Once upon a time… the most important advice we could give our children was to look both ways before crossing the street. Now we must educate them about the dangers of drugs, internet predators and gangs.

To protect our children from gangs, we need to understand what a gang is and how it operates. Today’s definition of a youth gang is an anti-social, loosely organized group of three or more individuals between 11 and 24 years of age. They frequent a specific territory, wear similar clothing, have similar speech, mannerisms or hand signs, and engage in delinquent or criminal activity for money or reputation.

The National Youth Gang Center estimates that there are more than 25,000 gangs nationwide, with a total membership of more than 600,000. These may be conservative estimates since communities tend to under-report gang activities.

Gangs are not limited to certain social, economic, racial or ethnic boundaries, and tend to attract boys and girls who are confused, troubled or just want to belong to something. Those at risk include youth who:

  • Feel they “don’t fit in” anywhere or belong to anyone
  • Are bored, deprived or abused
  • Feel scared, hopeless and helpless
  • With too much unstructured time on their hands
  • With too little adult supervision
  • Are angry, frustrated youth looking for a substitute family

Gang leaders manipulate younger members into thinking that they really care about them. In reality, they are there to make money through criminal activity. They target younger gang members because the penalty can be fairly lenient due to their age. However, in the State of Florida, gang members involved in criminal activity can receive more severe penalties.

Listening and learning are the two best defenses to keep your child out of a gang. Learn about gang activity in your community and know the warning signs of possible gang involvement. If someone approaches you about your child possibly being involved in a gang, don’t dismiss them, get the facts. Talk to your children and assure them that you are their family and you will support and protect them.

Parents who want to learn more about preventing gang involvement can request a copy of “Street Gang Awareness” (in English or Spanish) from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office by calling 941-861-4005 or sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..