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While gang shootings were down over the summer, the recent rash of deadly gang activity in the Lower Mainland has raised concern among parents around knowing the warning signs for youth considering or entering gang life.
Teens from all backgrounds can get drawn to gang activity, not just students from broken homes or who've had rough childhoods, says Rob Rai, Director of School & Community Connections with the district's Safe Schools department. However, there are common signs parents can watch for to prevent their kids from joining a gang or stop their involvement early on.
"The first thing you want to look for is concerning shifts in behaviour," he said. "It starts with marks and attendance falling off, the relationship with the parents deteriorating, then it goes to staying out late with new friends and acquiring possessions."
According to Rai, new friends, a newfound sense of secrecy, changes in attitude and possessions that parents didn't purchase for their teens can be signs of gang involvement. He also said if a teen claims to have gotten a new job and is gone for hours on end, but has no proof such as a paystub, that could indicate illicit activity.
Communication is key, said Rai, stressing the importance of keeping an honest, open and trusting relationship with your teen and asking caring questions to know what they're up to. Children who have healthy relationships with the primary adults in their lives tend not to look for belonging and acceptance with negative peer groups and gangs.
"If you have a healthy, resilient relationship with your child, as parents or as a single parent, your kids are going to do well," he said. "Make sure you're a part of their life and checking in on a daily basis. Be aware of who their friends are, how they're doing in school, how they're doing socially, their social media presence."
Safe Schools offers a number of programs for at-risk youth, including Code Blue, PSST (Protecting Surrey Schools Together) and Wraparound.
However, preventing gang activity extends far beyond the school system, and Rai recommends parents also check out other comprehensive resources, such as the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of BC (CFSEU) End Gang Life website. The site offers pages to illustrate the myths and realities of gang life, booklets on youth and gangs (in multiple languages), and information on gang exiting and intervention.
Ultimately, preventing gang life starts at home, and noticing the signs early is far better than trying to stop it after it has begun.
If you believe your child is involved in illegal or gang activity, do not hesitate to contact your school to ask for help. There are many community partners who play a role in keeping our kids out of gangs.
For more information on youth gangs and how you can keep your children safe, please visit psst-bc.ca and cfseu.bc.ca/end-gang-life or talk to your school.