What Families Could Do
An international gang researcher told me "Adults haven't bothered to ask
the youths what they want. We'd learn a lot if we'd do that. They
know what they need and we must know what those things are."
When friends and colleagues first learned I was going to
spend my sabbatical studying gangs, they asked me
why I was going to do that. "After all," they said,
"isn't it the family's fault?" They were referring to
the oft-heard comment that "bad" kids, or kids who join gangs, are
a product of dysfunctional families.
I was prone to accepting that explanation back then, but I
no longer accept it. After seeing the social environment in which many of
the families I studied reside,
I realized most gang youth come from families located in dysfunctional neighborhoods.
Few families in such dysfunctional settings can avoid becoming dysfunctional -
although some do. I
learned it was more the dysfunctional neighborhoods that needed
fixing than it was the families in them, although both need attention.
A neighborhood is dysfunctional if its residents live in fear. A
neighborhood is dysfunctional if its playgrounds are the haunt of drug dealers
and pimps. A neighborhood is dysfunctional if its schools have paint
peeling off the walls, out-dated libraries, and teachers who are afraid to
go to work.
A friend of mine was going to school for the first time as a
teacher. As she entered her classroom she noticed the blackboard in
the front of the room was shattered in three places.
During lunch she
visited with her new colleagues in the faculty lounge. She asked
"What happened to the blackboard in my classroom?"
"Don't you know," said one teacher. "No," she
replied. "You don't know why the position you filled was
open?," another asked. "No," she once again replied.
One of the school counselors
explained. "There was a shooting last semester. One of
the students, a nine-year-old boy, stood up in the back of the
classroom and shot at the teacher. The first two shots missed but
the third hit her in the neck and killed her."
A neighborhood is dysfunctional if its
residents see no hope of gainful employment nor hope for a better life for themselves
and their children. A neighborhood is dysfunctional if the social institutions
which are supposed to make life full of meaning and bountiful are weak,
absent, or in a state of denial.
I think it's possible that dysfunctional neighborhoods produce
dysfunctional families, not the other way around. For this reason I believe
gang activity and youth violence may be reduced by changing the neighborhood - by making its
social institutions more responsive to the needs of local residents. Rebuilding
the social institutions (i.e., school, faith, business, government, and
families) will restore a sense of "community" and should reduce gang activity and youth violence.
There's an analogy I like to use that is appropriate
here. Have you ever heard some one ask "What's the use of
rehabilitating criminals in prison when we just send them right back
to the neighborhoods from which they came and where crime is a way of
life?" Likewise, what sense is there in trying to rehabilitate a
family when the environment in which that family lives is
dysfunctional? Healthy families produce fewer delinquents and gang members
than do families that are dysfunctional.
Healthy or functional families may
be identified by exhibiting many different attributes. Among them are having
|love and take responsibility
for their children. |
|promote family activities to build strong and loving social
relationships (i.e., take picnics together, trips, tours, and bike
rides. Hold birthday
and graduation parties, attend sporting events and programs at the
local nature center. Take hikes and have weekly after-dinner
discussions. Watch a funny movie together and laugh a lot.).|
|provide positive family role models
(i.e., teach how to be a
good father or mother by conscientiously exhibiting
role-appropriate behaviors, relate to the children as one would
have them relate to others, resolve conflicts without resorting to
violence, abstain from substance abuse, model the work ethic).|
|establish clear rules and set
appropriate punishments for
their violation. They celebrate when the rules are
followed and use discipline when they are not. They scale
punishments to be minor for minor infractions and more significant
for more serious violations. At no time do punishments
include the use of violence (verbal, psychological, or physical).|
|promote the positive use of television and other forms of media.
They set certain hours during which TV may be watched (only after
completion of homework and for only so many hours). At least one
adult in the family watches
television with their child and talks about the programs when they
are over if explanations are needed. They use media programs as a teaching tool.|
|monitor the content of TV
programs, movies, and music to omit
the viewing of violence (verbal or physical) and include
positive programming (shows that promote socially responsible
values and depict such roles as student, child, and parent in a
positive light). If violence is viewed, it is discussed with the
child in order to build a resistance to and avoidance
of its use.|
|seek out parenting skills training and support for
social services that assist in efforts to reduce family violence and
|create multiple opportunities for
their children to learn more
about creating a healthy environment for themselves (i.e., the
friends they choose, the way they play, the foods they eat,
personal hygiene, abstaining from substance abuse).|
their child's education
in a positive manner. This may be accomplished by seeking or offering
tutoring for their child when needed, rewarding good performance,
encouraging regular attendance at school and participation in
extra-curricular activities (i.e., sports, theater and music, community
service) and by taking an active role at the school
meeting and getting to know their child's teachers and counselors.|
|know the children with whom
their child is socializing
and are wary of children exhibiting values that are in conflict with those
the parents are trying to foster in their child.|
Can Families Do?
The greatest contribution
families can make to reducing gang activity and youth violence is to raise
children who have no interest in getting involved in such behavior. The Search
Institute, known for their
assets approach to raising socially responsible and happy children,
offers families useful insights concerning parenting and family life.
According to the Search
Institute, "There are many
families can do to build assets in their children and adolescents ... An
asset-building approach to parenting has many
Instead of focusing on problems, the asset-building approach offers
approach to parenting." (Search Institute,
There's a great deal of
literature on the World Wide Web which is available for those interested in
raising healthy, gang-resistant, non-violence children. The following list
describes several of the best web-based materials available.
Useful Publications and Web Sites
Reducing Gang Violence
Here are some insights on how families can
deal with at-risk, aggressive children, how you can
Action Against Bullying and how
to raise children to resist violence.
Building Strong Families
Training: The Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14,
by Virginia K. Molgaard, Richard L. Spoth, and Cleve Redmond.
"The Strengthening Families
Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 has proven effective in reducing
adolescent substance abuse and other problem behaviors and in improving
parenting skills and enhancing child-parent relations. This Bulletin
serves as an important resource for educators, policymakers,
researchers, and community organizations in their efforts to improve the
outlook for children and families." (Wilson,
August, 2000, From the Administrator)
A growing number
of children are experiencing conduct problems—aggression,
noncompliance, and defiance—and at earlier ages. Because these
problems may be predictive of delinquency, violence, and other
antisocial behavior, escalating aggression in preschool and elementary
school children is a particular cause for concern.
June, 2000, page,
[see From the Administrator])
Skills Training for Parents and Children, by Karol L. Kumpfer and
Connie M. Tait.
"Originally designed as a drug abuse
prevention program to help drug abusing parents and their children, the
Strengthening Families Program has developed into a family-change
program that has served the needs of culturally and geographically
diverse families and their children across the Nation.
"Several examples of such varied adaptations of the
program's strategy are described in [this publication]. Suggestions for
implementing the program in communities are also provided, as are
additional resources that should prove useful." (Wilson,
June, 2000, page,
[see From the Administrator])
Anonymous: Strengthening Relationships
"This Bulletin describes how the organization
works to strengthen families by promoting parent leadership, mutual
support, shared leadership, and personal growth. Programs that support
positive development are also offered for children.
"The Bulletin tells the story of the creation of
Parents AnonymousSM by a concerned mother and her social
worker, summarizes its structure, and describes key program components.
A typical weekly meeting is detailed and examples of Parents AnonymousSM
programs are provided." (Bilchik,
April, 1999, page,
[see From the Administrator])
Strengthening and Support Services
Morley, et al., (2000)
review several community-based family support
programs which have proven to be successful in strengthening families.
Fatherhood, by Eileen M. Garry.
"This report examines the role
States play in promoting responsible fatherhood, looks at trends
across the States, identifies and profiles State strategies to
encourage fathers to be responsible, and summarizes fatherhood-related
data on a State-by-State basis." (OJJDP,
Works: Strategies for Building Stronger Families
The University of Illinois Extension
office provides useful information linked to each of the following
Diversity, and Maximizing
Parenting Wisely intervention is a self-administered, computer-based
program that teaches parents and their 9- to 18-year-old children
important skills for combating risk factors for substance use and abuse.
The Parenting Wisely program uses a risk-focused approach to reduce
family conflict and child behavior problems, including stealing,
vandalism, defiance of authority, bullying, and poor hygiene. The highly
interactive and nonjudgmental CD-ROM format accelerates learning, and
parents use new skills immediately.
The Parenting Wisely program: reduces
children's aggressive and disruptive behaviors; improves parenting
skills; enhances family communication; develops mutual support; and
increases parental supervision and appropriate discipline of their
children. (Source: The US Department of Health and Human Services).
Click here to
read a real story of a single mother of five who, desperate to
control her kids, used the Parenting Wisely Intervention. There are
other "Model Progams" in which you may be interested (see the list
of them on the left side of the web page).
Insights on Childhood
Incredible Years Training Series, by
"The Incredible Years Parents,
Teachers, and Children Training Series, described in this Bulletin, is
designed to prevent, reduce, and treat conduct problems among children
ages 2 to 10 and to increase their social competence." (Carolyn
Webster-Stratton, 2000, page,
see From the Administrator)
Nurturing Parenting Programs, by Stephen J. Bavolek, Ph.D.
"This Bulletin describes how
parenting patterns are learned and how the Nurturing Parenting
Programs help to stop the generational cycle of abuse and neglect by
building nurturing parenting skills." (Wilson,
November, 2000, page, [see From the Administrator])
Skills for Successful Parenting, from
The author identifies appropriate disciplinary
techniques for use with children and guidelines for successful
Families and Schools
The National Parent
Teacher's Association (PTA)
The PTA offers several useful
flyers each on a different way to provide a healthy lifestyle for
The National Parent
Information Network (NPIN)
"The mission of NPIN is to provide
access to research-based information about the process of parenting, and
about family involvement in education. We believe that well-informed
families are likely to make good decisions about raising and educating their
and Schools Together (FAST): Building Relationships, by Lynn
McDonald, ACSW, Ph.D., and Heather E. Frey.
"Youth at risk of adolescent delinquency often
come from stressed and socially isolated families. These children also
frequently fail in school and may eventually drop out. This Bulletin
profiles a program, Families and Schools Together (FAST), that brings
at-risk children and their families together in multifamily groups to
strengthen families and increase the likelihood that children will
succeed at home, at school, and in the community.
"Based on research and family therapy, FAST builds
protective factors for children and increases parent involvement with
the family, other parents, the school, and the community." (Bilchik,
November, 1999, page
[see From the Administrator])
Focus Adolescent Services
This organization provides useful
online information on parenting teens.
Can I Be Involved in My Child's Education?, by Lynn Liontos. (This
site may load slowly on your computer.)
This two-part publication, sponsored
by the Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) Clearinghouse on
Educational Management, answers the following questions: What Can I Do
To Involve Myself With My Child's School?, How Can I Help My Child With
Homework?, How Can I Make Our Home a Good Place for My Child To Learn?,
What Should I Do If My Child Isn't Doing Well in School?, What If My
Child Doesn't Like School?, and provides a list of resource organizations
for parental involvement.
The Impact of Divorce and
Separation on Children
Disruption and Delinquency, by Terence P. Thornberry, Carolyn A.
Smith, Craig Rivera, David Huizinga, and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber.
"Despite a multitude of happy
exceptions, it is a sad truth that children in families disrupted by
divorce or separation have a greater chance of exhibiting problem
behavior, including delinquency, than children being raised by two
parents. This Bulletin examines the impact that multiple changes in family
structure have on an adolescent's risk of serious problem behavior." (Bilchik,
September, 1999, page
[see From the Administrator])
That concludes a review of some of the things families could do to raise
children with little interest in gangs or in behaving violently. Now let's take a look at what reformed gang members could do to help reduce gang activity and youth violence.
What to do when your
teenager is in trouble. Resources on
and family issues.
recognize when your child might be involved in a gang from
with Dignity. The National Crime Prevention Council sells a useful
kit entitled Tools to Involve
Parents in Gang Prevention.
The Center for Disease Control and
Prevention offers information on
for preventing youth violence.
Dad Zone at Baby Center if you're planning on having baby,
expecting a baby, or just became a dad. Or visit Parenting
101, "a place to build parenting skills that help parents to
discipline kids from toddlers to teens as well as to encourage children
and adolescents to feel positive about themselves and to become the
winners they were meant to be." (page)
Parenting Skills is a wonderful source of information on how to handle
aggression in one's child as well as depression, drugs, and other matters.
Ladies Home Journal has some useful tips on
Resources, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, offers a
wealth of information on effective parenting.
The Anti-Drug is a very useful site and one which helps parents deal
with the difficult subject of drugs and discipline in the home.
you the parent of a tagger?
Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.