Warn children about gangsterism

I am a regular reader of your column. I just wanted to know if you can write about how you view the gang problem in our coloured communities and if there’s any advice for parents to keep their children from associating with the wrong friends.

There are a lot of reasons why youth get involved in gangs. Sometimes young people get “pulled” into a gang because they think they might earn a lot of money and gain status, or they may think it is a good way to show family, neighbourhood, or cultural pride.

Other times youth get “pushed” into a gang because they are afraid for their safety and think a gang will provide protection from neighbourhood crime and violence, or they have been pressured by the gang to join.

Even though some youth believe that gang involvement might provide safety, protection, excitement, and opportunities to earn money, the truth is that gang involvement is very dangerous and limits opportunities for the future.

Research has shown that youth who are involved in gangs are more likely to commit crimes, which increases their chances of being arrested and incarcerated, and to be victims of violence themselves. Young girls are especially vulnerable to sexual victimisation.

Youth who get caught up in gangs are also less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to find stable jobs, and more likely to have alcohol and drug problems and even health problems later in life. Talk to your child about the negative consequences of gang behaviours and ways to avoid them.

Be clear that you disapprove of gangs and do not want to see your child hurt or arrested. Be firm in your expectations that your child should not:

Associate with anyone involved in gangs.

Hang out where gang members congregate.

Attend any party or social event sponsored by gangs.

Use any kind of hand or finger signs that may be meaningful to gangs, especially in photos and social media (even as a joke).

Wear clothing that may have meaning to gangs in your area.

Explain to your child that these clothing items can put him or her in danger and that you will not
purchase them or allow them to be worn.

Get to know your child’s friends and the friends’ parents. Be aware of their attitudes towards drugs, alcohol and gangs. When children start to feel pressure to use drugs or join gangs, it usually comes from their friends or peers at school.

Familiarise yourself with the internet, popular slang terms, and your child’s online activity.

Communicate with your child about the potential negative consequences of online activity, including what he or she may post online.

Spend time online with your child. Ask your child to show you his or her favourite online activities, sites and online contacts.

Finally, keep the computer in a common area and use the computer and websites’ parental controls to limit the child’s access to websites and social media.

Also, talk to your child about ways to deal with pressure from friends.

Help your child practise simple ways to respond to peer pressure. For example, if your child is challenged by a peer who says, “If you were my friend, you would,” your child can respond, “If you were my friend, you wouldn’t ask.” Then, he or she should walk away.

Limit interaction with gang-involved individuals.

One of the strongest risk factors for joining a gang is living in the same house as someone who is involved in gangs.

If your child has older siblings or other relatives in your home who are associated with gangs, be very watchful of the influence they have on your child, and intervene immediately if your child starts to copy their dress, attitudes, and/or behaviours. Set firm limits with your child. Children and teenagers need to clearly know what is expected of them and the consequences for acting otherwise.

When your child misbehaves, be sure to use fair and consistent discipline, while demonstrating unconditional love and support for your child.

Plan family time. Make time for your family to play, eat meals together, take trips (even to local parks or activities), keep family traditions, and have family meetings to talk about plans, feelings, and complaints.

What can I do to help my daughter with her relationship problems. She is an adult but I just feel and have always felt I must help her. She struggles with men and leaves them soon after she meets them. I think because she did not have a dad in the house, she is looking for someone who is perfect, like in the romantic movies she likes to watch.

It must be difficult for you to watch your daughter struggle with relationships but there is not much you can do except to advise her to see a mental health professional who can help her with unrealistic fantasies of having the perfect partner.

Many of our choices in relationships are unconsciously motivated and so trying to work this out alone does not help in terms of the deep processing that’s required to make significant inner shifts in the psyche.

A trained mental health practitioner will help her to explore her inner world in a non-judgmental way and work through aspects of herself that she may not be aware of and may be repeating unconsciously.

It may also help to have an open discussion with her about relationships and what they mean to her.

You can be a support for her yet you cannot decide for her how she must conduct her life, as painful as it may be for you to witness her apparent suffering.

So encourage her to make an appointment with a trained mental health professional so that she can have a confidential space to explore the meaning of her relationship issues and work through unconscious motivations and misperceptions that may be hindering her life and relationships.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.