Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sue Scheff: Gangs

Source: Connect with Kids
“Usually I know guys paralyzed for life…sipping through straws.”

– “Jose”, 19

He doesn’t want to reveal his name. We’ll call him “Jose”. He was 12 when he joined a gang. Jose says, “I’m looking at them like, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ And they’re like, ‘If you’re going to do it you’ve got to say yes, you don’t think about it.’”

Saying yes meant a three-minute beating from four older gang members. He says, “They only give you three chances to fall down. After the third one, you got jumped for being stupid.” He didn’t fall down. He was beaten and bloody, but he made it into the gang.

Police say at first, gangs hide the crime and violence from their new recruits. Corporal Edward Campuzano, a gang officer with the Cobb County Police Department in Georgia says, “To them it’s one big party. What they don’t realize a lot of times, is that it might be like that at the beginning, but if you stay focused on that gang and you progressively get older, you’re progressively required to do other things and start committing crimes and start giving back to that gang.”

He says parents should explain to kids that “giving back to the gang means” fighting, stealing, and killing people. Corporal Campuzano says, “That’s when it doesn’t become appealing to them and they try to get out, and they can’t get out because now they have to take what is known to them as a beat out.” It’s a beating to get out of the gang. Jose says, during the beating, gang members could use any weapon but a gun. Often kids die….others barely live. Jose says, “Usually I know guys paralyzed for life…sipping through straws.”

So Jose left the gang, but he was never “beat out.” Now, and maybe forever…he is forced to hide.

Jose is 19-years-old. He never finished school, never learned to control his temper, and has been fired from several jobs. That’s why he’s hoping his story will keep others out of a gang.

Tips for Parents
Gangs are the new mafia, and their organization systems resemble traditional Cosa Nostra operations. Gang crime runs the spectrum of offenses, including underage drinking, extortion, prostitution, drug manufacturing and distribution, and murder. National gang organizations, with infamous names like Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings, often send trusted lieutenants to cities across the country to establish local chapters, called “sets.” Consider the following:

■Gang violence is not an urban problem or a rural problem, nor is it a problem for any one economic class – it is a community-wide problem.
■In 2002, youth gangs were active in over 2,300 cities with populations over 2,500.
■Over 90 percent of large cities (population over 100,000) in the United States reported gang activity between 1996 and 2001.
■There are more than 750,000 gang members nationwide.
■Ninety-five percent of hard-core gang members drop out of high school, and most range in age from 12 to 24.
■The media’s dissemination of gang culture and a restructuring of the economy (unemployment, increases in the urban underclass, etc.) are cited as major factors in the rise of gangs during the ‘90s.
A street gang occurs when three or more people share a unique name or display identifiable marks or symbols (e.g. tattoos, clothing styles, colors, hairstyles, graffiti) and associate together on a regular basis, often claiming a specific location or territory. A gang will have an identifiable organization or hierarchy, and a typical gang will engage in antisocial, unlawful or criminal activity in an effort to further the gang's social or economic status. Such behavior can be carried out either individually or collectively.

Risk factors for gang membership include individual characteristics, family conditions, problematic parent-child relations, low school attachment and academic achievement, peer group influences, prior and/or early involvement in delinquency (especially violence and drug use), association with peers who engage in delinquency, community context, and disorganized neighborhoods where many youth are in trouble. Often, a gang provides young members with comforts society and/or family fails to give them. A gang can morph into the child’s parental unit and also his/her sibling. Gangs can provide a sense of belonging, security and economic opportunity. Unfortunately, most monies are generally attained through crime.

Gender-mixed gangs are becoming more common. Years ago, females were considered property of gang members. Today, some gangs are initiating females as full-fledged members. Estimates indicate between 25 and 33 percent of all youth gang members are female. Consider the following:

■Police see gang recruitment directed toward students as early as elementary school.
■A survey of nearly 6,000 eighth-graders in 11 cities found that 11 percent were currently gang members, and 17 percent said they had belonged to a gang at some point in their life.
■Gang members are far more likely than other delinquents to carry guns and, perhaps more importantly, to use them.
■Research has consistently shown that adolescents are significantly more criminally active during periods of active gang membership.
■Gangs are showing increased sophistication. For example, hard-core gang members are shying away from wearing gang colors or getting symbolic tattoos, knowing school and police authorities will recognize such signs.
Kids often participate in gang activities without their parents’ knowledge, and children can become interested in gang activity as young as elementary-school age. As a parent, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that could indicate your child’s interest in gangs. This is a partial list of those signs, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

■Your child suddenly begins performing poorly in school
■He/she doesn't attend school regularly
■He/she becomes disinterested in extra-curricular activities or family events
■He/she has negative contact with the police
■He/she writes the name of a gang in graffiti, or you find gang symbols in his/her notebooks or in his/her room
■He/she has problems at home
■He/she has gang tattoos
■He/she has friends who are in gangs
■He/she dresses in gang clothing
As a parent, you can play a huge role in helping your child feel accepted, important, worthy and loved – the feelings he/she seeks. For instance, if you continually skip meetings with teachers or don’t attend your child’s team games or extracurricular activities, your child may begin to feel unwanted or underappreciated, increasing the risk that he/she will seek approval elsewhere. Experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have developed a list of other tips to help you minimize the chances of your child joining a gang:

■Get to know your child's friends, how they influence him/her and what they do when they're together. Discourage your child from hanging out with gangs.
■Spend your free time with your child. Give him/her chores to do around the house or enroll him/her in after-school activities, sports, and community center or church programs.
■Stress the value of an education and motivate your child to do well in school.
■Develop good communication skills with your child. Good communication means that it's open, frequent and positive. This will allow your child to express himself or herself and confide in you.
■Find positive role models for your child.
■Plan activities for the entire family, such as trips to parks, libraries, museums or the beach. Give your child attention!
■Give your child some one-on-one time – your undivided attention.
■Don't let your child wear clothing that resembles gang wear. It might attract attention from the wrong people.
■Set limits and rules for your child. From an early age, let him/her know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Enforce a curfew. Don't let him/her hang out until all hours of the night.
■Don't let your child write or draw gang-like graffiti.
■Get involved in your child’s education. Go to his/her school, get to know his/her teachers and attend parent-teacher events.
■Learn about gangs and gang activity in your community. Get educated!

■Faith and the City
■Gang Resistance Education And Training
■Know Gangs
■Michigan State University
■The National Youth Gang Center
■U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
■The Nawojczyk Group, Inc

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sue Scheff: Connecting with your Preteen


Connecting with Your Pre-Teen

Staying connected as kids approach the teen years and become more independent may become a challenge for parents, but it’s as important as ever — if not more so now.

While activities at school, new interests, and a growing social life become more important to growing kids, parents are still the anchors, providing love, guidance, and support.

And that connection provides a sense of security and helps build the resilience kids needs to roll with life’s ups and downs.

What to Expect
Your preteen may act as if your guidance isn’t welcome or needed, and even seem embarrassed by you at times. This is when kids start to confide more in peers and request their space and privacy — expect the bedroom door to be shut more often.

As difficult as it may be to swallow these changes, try not to take them personally. They’re all signs of growing independence. You’re going to have to loosen the ties and allow some growing room.

But you don’t have to let go entirely. You’re still a powerful influence — it’s just that your preteen may be more responsive to the example you set rather than the instructions you give. So practice what you’d like to preach, just preach it a little less for now.

Modeling the qualities that you want your preteen to learn and practice — respectful communication, kindness, healthy eating, and fulfilling everyday responsibilities without complaining — makes it more likely that your son or daughter will comply.

What You Can Do
Small, simple things can reinforce connection. Make room in your schedule for special times, take advantage of the routines you already share, and show that you care.

Here are some tips:

•Family meals: It may seem like drudgery to prepare a meal, particularly after a long day. But a shared family meal provides valuable together time. So schedule it and organize it just as you would any other activity. Even if you have to pick up something pre-made, sit down together to eat it. Turn off the TV and try to tune out the ringing phone. If it’s impossible to do every night, schedule a regular weekly family dinner night that accommodates kids’ schedules. Make it something fun, and get everyone involved in the preparation and the cleanup. Sharing an activity helps build closeness and connection, and everyone pitching in reinforces a sense of responsibility and teamwork.

•Bedtime and goodnight: Your child may not need to be tucked in anymore, but maintaining a consistent bedtime routine helps preteens get the sleep needed to grow healthy and strong. So work in some winding-down time together before the lights go out. Read together. Go over the highlights of the day and talk about tomorrow. And even if your preteen has outgrown the tuck-in routine, there’s still a place for a goodnight kiss or hug. If it’s shrugged off, try a gentle hand on the shoulder or back as you wish your child a good night’s sleep.

•Share ordinary time: Find little things that let you just hang out together. Invite your preteen to come with you to walk the dog. Invite yourself along on his or her run. Washing the car, baking cookies, renting movies, watching a favorite TV show — all are opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. And they’re chances for kids to talk about what’s on their mind. Even riding in the car is an opportunity to connect. When you’re driving, your preteen may be more inclined to mention a troubling issue. Since you’re focused on the road, he or she doesn’t have to make eye contact, which can ease any discomfort about opening up.

•Create special time: Make a tradition out of celebrating family milestones beyond birthdays and holidays. Marking smaller occasions like a good report card or a winning soccer game helps reinforce family bonds.

•Show affection: Don’t underestimate the value of saying and showing how much you love your preteen. Doing so ensures that kids feel secure and loved. And you’re demonstrating healthy ways to show affection. Still, preteens may start to feel self-conscious about big displays of affection from parents, especially in public. They may pull away from your hug and kiss, but it’s not about you. Just reserve this type of affection for times when friends aren’t around. And in public, find other ways to show that you care.
A smile or a wave can convey a warm send-off while respecting boundaries. Recognize out loud your child’s wonderful qualities and developing skills when you see them. You might say, “That’s a beautiful drawing — you’re really very artistic” or “You were great at baseball practice today — I loved watching you out there.”

•Stay involved: Stay involved in your preteen’s expanding pursuits. Getting involved gives you more time together and shared experiences. You don’t have to be the Scout leader, homeroom mom, or soccer coach to be involved. And your child may want to do more activities where you’re not in charge. That’s OK. Go to games and practices when you can; when you can’t, ask how things went and listen attentively. Help kids talk through the disappointments, and be sympathetic about the missed fly ball that won the game for the other team. Your attitude about setbacks will teach your preteen to accept and feel OK about them, and to summon the courage to try again.

•Stay interested: Stay interested and curious about your preteen’s ideas, feelings, and experiences. If you listen to what he or she is saying, you’ll get a better sense of the guidance, perspective, and support needed. And responding in a nonjudgmental way means your child will be more likely to come to you anytime tough issues arise.