There are always articles and stories about what parents should look out for when dealing with a child or teen who becomes gang involved. We all too frequently see these, read them and many of us think "thank god" it's not my child! Like many things, parents are frequently behind the curve when dealing with the issues that face their children.

When we send them to school we expect that they will learn Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. That they will be enlightened about Science, Art and Music. But what we never really think about is who is going to teach our children what the differences are between a good and a bad group? Seriously do we really need to teach our kids about this? I mean really? Well I am not suggesting that everyone needs to teach their children about it, but let me add this supposition into the mix.  Suppose that your child is having problems, it could be at school with a clique of friends, it could be a miss understanding about "looks", words or mishaps of behavior, or it could be a genuine issue concerning the safety of your child or teen.  How as adults should we address this issue? Do we wait until it is already in play or do we address it before it even unfolds? I am a firm believer in the later.

"Chance favors the prepared mind" I really do believe that quote. Why? Because preparing a youth or teen for what can happen can overt many of the common miss-steps and pitfalls that face today's teens The alternative is that a teen is confused and as a result turns to their "friends" for assistance when they should be turning to you, their parents or guardians. By addressing this issue now, you will find that you become the "go to" person in times of trouble for your teen. What you want to avoid are those times of turmoil, confusion, or misinterpretation that face every teen to be addressed by another teen. You will want to be the person whom your child turns too! Is this difficult, at times it can be! There will be those times when your child or teen will not turn to you for help. But which would you prefer? Your teens turning to their "friends", who may provide miss-guided advice, without life's experience, rarely considering the values, norms and traditions that you hold dear to you.

Would you tolerate the same from the teachers at your child's school? Most of us would resoundingly say "No!"  We would never tolerate them teaching our children. it is acceptable to try drugs, to experiment with risky criminal behavior. Schools have to get permissions slips to allow the "talk" about sexual intercourse.

Imagine if they said, in a permission slip. "Dear Parents we will be conducting a series of presentations for your child. In this series they will learn how to properly roll a joint. Then they will observe another student learn how to inhale and hold their breathe, so they can keep the maximum amount of THC in their system.  Next will be the presenter who shows your teen how to breakdown the heroin they purchased, by mixing it with other products to increase their profit margins. Absurd? Absolutely!

But why would we leave the same issues up to our children and their peers to help them decide those issues, the experience of the past has only shown us the catastrophe that has become.  The confusion that adults have created with the "Medical Marijuana" debate has only made it more confusing for teens.  No wonder that usage rates for teens have level off over the last two years. Coincidence, I think not.
Back several months ago we covered the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Which discuss the entire issue of a teens desire to belong. This surrounds the Group Dynamic that so many young people desire to be involved in. Typically between the ages of 12-21 the phenomena involving social psychology comes into play when dealing with group crimes. Part of this issue is called evaluation apprehension, which is a general tendency to be concerned with how others evaluate them.

Part of being around people creates a sense of arousal, not sexual, but awareness of a group. This heightened arousal increases with stress, which is called social facilitation. If the person experiences mild to moderate levels of stress (at work or school) we may increase our level of performance. But, if there is a high level of stress (like pressure from a peer group to commit a crime), we tend to perform more poorly, i.e., our decision-making process is affected.

Within groups, people tend to experience a sense of de-individuation, a loss of self-awareness and evaluation apprehension. This occurs regardless of whether the group is good or bad. The reality is that anonymity creates a feeling that is pleasurable. Examples would be in rioting that occurs after Hurricane Katrina, and the recent democratic events in Egypt and Libya.  Because this diminished self-awareness disconnects ones' behavior from one's attitudes or values. Allowing for behavior changes that would not normally occur in an individual.

Group polarization is a component of group-produced enhancement of the members pre-existing tendencies. This is a strengthening of the member's average tendency, not a split within the group.  To phrase it another way, not every person in the group will have a pre-existing tendency towards crime. But, a risky shift can occur where the group is willing to make a riskier decision than they would as individuals. Group consensus may occur and after discussions individuals also alter their ways of thinking about the situation often because they want to be accepted by others (Maslow's theory).

Group think is an exaggerated example of this phenomenon. Group think occurs when an amiable, cohesive groups exists, there is a relative isolation of the group from dissenting viewpoints, and there exists a directive leader who signals what decisions she or he favors. Within the group a series of processes occur:
  • Tendency to overestimate their invulnerability.
  • Unquestioned belief in the group's morality.
  • Members rationalize their decisions and behavior and close off their minds to other possibilities.
  • Tendency to view their opponent through stereotypes.
  • Pressure to conform to the group.
  • Censorship of disagreements which creates an illusion of unanimity.
  • Some members of the group control (protect) other members from information that would call into question the effectiveness or mortality of its decisions.
It should be noted that not all groups become violent or commit acts of violence. But when they are left to their own decisions without guidance of an adult, behaviors can turn violent.

Good Group Dynamics
Teaching teens about what a good group dynamic is important. It helps them understand the pit-falls that face a group as well to understand what occurs within a group that can lead to behaviors that would be considered inappropriate.

How do we teach that, is always the question?

  1. Discuss with teens what a good group is! By that I mean all groups do not inherently have criminal intent behind them. It is their actions and the actions of the group that make them criminal organizations. Good groups are those that have a common bond, in which the groups goals is to achieve something positive. Not criminal, not negative!  Good groups help their members succeed, through guidance, camaraderie and shared goals. Great examples are the Boy Scouts, 4 H and Girl Scouts.
  2. Be available. Be there when your teen has questions, pay attention to them when they come to you. In our difficult lives, we are all pressed for time. But take a moment to sit down with your children. Dinner time is one of those great times to have discussions, shut the TV off and let the conversation flow. Schedule times, use the medium your teens use. Send them a text message saying you want to meet them to discuss an issue. You will be surprised how they respond.
  3. Be Humble. Remember we do not have all the answers. When you don't know the answer seek out the help you need to get the right answers and the help you need. There are very few people who have experienced all of what life offers. Be willing to reach out and seek the help that will meet your needs, goals and desires when it comes to the health and well being of your children.
  4. Be their parent, not their friend. Many parents seek friendship with their children as a way to not only get their children to like them, but to also get them to comply with their wishes.  Which almost always backfires, teens don't need adult friends. They need their parents to be their parents. "In absence of order, is Chaos.", many parents forget this, it is what ever teen craves, order. Teens like things to be set up for them, such as rules, requirements, it makes the decision making model easier for them to achieve. But in absence of rules, teens are left to their own decision making model and it is flawed because of hormones, maturity and inexperience. So let their be rules!
  5. Be a Role Model. This is probably the most over discussed issue for all prevention related tips, but it is also the one that is most missed. If you are telling your child not to drink and drive, you can't be doing it either. The same goes for texting and driving! Don't do it! If they see you doing it, it must be OK, so why can't I, will be their thinking. Walk the talk!