Kids on every school campus show their allegiance to our Bay Area sports teams by donning their colors and logos, so I was surprised when I saw a couple of eighth grade boys wearing Cincinnati Reds Caps. Knowing these two boys, I was sure they were not fans and would bet they’ve never even been to Ohio. I asked them the significance of the caps and received a typical, eye-avoiding answer of, “I don’t know.”
Now, I am aware that the line between gang apparel and the latest fashions worn by pop stars and rappers is blurred. However, I do have enough street smarts to know that no child can be totally safe from gang influences.
Always the sleuth teacher, I Googled Cincinnati Reds Caps and my eyes were opened. According to various websites, Cincinnati Reds memorabilia is the second most gang-affiliated sports wear. Los Angeles Dodger clothing is number one. I investigated further and here’s some of what I discovered.
What to look for…
The Los Angels Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Raiders clothing, bandanas and other accessories have distinct meaning to gangs in the Bay Area. If your family is not a fan, but these team’s logos are being worn excessively by your teen or tween, they’re heading for trouble. Also, obsession with wearing only one or two colors is a red flag. This may include hair coloring, nail polish and other accessories.
Graffiti on notebooks, in bedrooms, or on backpacks can be a signal of gang influence or affiliation. Also, if your child’s behavior changes; if they are skipping school, have new, undesirable friends, or require much more privacy, it’s time to get seriously involved. Recruitment usually starts in middle school, but can be as young as eight.
Where to turn…
If you have questions or concerns, talk to your child first and then talk to an expert. Don’t be afraid to seek out the help of a your local police, crime prevention officer or school counselor. These people can give you support and information to help stop gang-related behavior before it escalates.
What to do…
Take a stand and get involved. If you see gang activity or graffiti in your neighborhood, report it to the local authorities right away, and keep reporting until something is done. Really monitor what your kids are doing. Listen to their music, check their backpacks, poke around their bedroom. Invite any new friends and their parents over under the guise of a get together.
After-school programs, church, sports teams, and clubs can all teach valuable life lessons and most importantly, keeps your children busy and safe. Often parents ‘take a back seat’ when their kids reach junior high. In fact, this is the time to be even more engaged. They are at a very vulnerable age and need your experience, love and guidance to navigate the unchartered waters of the teenage years.
Don’t be lulled into complacency by believing the stereotypical image of a “gang-banger.” Kids from all racial backgrounds and income levels are being lured in. As Maya Angelou advises, “When you know better, you do better.”
Contact Margaret Lavin at firstname.lastname@example.org.