How Can You Keep Your Kids Out of Gangs?

When you read Casey Diaz’s book, The Shot Caller, you will understand why he knows firsthand how gangs destroy lives and ravage neighborhoods. Casey was caught up in a destructive lifestyle and was in deep about as deep as you can go. It’s amazing he’s still alive.

Casey is often asked about gangs, and he’d says that street gangs have become one of the most serious crime problems in this country. From his vantage point, gangs are much more prevalent, much more widespread, and much more dangerous than they were in his day. He sees it in the number of assaults, drive-by shootings, homicides, and brutal home-invasion robberies that make the news regularly. It seems like every time you turn on the TV there’s a story about MS-13, the notorious gang that has established a heavy presence in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and urban areas of New Jersey.

Everyone needs to be concerned, especially parents of teens and young children who ask, “What can I do to keep my kids out of gangs?” Casey says there’s no easy answer, but you can certainly take steps to greatly reduce the odds of one of your children being caught up in a gang. Here are some ideas in Casey’s own words:

Gangs recruit the very young, so be on the lookout.

I was ten years old when I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. When I was an elementary school kid, fifteen-year-old Ralph Sanchez introduced me to the gang life and jumped me into Rockwood when I was eleven.

Now the fact that a fifteen-year-old boy was taking an interest in an eleven-year-old kid should tell you something right there. If my young son, Jacob, a middle-schooler, started hanging out with someone five or six years older than him, that would be a major cause for concern because fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds don’t normally want to hang around middle school kids—unless there’s something in it for them. So be on the lookout for who your children are hanging out with.

Pay attention to the clothes they wear, what’s in their pockets, and what they’re saying on social media.

Gangs distinguish themselves by their “colors,” which represent their neighborhood. The Crips, a black gang in L.A., wear blue or black or a combination of the two. Their archrivals, the Bloods, wear red. The Latin Kings wear black and gold. Ball caps and bandanas are also used to identify themselves.

But if your kid is wearing a handkerchief out of a back pocket or a generic ball cap that’s not representing a team from a major sport or a college football or basketball team, that could be a sign that he’s flashing his colors or at least sympathetic to a local gang.

You also need to be aware of what your teens are saying on their Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Social media is what many today use to declare themselves gang members or sympathetic loyalties to a certain gang.

Explain the consequences of being in a gang.

I think it’s a good idea to “scare them straight.” Share this book with your children if it’s age appropriate. Let them see that becoming involved in a gang almost always results in one of two things: death or incarceration.

Even if you don’t get killed, being locked up with other gang members is far from being a Sunday picnic. I came very close to being killed in prison. Living in fear for my life was a horrible existence. Show them how being involved with a gang will ruin their future and likely result in their destruction.

Ask yourself what type of a role model you are.

Your children need you to be a role model—a good role model. It’s unbelievable how easily they are influenced. Kids are going to look to someone for guidance and advice and will make decisions based on what they think their role models would do.

If you talk about the importance of God in your life but rarely take the family to church, then your kids aren’t going to believe you when you say you’re a Christian. If you warn them about the dangers of drinking but are knocking down the beers during the football game, then they’re going to be naturally skeptical that you really mean what you say.

They say that values are “caught” rather than “taught.” Let your kids catch you reading your Bible when they come out of their bedrooms in the morning. Let them catch you leaving the house early to attend an early morning Bible study. If your faith journey is still a work in progress, let your kids know that you have questions and are still figuring things out. That’s okay as well. They will see that you’re being transparent and don’t have all the answers.

Be thinking about your work-life balance.

If you’re not around your kids, you can’t be much of a role model. If you’re not getting home until 7:30 or eight o’clock, their day is almost over. About all you can do is tuck them into bed.

I understand how companies are demanding more of their employees, including the hours they put into their jobs. But the best hours of the day for you—the parent—is from five o’clock in the afternoon until they go to bed. That’s the sweet spot.

If you’re a single-parent mom, realize that you have the toughest assignment possible.

I understand how fractured the family is today. Single-parent moms not only have to earn enough money to pay for the basics (food, shelter, and transportation), but they have to be there for the kids as much as possible.

It’s hard for a young mother to raise a man. Having a male presence in the home is not always possible due to divorce, disengagement, or disappearance, but this is where grandfathers and uncles can play a role, as well as male teachers and youth pastors.

Single-parent moms need to call in the reserves because of how difficult they have it when it comes to raising children. After-school programs, church youth groups, and sports leagues are great places to start.

Paint over any graffiti in the neighborhood.

If you live in an area where buildings and fences are “tagged”—or if your home is hit—then doing the graffiti cleanup yourself will be an object lesson of how gang-related graffiti and claiming a neighborhood isn’t cool. Perhaps if your teens participate in a neighborhood clean-up campaign with you, they will see how important it is to fight graffiti, which is used by gangs to mark their turf, advertise themselves, or claim credit for a crime.

Take an interest in their sports or hobbies.

One of the best ways to stay in touch with your teen is to cheer them on if they are playing a sport or participate with them in one of their hobbies. If your teens sense that you, as the parent, is the source of love, guidance, and protection in their lives, they won’t go looking for these basic needs from a gang.

Encourage academic success.

It’s amazing in how many young people, especially in the inner city, are told that it’s not cool to study, not cool to get good grades, and not cool to get a good education. Yet everyone knows that strong study habits and a good education will take your kids places and are directly related to a young person’s development. Make education a priority in your home.

If your child is already in a gang, there’s still hope.

All I have to do is look at myself and understand that anybody can be saved from the gang life. It starts with prayer—prayer that he will find Jesus (or come back to Him), make a U-turn, repent of his sins, leave the gang, and rebuild his life.

Teens generally won’t leave a gang for their parents or because society tells them it’s the right thing to do. Leaving a gang starts with a change of heart.

God is the one who can start all that. Ask Him to give your child no desire to be in a gang or get within hailing distance of a gang member.

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Contact Casey

Casey Diaz is a dynamic and emotional speaker with a passion to share his experiences as a gang leader and how his life changed in prison.

He is available for interviews, speaking engagements, or general questions.

Phone: 818 | 841 | 5851

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