Gangs fill parental vacuum

Published 9:55 pm Monday, September 22, 2014

By Joseph L. Bass

Children who become gang members are seeking to fill an emptiness in their lives. That emptiness is created by ineffective parenting.

For five years, I lived in South West Shotgun Crips gang territory in South Central Los Angeles. Before that I lived in Sotel 13 territory in west L.A. Crips are black; Sotel 13 members are Hispanic. But race isn’t the issue. As an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, I studied the anthropology of gangs dealing with white gangs in New York City.

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The family dynamics of likely gang members are common, regardless of race. Most often there is no male in the home. The single mother receives additional welfare money and support as she has more children. She started having children before graduating from school. Her mother’s life pattern is much the same as hers.

Mothers of likely gang members do not see the value of an education. They never think about reading a book about quality parenting. They never think about going to a class to learn about raising responsible, self-reliant children or shepherding them into adulthood. Such parents do not assign chores to their children or praise them when they do something good.

The most attention the children receive comes when they run wild, making a lot of noise. When this happens she spanks them for being “bad.” Often the mother acts as if her children are inconveniencies. Over time the children come to know the only way they can get their mother’s attention is to be bad.

To demonstrate to the world that they love their children, mothers of likely gang members purchase them status toys, clothing and shoes. The children come to value high-dollar, meaningless status symbols instead of valuing development of learning and skills they can use in employment in the mainstream economy.

In terms of the development of character, learning, skills and values, children raised in such an environment are basically hollow of good qualities. They value status symbols like expensive shoes, but they have no way of having the kind of job needed to make enough money to purchase the shoes, the cars, the clothes they want.

Gang membership is the perfect approach to getting the things they crave through selling drugs, robbing banks, stealing other children’s lunch money.

Gang membership also offers meaningful emotional relationships with others raised in the same types of homes. The gang becomes the family they never had. Older gang members teach them the skills that will result in the money they need to purchase the status symbols they have been taught to crave.

The pathway to gang membership starts early in life. No police officer, no teacher, no counselor, no pastor is going to provide neglected kids what it takes to fill the hollowness in their lives. Only by discontinuing the financial incentives for early childbearing will the poor parenting cycle stop. Only by requiring that people learn to become self-reliant, responsible adults to get their own food, housing, medical care and so on will the cycle be broken.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at