According to the Los Angeles Police Department, gang involvement can begin as early as elementary school. Children as young as seven or eight years of age have been recruited to work in criminal street gangs. Many parents and educators are unaware that children are involved in gang activity. The LAPD warns that parents and educators should watch for signs that their children and pupils might be involved with gang activity. There should be noticeable changes in the young person’s behavior or activities.

Early warning signs include:

  • Experimental drug use
  • Decline in school grades
  • Truancy
  • Unwillingness to attend family gatherings or share regular meals
  • Change of friends
  • Rebellious behavior at school and home
  • Poor family bonding
  • Keeping late hours
  • Having large sums of money or new expensive items which cannot be explained.

Telltale signs of gang involvement are:

  • Gang graffiti in their bedroom on items such as books, posters and bedroom walls
  • Wearing gang clothing or gang colors
  • Excessive swearing or cursing
  • Using hand signals to communicate with “friends”, other gang members
  • Having photos showing gang names, gang slogans, gang insignia or gang activities
  • Disclosure of gang membership
  • Witnesses connecting the young person to gang activity
  • Initiation activities – “rites of passage”
  • Contact with law enforcement and/or probation officers
  • May carry hidden weapons

Once in the gang, the child’s behavior may change either suddenly or gradually by:

  • Adopting a defiant attitude toward authority figures (may be expressed by violent behavior at school or home)
  • Wearing gang clothing
  • Lacking motivation and having no future aspirations
  • Fighting others to gain a reputation of being “bad”

Not all gang members are obvious in their dress or manner. Asian gangs, for example, are not immediately recognizable by their attire. Also, they may not display gang characteristics while in school. They are respectful to staff, do not disrupt activities, do not drop out of school and maintain their grades. In such cases, gang affiliation is often not known until a criminal incident occurs.

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