Role of Teachers in Discouraging Gang Membership & Violence

Instructor: Ame Frey

Ame has a Master’s Degree in Justice Administration and a Doctoral Degree in Education Counseling Psychology. Ame is a College Professor and Criminal Justice Program Director. Ame has over 17 years of experience as an educator and working in the Criminal Justice field.

In this lesson, you will learn some reasons why kids join gangs and we will discuss how schools and teachers can help discourage gang membership. We will also discuss strategies that can help keep kids out of gangs.

Why Do Kids Join Gangs and Why Should You Care?

Becoming a gang member for many children is not a choice, it is a determination due to their environment. According to the National Gang Center, gang affiliation is highest in larger cities and suburban counties. However, smaller cities and rural counties have seen a rise in gang membership, and statistics show there are equal proportions of juvenile and adult gang members in these areas. Gang member affiliation by race reveals that Hispanic/Latino and African American are predominant and members are predominantly male.

What does this information reveal you might ask? Well, what this tells us is that it is quite possible that the adults in these children's lives are not providing an environment that encourages legal, positive, and/or nonviolent activities. It also tells us there is a significant need for educators in these areas to learn how to create a safe learning environment that teaches children academic and social skills that are healthy.

Why Do Kids Join?

In order to learn how to discourage gang membership, we must first understand why they join gangs in the first place. The majority of kids who join gangs do so because they consider this life to be the only option. Gang affiliation is a family tradition and they have grown up seeing the violence and criminal behavior. They also know that if they don't have the gang to protect them they will likely be targets for rival gangs. Kids who have family members in gangs will likely join the gang because it is an expectation.

There are many familial variables associated with kids who join gangs. The majority of gang affiliation occurs in low socioeconomic areas. In these areas, many families have minimal parental involvement and supervision with low expectations for academic achievement. Kids in these situations have behavior and emotional issues. Gang membership gives kids the family they don't have and provides stability they desire.

Joining a gang benefits them financially. According to the National Gang Intelligence Center, the most common criminal activities among gangs are drugs, sex, and weapons trafficking, assault, homicide, burglary, robbery, financial fraud, and intimidation. During the commission of these crimes the gangs reap significant financial benefits and flaunt them openly for others to see. The lure of quick money is impressive to kids. These kids also look up to gang members as their heroes and see them as fearless and invincible.

What Are Some Risk Factors Teachers Can Look for?

Some risk factors associated with gang activity include poor academic achievement, lack of motivation and commitment, violent behavior, devaluing school importance, drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, associating with risky peers, and poverty.

School is looked at as a meeting place rather than a place to learn and improve their lives. Devaluing the importance of education is reinforced by the child's environment at home. Statistics show that parents who did not graduate high school and did not attend college are less likely to see the importance of school for their children. This means if they don't care about education neither do their kids.

Kids that struggle academically and have been identified as being learning disabled struggle often socially. These kids can become targets of ridicule from peers which increase their frustration and anger. All people want to belong and these students are no different. In order to belong, they tend to affiliate with peers who are like them. This sense of belonging is why gangs are so strong. They are loyal to each other and will protect each other.

What Can Teachers Do to Help Keep Kids Out of Gangs?

Kids learn to salute at Yawkey Boys and Girls Club
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Kids who are susceptible to gang affiliation need positive role models in their lives. These kids commonly lack the structured, nurturing, and supportive environment at home, therefore, it's up to the schools and the community to positively impact their lives. As teachers, we are with the children much of their lives. Teachers must learn how to recognize and handle kids in various situations. Kids who struggle academically, behaviorally, and socially need additional support and patience.

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