Gangs appear to be very adept at recruiting the young, the disenfranchised and the traumatized youth of our society, turning our neglect of them against us.

What if the pro-social forces of society were as skillful at recruiting our young as the antisocial elements?  How would that change the world?

Giving hope to someone who has lost his, engenders tremendous loyalty.  The gang propagandizes, “I will show you a way to be successful and well regarded among your peers.”  The pull of belonging and being well regarded is a huge motivator, especially for youth that have not been successful at home, in school or in peer relationships.   It is certainly an effective gang recruitment tool.

When abused and neglected children wander the streets, they can find solace and support among anti-social gang recruiters.   They work in much the same way as military recruiters, but they go out and find vulnerable kids looking for structure and guidance.   In a gang these youth can belong to a group and find the recognition they crave.    Why cannot society be as good at setting up an elaborate system of recruitment of children for pro-social activities and opportunities?

Every town and city has a gang element with gang recruiters.  The same is not true for youth community centers.

Community centers need to welcome and help youth that have not been successful in school.  It should provide a place where they can flourish, but that is not enough.  It is the volunteer time of the adults in the community that will ultimately make such an endeavor successful.  Youth need guidance and someone to teach them.  They need some one to talk to when they are worried.  They need someone to take an interest in their school work and help them to learn a trade.  Every community should have a youth center where children and teens can gather, hang out, talk, listen to music, and learn.

I worked in a school that designated a wing of the school for community organizations.  This is a great concept.  However, when the school closed, so did the community wing of the school.   In economically hard times how do we support a massive network of youth community centers?  Churches, schools and neighbors need to be involved.  It is the hours from the close of school to late at night when most juvenile crime occurs.  Much of this happens because of young people that have no adult supervision.  How can you help change that in your community?  If every adult in a neighborhood donated several hours a week to the youth center, there would be enough adult nurturing and structure for every young person in the neighborhood that might be vulnerable to gang recruitment.  This can create a safer neighborhood.

gangDr. Kathy Seifert  has a degree in psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County 1995.  She is a licensed psychologist in MD and specializes in trauma, violence, and behavior problems among youth and their families. Her second specialty is violently, sexually, and criminally offending men and women.  She is the author of How Children Become Violent and founder of Dr. Kathy