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Your Child and Gangs: What You Need to Know about Trauma - Tips for Parents

NCJ Number
Date Published
4 pages
This paper provides guidance to parents on how to relate to and be a positive influence on children and youth who are at-risk for joining gangs because of maladaptive behaviors and attitudes based in traumatizing victimization.
The paper first explains the nature of traumatic stress, which occurs when a child or teen "experiences an event that threatens life or physical well-being in such a way that it overwhelms his/her ability to cope." Witnessing such a threat to another person can also be traumatic. Typically, traumatic events result in feelings of extreme fear, horror, and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. This can precipitate maladaptive behaviors such as angry outbursts, indifference, defiance of authority, poor school performance due to lack of motivation and increased impulsive and risk-taking behaviors. Social and family support can be important in helping a youth to overcome the impact of a traumatic event. This can be done by showing interest in and protection toward the traumatized son or daughter; creating safe environments for him/her that include normal routines and predictable outcomes; and providing choices that nurture a sense of control and personal responsibility. Other recommendations are to instill a sense of hope and optimism about the future and to help them set and achieve personal goals. Clear and firm limits should be set so as to reward positive behavior rather than punishing "bad" behavior. Other suggestions pertain to helping with school, teaching techniques of stress management, and encouraging involvement in community causes and social justice. The paper concludes with advice on when to seek professional mental health treatment and what to expect from trauma-focused treatment.