Protecting Our Children From Gangs

“Kids need people who care about them.” —Not My Kid—Gang Prevention for Parents.

NEXT to our relationship with God, our children are among our most precious possessions. We should talk with them, listen to them, hug them, and be sure they know that they are very important to us. We must teach those good things— to be honest and helpful, how to have a good life, and how to be kind to others.

The superintendent of a juvenile detention home put his finger on a big problem today, saying: “Values are not being taught within the family.” Surely we need to give attention to doing this. We must live the way we want our children to live and let them see the joy that this adds to our lives. If we do not teach them proper values, how can we expect them to follow such values?

Today, a magazine published for American schoolteachers, said that gangs often attract youths who “view themselves as failures” and who are “looking for security, a sense of belonging, and social acceptance.” If we really give our children those things at home—security and a solid feeling of success both in the family and in their own lives—they will be far less likely to be attracted by false promises made by a gang.

The leader of a California police antigang unit tells of the shocked expressions he sees on parents’ faces when the police knock at their door to say their child is in trouble. They can’t believe that the one they thought they knew so well could have done something wrong. But their child had found new friends and had changed. The parents just hadn’t noticed.

Taking Precautions Vital

People who live in areas where gangs are active say that both young people and older ones should use good judgment and not offer a challenge or a threat to a gang. Avoid large groups of gang members, and do not copy the way they look or act, including the style and color of clothing they wear. Imitating them could make you the target of a rival gang.

Also, if a person dresses or acts as if he wants to be part of a gang, its members may pressure him into becoming one of them. The importance of knowing the attitudes of local gang members was illustrated by a father of three children in Chicago. He observed: ‘If I wear my hat turned over to the right, they think I’m disrespecting them.’ And that could lead to violence!

Be Involved With Your Children

One mother said: “We must be aware of our children—what they feel and what they do. We don’t have a chance if we don’t take a personal interest in their lives.” Another said that the gang problem won’t stop until parents stop it. She added: “Let’s give them love. If they’re lost, we’re lost.”

Do we know our children’s friends, where our children go after school, and where they are in the evening after dark? Of course, not every mother can be home when her children get home from school. But single mothers who struggle valiantly to pay the rent and feed their children may be able to make arrangements with other mothers or with someone they trust to provide afternoon supervision for their children.

A man who lives in a major gang area was asked how he would protect his own children from gangs. He said that he would take his son around the neighborhood to show him the outcome of gang activity. He would point to the graffiti and the run-down buildings and show him “that the area doesn’t look safe and that gang members are just hanging around, hardly doing anything with their lives.” He added: “Then I’d explain that living by Bible principles would prevent him from having an outcome like that.”

Such a simple thing as our sincere interest in our children’s schoolwork can be a protection for them. If their school has a parents’ night or some other time when parents are invited to visit classrooms and talk with the teachers, make it a point to go. Know your children’s teachers, and let them know of your concern for your child and of your interest in his or her schooling. If the school does not have a school visitation program, try to find occasions to talk with the teachers about your child’s progress in school and about how you might be able to help.

A survey in one large American city found that among students whose family helped or encouraged them with homework, 9 percent had joined a gang. But in families where such attention was not given, twice as many students—18 percent—had joined a gang. If our family is loving and close-knit and if we do wholesome things together, it will reduce the likelihood that our children will be attracted by the false promises of gangs.

What Our Children Really Need

Our children need the same things we do—love, kindness, and affection. Many children have never been touched in an affectionate, loving manner or told that they really matter. May that never be the case with our children! May we hug them, tell them that we love them, and try to see that they live the moral way that we have taught them to live. They are too precious for us to treat them in any other way.

Gerald, a former gang member, explained: “I didn’t have a father to look up to, so I went to the gangs to fill that void in my life.” He began using drugs at the age of 12. But when he was 17, his mother began a regular home Bible study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She applied the Bible’s fine principles in her life. He says: “I saw the change in her, and I thought, ‘There’s got to be something to this.’” Her fine example prompted him to turn his life around.

Our children should see a good example in us—that we live the way we tell them to live. They should be able to have a good feeling about their family, not for what it possesses, but for what it does. And the children should have been helped in such a way that they feel good about their own moral behavior. Former Los Angeles County district attorney Ira Reiner put it this way: “We must get to kids before they get into gangs.”

Providing What They Need

It is not the material things we provide for our children that are of primary importance. What really counts is that we help them develop into loving and caring adults who have fine moral standards. The Bible says that righteous Jacob called his young ones “the children with whom God has favored [me].” (Genesis 33:5) If we look at our children that way—as gifts that God has given us—we will be more apt to treat them with love and to teach them to live honest, upright, and moral lives.

We will thus do all we can to live our own lives in such a way as to set the right example for our children. We will give them a proper and wholesome pride in their family, not in the family’s material possessions, but in the kind of people we are. Thus, they will be less likely to look for support from those on the streets.

Looking back on his youth, a grandfather says: “I would never have done anything to bring shame on my family.” He acknowledged that he felt this way because he was aware of the love that his parents had for him. True, demonstrating love for their children may not be easy for some mothers and fathers who never received love from their own parents. Nevertheless, parents need to work at showing love to their children.

Why is this so important? Because as “What’s Up,” a magazine published by the Utah Gang Investigators Association, said, “when youths feel loved and secure—not financially secure, but emotionally secure—the needs that drive them into gangs often vanish.”

Some readers may think that loving families like that hardly exist anymore. But they do. You can find many of them among the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. True, these families are not perfect, but they have a big advantage: They study what the Bible says about child rearing and strive to apply the Bible’s godly principles in their own lives. Moreover, they teach these principles to their children.

Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with the statement made in The Journal of the American Medical Association: “One cannot hope to have . . . teenagers ‘Just say no’ without giving them something to ‘Say yes’ to.” In other words, if we want our children to say yes to good and wholesome things, we must guide them in that direction.

None of us would ever want to have to say, as did one father: ‘In his gang my son found fellowship and respect that he had never felt before.’ Nor would we ever want to hear our children say, as one young person did: “I joined the gang because I needed a family.”

We, the parents, must be that family. And we must do everything we can to see that our precious young ones remain a warm and loving part of it.

A Checklist for Concerned Parents

  • Spend time at home with your children, and do things together as a family
  • Know your children’s friends and their families, and monitor where your children go and with whom
  • Let your children know that they can come to you at any time with any problem
  • Teach children to respect other people, their rights, and their ideas
  • Support your children by getting acquainted with their teachers, and let the teachers know that you appreciate them and support their efforts
  • Do not resolve problems by yelling or using violence

Your children need your warm affection.

 The Featured image credit to secureteen

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