While the numbers of youth who have joined a gang have increased on a national level, given its proper context, the truth is that most American youth never join gangs. According to renowned gang research experts, Malcolm W. Klein and Cheryl L. Maxson:
“The best estimate of general U.S. youth gang prevalence is 5% ever-joined, 2% current gang members…Perhaps the strongest message in this research is that even with unrestricted definitions in high risk populations, most youth – 7 or 8 out of 10 – do not join gangs through adolescence.” – Klein, Maxson, 2006. “Street Gang Patterns and Policies”, Oxford University Press
Thus, with this fact (which is seldom given its proper attention) we gain a new perspective in searching for answers to gang prevention. In fact, in our search for solutions to the question “Why kids join gangs?” given the research, this is the wrong question. The correct question is, “Why do most kids not join gangs?” And the answer is: most kids don’t join gangs because they come from homes where they have been raised to be obedient to their parents, have respect for authority and, most importantly, have received unconditional love that gives the child inner security and self-worth that satisfies their individual need to belong and matter. Thus, contrary to the conventional wisdom of developing another youth program, the best solution to preventing youth from joining gangs is in addressing this relationship issue in the home with parents. Hopefully, communities will continue to emphasize parent training as a root prevention tool that should be at the core of any community strategy dealing with gang prevention.
What is Gang Prevention?
Many practitioners confuse “intervention” with “prevention.” For example, when a child begins to act out, or commits their first misdemeanor or crime, practitioners begin to employ their strategy to “prevent” that youngster from joining a gang or continuing down the negative road he has started on. Or, when gangs become active by committing crimes in the community, police and other agencies get busy to “prevent” further gang activity. However, this is not “prevention”, but rather “intervention” to stop the youngster or gang from committing further violations of the law. This is an important distinction, especially when we consider our priorities in the use of limited community resources. Of course, this type of intervention work is necessary, but insufficient, in getting to the root issues of preventing children from ever desiring to go down the road of delinquency and joining a gang. This is the prevention parents are looking for, rather than assuming, guessing, and hoping that their son or daughter never desires to join any negative lifestyle such as a neighborhood gang.
More Youth Programs Can’t Replace Parents
Community youth programs are good, needed and well intended. But they can never replace the important role of the parents nurturing and cultivating children who grow to be positive, contributing members of their community and therefore have no need—to join a gang—or any other negative lifestyle.
Why More Parks, Pools, Police and Programs Won’t Prevent More Gangs
Gangs are not the result of a lack of community programs or police, but rather the result of larger social issues that we have not been able to resolve. Research shows that wherever problems such as broken families, alcohol abuse, poverty, racism and the demand for drugs exist in a community – gangs will be spawned. Although there has been a history of government funded community youth programs aimed at resolving these issues, we are still losing the battle and therefore gangs will continue to remain in our midst as long as these larger social issues remain unresolved.
What Gangs Want From Your Children
Practitioners experienced with the gang culture know that loyalty is the glue, the key ingredient, and the main qualification that allows membership into a gang and keeps gangs together and committed to their cause. The power of gang loyalty is seen in the willingness of gang members to commit crimes, do physical harm to others, go to jail or prison and even die for their “homeboys and barrio”.
Parent training educates parents to understand the real power of loyalty. This serves to empower them to know that the answer to their worries or concerns about neighborhood gangs is not “out there” somewhere, but is really under their control, under their roof, and under their loving guidance. Proper training instructs parents how to win the loyalty of their children even in the midst of a gang-infested neighborhood.