Know the facts
Before you talk to your child about gangs, you'll need to make sure you know what you're talking about. It's important to understand why young people are drawn towards gangs in the first place, and you'll need to know what the law says.
There's also a big difference between the fantasy of being in a gang and the reality, which may seem obvious to you but will not be so obvious to your child.
Know the signs
There are a number of warning signs to look out for which could suggest that your child is involved with a gang. Things like a change of appearance, new slang words, new friends and even falling out with old friends could all be significant.
What you can do
There are many things you can do to help prevent your child getting involved with a gang. The most important thing is to talk to and be open with your child, and be as involved in their life as possible.
If you think your child is already in a gang, it may be harder to get them to talk about it but there are ways to approach the subject.
Why do young people join street gangs?
Young people can join gangs for a number of reasons:
- a sense of belonging
- power over other people
- money from crime
Being in a gang - the fantasy and reality
Children may think that being in a gang will give them a glamorous lifestyle, but the reality is very different. Being in a gang puts children and young people at more risk of:
- committing crime
- dealing or taking drugs
- ending up in prison
- being a victim of violence or even death
Gangs and the law
Although there are no laws banning gangs or gang membership, there are laws to prevent the criminal activity of gangs. These laws include the following:
- drugs like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy are illegal to have, or carry
- it is illegal to carry or keep a gun without a licence, including fake or replica guns
The law is also very strict on knife possession. It is illegal to carry a knife in public without a reasonable explanation. In the eyes of the law, a reasonable explanation does not include carrying a knife:
- for someone else
- for protection
- with no intention of using it
Carrying a gun or a knife could mean being arrested, going to court and ending up with a criminal record that will affect the rest of that person’s life. Having a criminal record can prevent people from getting a job, going to university or college, or even travelling abroad.
If your child is already involved in a gang
You will need to talk to your child but this could be a tricky conversation – they may be scared or unwilling to talk about it. But it is important that they know that you want to listen and support them.
It’s also important to be clear that your child does have a choice even when they think they may not - they don't have to follow the crowd.
Your approach will be more effective if you:
- stay calm and rational, no matter how upset you are
- ask questions, rather than making accusations or rash statements
- listen carefully to what they say without interrupting them
- really try to understand the situation from their point of view and why they have joined the gang
- ask them what you can do to help, rather than telling them what they have to do
- point out the risks and consequences of carrying, or worse still using a gun or a knife (remember that many people who are hurt by guns or knives have their own weapon used against them)
- try to come up with an agreement on what to do next
- work with them to find alternatives to being in the gang