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For Parents

About Gangs…
A gang is a group of (usually young) people who claim some territory (called turf) and use it to make money. Gangs make money through illegal activities such as drug trafficking and extortion.

Gangs recruit most heavily in public schools. They may recruit children as young as nine, knowing that the judicial system is more lenient on younger children and that, thus, younger members can be sacrificed on riskier jobs for the gang.

Gangs tend to mark their members and their territories. Gang members will wear certain colors, symbols, or tattoos to show their affiliations. Gangs will also mark and destroy property to claim it and to show boundaries to other gangs. When a person wearing the signs of one gang enters the territory of another, bloodshed is not uncommon.

Why Youth Join Gangs

The social and economic environments of many neighborhoods lure young people into gangs.

  • Young people will join to feel accepted. Gangs can provide a surrogate family to youth who may feel that they lack a home.
  • They also join when they feel unsafe; gangs offer a sense of protection to their members. Similarly, gangs will intimidate young people into joining, making them feel unsafe unless they join.
  • Finally, youth who feel that their economic futures are bleak will join gangs for money. Gangs are often seen as money makers—they deal in the highly profitable drug trade, which is often accompanied by violence.

What You Can Do
You can reduce the risk that your child will join a gang. Teaching children about the risks of gang membership—especially the violence—is essential. Also be sure to emphasize the fact that the supposed upsides are false; most gang members do not make more than the minimum wage, and gang members are at greater risk of violence, not less. Also be sure that your child is involved in positive activities, such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, sports programs, or hobby clubs. By providing information and care, you can greatly reduce the risk that your child will join a gang.


The news stories are frightening: a child accidentally shoots a sibling while handling a gun; a child brings a gun to school to settle an argument with a peer; a young person is shot by a stray bullet while playing outside her home.

Incidents like these happen every day in the United States. On an average day in 2002, eight young people were killed by a gun – that’s one every three hours (Children’s Defense Fund).

The good news is that parents can do a lot to protect their children from gun violence. A good start is to follow these three rules:

  • Lock it up.
  • Teach that guns kill.
  • Explain how to act around guns.

Lock it up.
If you own a gun, keep it locked up, unloaded, and out of reach of children. Store your ammunition separately and keep your ammunition locked up, too. And invest in a trigger lock for your gun.

Not only is it safer to lock up guns and ammunition, but it can be illegal not to. In some states a gun owner can be charged with a crime if he or she doesn’t make an effort to keep the firearm away from minors and a minor uses the gun.

Teach that guns kill.
Kids may not realize that guns can be deadly. In television shows, movies, and video games, violence often doesn’t have consequences. After being shot, a cartoon character may have a hole in his stomach, but it disappears in the next scene. The leading characters in movies never die, only the bad guys do. In video games, characters have many lives.

But parents can use these media as a way to teach their children about the real-life impacts of guns. If you see an example of violence, ask your children what the consequences would be if it happened outside a Hollywood production. Talk about everyone who is affected by gun violence, such as the victim’s children, parents, friends, and community. Discuss the consequences for the shooter and for the shooter’s family— such as jail time and guilt.

Explain how to act around guns.
Even if you don’t own a gun, it’s likely one of your neighbors does. Thirty-five percent of adults live in a home with at least one gun, according to John Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Policy and Research.  If children know how you want them to act around guns, they’ll be more likely to act in a safe manner. Teach kids the four steps to gun safety:

  • Stop.
  • Don’t touch.
  • Get away.
  • Tell an adult.

Talk about specific examples of places your children may see a gun and have your children tell you what they would do. You could talk about the following examples:

  • A friend shows your child his dad’s gun.
  • Your child sees a gun in a classmate’s locker or backpack.
  • Your child overhears a classmate talking about bringing a gun to school.
  • Your child sees a person walk into a store holding a gun.
  • Your child finds a gun while playing outdoors.