What to Do When Your Teen Has Joined a Gang

Redirecting your defiant teen away from a dangerous crowd.

Posted Nov 25, 2011

Recently I took part in a radio interview with host Regeina Lamourelle, Kathryn Stamoulis and special guest Bryan Widner. Bryan is a former leader of a skinhead gang, and shared with us his experiences as a gang member and gang leader. The topic of the radio interview was on three things parents and educators need to know about hate groups.

Bryan's story makes a lot of sense, and even how he got out of gang activity is truly a miracle. Human beings are social creatures, and if I were to borrow a page from evolutionary psychology, I would say that we have evolved to thrive in small social groups. (Let me be clear, I am not an expert on evolutionary psychology). This is why parents and educators should work together to create positive peer cultures, in the community, home and in the school. There are countless of examples of how people have sacrificed their common sensibilities just for the sake of belonging to a particular social group - children and teens are no different.

So what do you do if you are a parent and you notice your child is associating with a new group that you have determined to be detrimental to his or her overall well being?

Scolding and berating isn't going to work at all because at this point, things have truly gotten out of hand. If anything, scolding and berating will definitely make things worse, as it will reinforce the teen's belief that he or she is truly bad and only belongs with a negative peer group. By all means your teen should be held fully accountable for his or her actions but balance that out by placing the teen in a leadership role around a family oriented task in the household. It could be a recreational activity in which the teen is made to understand that the assigned task is not a chore but an activity that will benefit all members of the household, based on the teen's decision making process. It is also recommended that parents establish a relationship with an educator in their child's school to create a joint effort in reclaiming the teen.

Compared to the parents' task in reclaiming his or her teen, educators have an advantage, as they have easier access to a population from which they can spearhead the creation of several positive peer groups. Worried about the uncool reputation attached to certain peer groups? In George Thompson's book, "Verbal Judo- the gentle art of persuasion." he talks about how he initially struggled to get the attention of some at risk students he was teaching class to, until he stumbled upon the idea of getting the students to teach the class based on their skills and expertise. On one notable example he had a student teach the class based on his knowledge of automobiles.

The bottom line for both parent and educators is that the best way to redirect a teen headed down a dangerous path, is to get he or she involved in a positive peer group where he or she has ample opportunity to practice leadership skills within the group dynamics.

Yes, I do realize that this is easier written or said than done. In the meantime please follow this link to listen to the interview.

So what are your thoughts? Do you think you have a better argument? If so, please leave your appropriate comments in the comment section.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions, a professional counseling and life coaching practice.