Gang Information for Parents

Gangs can be identified by their formal organizational structure; identifiable leadership (but not always); territoriality; recurrent interaction; and involvement in serious, criminal and/or violent behavior. Gangs can be groups mostly by their:

  • Exclusivity—members cut themselves off from non-members.
  • Criminal and antisocial behavior
  • Violent rivalries with other gangs
  • Loyalty that overrides ethics or common sense—the gang come first.

Gangs around the United States

Research has shown that parent splay a pivotal role in keeping young people out of gangs.  Negative e influences within the family—including domestic violence, child abuse, harsh or inconsistent parenting practices, and/or drug/alcohol abuse by family members—can increase the risk that a youth will join a gang.

Parents can protect their children from gang activity through taking positive steps, like monitoring their children’s activities, fostering close relationships with them, and using positive discipline.

Why do Kids Join Gangs?

For many youth, gangs represent the way in which teen frustration, searching, and rebellion are shown.  In a recent nationwide survey of gang-involved youth, 70 percent acknowledged that they were active prior to the age of 14.  Common reasons include:

  • Surrogate family
  • Support
  • Failing at life’s challenges, i.e. school, peer relationships, sports, etc.
  • Identity, recognition and respect.
  • Protection
  • Intimidation or peer pressure
  • Money
  • Glamour.
  • Family history of gang membership
  • Role models.
  • Excitement

Behaviors Associated with Joining a Gang

The early adolescent years (12-14 years of age) are a crucial time when youths are exposed to gangs and may consider joining a gang.  Youths who are becoming involved in a gang may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Negative behavior such as:
    • Withdrawing from family.
    • Declining school attendance, performance or behavior.
    • Staying out late without reason.
    • Unusual desire for secrecy.
    • Confrontational behavior, such as talking back, verbal abuse, name calling, and disrespect for parental authority.
    • Sudden negative opinions about law enforcement or adults in authority like school officials and teachers.
    • Change in attitude about school, church, or other normal activities or change in behavior at these activities.
  • Unusual interest in one or two particular colors of clothing or a particular logo.
  • Interest in gang-influenced music, videos, and movies.
  • Use and practice of hand signals to communicate with friends.
  • Peculiar drawings or gang symbols on schoolbooks, clothing, notebooks, or even walls.
  • Drastic changes in hair or dress style.
  • Withdrawal from longtime friends.
  • Suspected drug use.
  • The presence of firearms, ammunition, or other weapons.
  • Nonaccidental physical injuries, such as being beaten or injuries to hands and knuckles from fighting.
  • Unexplained cash or goods, such as clothing or jewelry.

Common Gang Identifiers

  • Gang-style Clothing and Dress

    Gang members may use a certain style of dress to identify with a particular gang or crew.  This might include clothing or bandanas worn only in certain colors that are representative of a gang.

    Other clothing that might be worn by gang members could include pants worn well below the waist; gang-themed t-shirts with pictures of gang members, prison scenes, graffiti, or slogans; two- or three-toned bead necklaces; sports clothing of specific teams; or colored fabric belts, sometimes with a metal buckle that includes the initial(s) of the gang.

    However, gang clothing trends change and may be different from one place to another, so clothing alone may not be enough to indicate a child’s affiliation with a particular gang, though it can be a clue.

  • Colors

    Many gangs use one or more colors as a symbol to represent their gang.  The colors may be worn on shirts, bandanas, beads, belts, hats, shoes, shoelaces, headbands, jewelry, and other items.

  • Symbols and Numbers

    A few common symbols from some of the large gangs in the United States are stars (five- and six-pointed), crowns, pitchforks (pointing up or down), three dots in a triangle, and numbers.  Contact Taylor Police to get specific information on the meaning of unidentifiable symbols or numbers that you may see in graffiti or clothing in your area.

  • Sports Items

    Letters, colors or symbols may have a specific gang meaning in local street-gang culture, such as Kansas City Royals (KC=Kill Crips).  Sports items may be purchased in a nontraditional color to correspond with the gang’s colors or may be altered with graffiti or extra symbols or writing.


Gangs use graffiti to mark their territory, brag about their reputation, mourn fallen members, and threaten or challenge rival gangs.  For this reason, graffiti can be very dangerous and should be removed as soon as possible.  Youths who are participating in graffiti may have items such as spray paints, spray-paint plastic tips, wide-tipped markers, or sketchbooks with graffiti works in progress and may have paint on their clothing, backpacks, or other items.


Tattoos are used to show a member’s loyalty to the gang.  These tattoos often include the name, initials or symbols of the specific gang and may be found on the hands, neck, face, chest or arms.

Hand Signs

Some gangs use specific hand gestures to communicate their affiliation with the gang and issue threats or challenges to rival gangs.

Gang-influenced Music and Movies

Gangsta/gangster rap is a style of rap music characterized by violent, tough-talking lyrics that glorify street-gang culture.  Many popular movies also focus on street gangs and their activities.  Teens may show their interest in gangs through fascination with music and movies portraying street-gang culture.

What Parents Can Do

  • Talk to your children about gangs and ways to avoid them.
  • Let them know you disapprove of gangs and do not want to see them hurt or arrested.
  • Develop positive alternatives such as after-school activities, clubs, sports and weekend activities.
  • Tell your children not to:
    • Associate with any gang members.
    • Hang out where gangs congregate.
    • Attend any party or social event sponsored by gangs.
    • Use any kind of hand or finger sings that may be meaningful to gangs.
    • Wear clothing that may have meaning to gangs in your area.
  • Get to know your children’s friends and the friend’s parents.
  • Talk to your children about ways to deal with pressure from friends.
  • Set firm limits with your children and teens.  Children and teens need to know clearly what is expected of them and the consequences for acting otherwise.  Do not rescue your children from the consequences of their decisions.
  • Plan family time.  Make time for your family to play, eat meals together, take trips, keep family traditions, and have family meetings to talk about plans, feelings and complaints.

Source:  American Crime Prevention Institute