The headline from Pinole, California read: “The killer showed no remorse.” A 28- year-old man was sentenced for killing two young teens by mistake because they wore red (the gang color of his enemies). At the hearing, he turned to the sobbing parents and said, “Get over it!”

Criminal gangs in the USA are estimated at one million members and responsible for up to 80% of crimes across the nation, according to the Justice Department's National Gang Intelligence Center.

Children without their own identity, turn to gangs for safety, money and acceptance. However, gangs can be stopped before they start, if parents understand the consequences of neighborhood isolation.

As a mother, violence prevention consultant and author of “Street Safe Kids,” here is what I learned over 40 years of working with families:

THE CENTERED CHILD (Parents encourage self-awareness)
Every child has his or her own personality and a God-given conscience that needs to be nurtured and encouraged. Children can tap into their own core of ethical principles, which keeps them from being swayed by bullies, manipulators, drug users, gangs or other destructive influences. The majority of parents are doing a good job of raising “centered” children who listen to their consciences, respect others and know the difference between right and wrong.

THE OFF-CENTERED CHILD
Generally speaking, I see varying degrees of “off-centered” behavior within two categories of children:

1. The Bully Child - Conscience is ignored
Bullies (ringleaders) don‘t know how to handle their emotions (such as anger) and try to manipulate others. Strong-willed children need love, firm discipline and “circles of support” to learn how to modify their behavior. Without support, a bully can develop an inflated ego with little or no empathy for others. Bullies blame others and look for emotionally weak children to manipulate in order to feel in control.

2. The “Pin Cushion”(Victim) Child - Doesn’t trust his or her conscience
Emotionally passive children often suffer in silence. Without guidance, love and support, “pin cushion” kids don’t grow strong from within. Sensitive children may not speak up and can be dominated because they feel powerless. They go along to belong and have friends. These children don’t trust their conscience or intuition and look for others to make their decisions.

These are generalizations with a wide variety of “off-center” behaviors. Some children are victims at home and become bullies at school. Abuse and neglect fuel self-destructive behavior. Drugs provide an escape from their conscience.

The common denominator is…off-centered children lack self-awareness and support, which keeps them from developing healthy, happy relationships.

WHAT WE CAN DO
Strengthen families by encouraging parents to:

- TAKE CHARGE - Turn off the computer, ipod, video game and cell phone – all of which can lead to social isolation.
- Ask questions and listen to your child.
- Ask teachers and coaches for suggestions.
- Give children responsibilities such as, teaching younger children, planning events and projects. Look for training to help them develop leadership skills such as, public speaking, conflict resolution, peer training and counseling, etc.
- Take a leaderships role and volunteer. Children need group activities such as choir, sports, scouts, boy/girls clubs, etc.
- Expand your network of support and connect with family, friends and neighbors for activities.
- Spend one-on-one time with each child.
- Bring neighbors together and know the children on your block.
- Find a religion that helps family members grow from spirit, not ego (People with inflated egos don’t listen to their conscience.) Responsible religions teach self-awareness and respect as children learn how to develop courage and character – and to live by their conscience, which protects them.

Children who are loved and supported will spread love and support to others. Involved neighbors strengthen families and combats social isolation, which keeps families safe and helps the circle of support grow stronger!

Author's Bio: 

Stephanie Mann is the author of 3 national crime prevention books. “Street Safe Kids” is a 10 Step Guide to help youth develop self-esteem and stay centered. For more information: safekidsnow.com