children, parents need to teach:

    • Honest Communication. Children need to learn to express feelins such as anger, joy, love, and fear.  They must believe it is okay for them to express these feelings without being teased or punished.
    • Coorperation. Children must learn to cooperate, negotiate, and put themselves in another person’s shoes. Praise your children for cooperating, especially when they are able to work out a compromise.
    • Personal Responsibility. Teach your children to be responsible for their actions.  Let them know that even if they do not get something right at first, waht counts is that they are trying hard and learning from the experience.
    • Ability to make decisions. Instead of solving problems for your children, give them a chance to think of positive solutions.
    • Ability to give and receive unconditional love. Love your childre for who they are, regardless of how well they do in school, sports, or other activities.  Even if you are angry with them, let them know you still love and respect them.

Be Involved

    • Quality time. Spend quality time with your child – have meals together, go on walks or to the park and just spend time talking as a family.
    • Participate. Get involved in your child’s school activities.
    • Role model. Be a good example and set the right example all the time.
    • Supportive adults. Point out positive role models to your children, and give them a protective circle of adults that they can talk with.
    • Set goals. Put a high value on education and help your child set goals for his or her future – whether it’s college or a trade career, they need to have a plan
    • Make friends. Know your child’s friends and their parents.
    • Afterschool activity. Get your child involved in positive activities when they are not in school. Make sure those activities are adult supervised. Know where you children are at all times.
    • Know your neighbors. Make your neighborhood a safe place. Creating relationships with people who live around you make it easier to know what your child is up to.
    • Know and share the facts. Talk to your child about the dangers of gang involvement and what can happen to them, their friends or their family if they get involved. Let them know you want them to be safe because you care. It is never too early.  Start as soon as they begin kindergarten.
    • Set up rules. Set a clear expectation for your household – tell your children and teens that you do not want them to act like a gang member, join a gang, attend gang parties/events, or be gang affiliated – EVER.

Create a balance between love and discipline

Children may join gangs to gain a sense of belonging.  Spend time with your children and show them they are loved and valued.

    • Talk. Have discsussions with your child about peer pressure and give them ways to deal with it.  Work together to come up with simple ways to respond.  Example, if your child is challenged by a peer who says, “If you were my friend, you would…” Your child can say, “If you were my friend, you wouldn’t ask.”  And teach them to walk away.
    • Individual time. Spend time alone with each child. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get to know each other better.
    • Open communication. Listen to your children and ask their opinions. Help your children talk with you without fear of punishment. Do not talk down to your children – even though adults are older, children’s thoughts and feelings deserve respect.
    • Be proud – outloud. Praise your child often – point out when they make good choices. Tell them when you are proud and let them hear you say how proud you are of them when you talk to others.
    • Don’t give up! Set limits and consequences and follow through. Children and teenagers need to know clearly what is expected of them and the consequences for acting otherwise. Do not rescue children from the consequences of their decisions. Tell your child you will not allow them to:
      • Hang out with gang members
      • Attend parties sponsored by gangs
      • Use hand signs or language that is gang related
      • Wear clothing specific to gangs.

Q: What programs are available to assist me as a parent ?
A: click to view Answer

What’s Out There For Us Parents?

Each county has many resources to help with parenting struggles or just to provide support when parents need it. Your local Child Abuse Prevention Council can help find those services, or you can contact your local Police Department and ask for resources if you think your child may be at-risk for unsafe activities. Here are some parenting resources and contact information for each county.

Ventura County

Santa Barbara County

Kids Network
Phone: 805-346-8222

San Luis Obispo County