According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent, gangs are formed by a group of children, adolescents and young adults who share a common identity and are involved in wrongful or delinquent activities (AACAP, 2011). A gang can include people of all race, gender, culture and socioeconomic group. There is a number of reasons that influence both children and adolescents to join gangs, the first one is a sense of connection or in the search of their identity as individuals. A lot of these kids who join gangs groups have limited adult supervision or no supervision at all, as a result, they try to part or to belong to something (Argosy University, 2014).
Other reasons can be peer pressure or the need to protect themselves, their family, because some of their family members are already part of a gang, or simply become they want to have their financial freedom (AACAP, 2011). Some of the risk factors for children to become involve in gang activity are: growing up in areas where heavy Gang activity is taking place, a history of Gang involvement in their family, history of family violence, too little supervision, unstructured free time when not at school, low self-esteem, sense of hopelessness about their future because of limited education or financial opportunity, and lack of positive role model in the family and of course too much exposure to media violence can also motivate children to become part of a gang as well (AACAP, 2011). According to child psychologists experts, mental health issues or behavioral disorder such as oppositional defiance disorder also known as (ODD) and attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can also lead children or adolescent to join gangs group (AACAP, 2011).
Whether children are victim or witnessed gang violence it has serious effects on them, both psychological and emotionally, such as: changes in behavior, mood, and personality, concerns about safety and preoccupation with danger, nightmares and sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior and angry outbursts, repetitious traumatic play and retelling, anxiety, feelings of fear, and trauma reactions, regression in the behavior expected of a younger child, and most of all children who are exposed to gang violence may intend to engage in the same type of violence (Argosy University, 2014). Other effects gang violence may have on children are; they may be forced to join the gang or be pressured to commit crimes, exposure to drug and alcohol, age inappropriate sexual conduct, etc. (AACAP, 2011).
Resilience is one of the characteristics of children who grow stronger by surviving gang violence or any other type of violence. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress (APA, 2014). Being resilient is very important for a person to cope with traumatic events that occur around him/her, such as gang violence. Having a strong and positive beliefs system can also be very helpful in dealing negative events (Argosy University, 2014). Other characteristics can be community awareness and having a good and strong support system composed of friends and family members.
The best way parents can help foster characteristics that can help children grow strong in the face of adversity or violence is by communicating with them. Parents should take time to explain to their kids the danger of joining gang groups and the consequences that associated with such an antisocial behavior. Parent should monitor children at all time and make sure they use their free time responsibly by involving in positive activities such as the Boy Scout, sports programs in the community, etc. in order words, effective parenting combine with strong family functioning is what can help children foster those characteristics (AACAP, 2011).