Q: The news media is always discussing gang violence. Can you tell me why someone would want to join a gang?

A: A gang is a group of (usually young) people who claim some territory (called turf) and use it to make money. Gangs make money through illegal activities such as drug trafficking and extortion.

Gangs recruit most heavily in public schools. They may recruit children as young as 9. Knowing that the judicial system is more lenient on younger children, younger members can be sacrificed on riskier jobs for the gang.

Gangs tend to mark their members and their territories. Members will wear certain colors, symbols, or tattoos to show their affiliations. Gangs will also mark and destroy property to claim it and to show boundaries to other gangs. When a person wearing the signs of one gang enters the territory of another, bloodshed is not uncommon.

The harsh social and economic environments of many neighborhoods are often what lure young people into gangs.

Young people will join to feel accepted. Gangs can provide a surrogate family to youth who may feel that they lack a home.

They also join when they feel unsafe; gangs offer a sense of protection to their members. Similarly, gangs will intimidate young people into joining, making them feel unsafe unless they join.

Finally, youth who feel that their economic futures are bleak will join gangs for money. Gangs are often seen as money makers — they deal in the highly profitable drug trade, which is often accompanied by violence.

You can reduce the risk that your child will join a gang. Teaching children about the risks of gang membership — especially the violence — is essential. Also be sure to emphasize the fact that the supposed upsides are false; most gang members do not make more than the minimum wage, and gang members are at greater risk of violence, not less. Also be sure that your child is involved in positive activities, such as The Santa Monica Police Activities League (P.A.L.), the Boy and Girl Scouts, sports programs, or hobby clubs. After-school hours are critical for keeping children involved in the activities above, as this is the time that many youth crimes occur. By providing information and care, you can greatly reduce the risk that your child will join a gang.

Q: My daughter has begun a dating relationship with someone whom I think is a gang member. Although I know she’s not a gang member, I’m concerned about the risks of her being exposed to the “gang lifestyle.” I’m concerned and would like some information.

A: Many teenage girls are attracted to what society calls a “bad boy,” finding this image and lifestyle exciting. This attraction can sometimes lead to a girl dating a person who may be involved with a gang. Our society often glamorizes this lifestyle in movies, television shows, and music videos. Mass media has a way of conveying a message that makes this way of life attractive which can entice a young girl’s desire to date a gang member for all of the wrong reasons. However, some girls may not fully understand the repercussions of this decision and how this association can affect their lives.

Guys involved with gangs may appear to be fun and attractive, but the party never lasts. Often times dating a gang member can lead to gang membership, gang involvement, and abuse. According to a recent study, teenage girls whose boyfriends are gang members are nearly twice as likely to have unwanted pregnancies as those not dating boys involved with gangs. Girls whose boyfriends spent time in jail were also more likely to become pregnant.

Along with unwanted pregnancies, other associated issues that stem from dating a gang member range from: domestic violence, gambling, violent behavior, and involvement with drugs and alcohol. There are many negative outcomes which come from not only being associated with a gang member but also being romantically involved with a gang member.

That type of unhealthy relationship puts girls at risk of losing friends, being estranged from family members, performing poorly in school, and even jeopardizing their own life. It is important for girls to educate themselves about the risks associated with dating a gang member so that the next time a “bad boy” catches your eye, you can ask yourself, “Is he worth it?”

Tips for girls:

• Avoid associating and starting a romantic relationship with a known gang member.

• Get involved in extra-curricular activities like sports, clubs, volunteer work, a part-time job, faith groups, etc.

• Maintain an honest relationship with your parents by keeping lines of communication open.

• Seek a mentor or a positive role model that you can look up to.

• Set life goals and aspirations for yourself (attending college, becoming an athlete, getting good grades, etc.)

• Report gang violence and/ or activity to your parents, school administrator, mentor, or your local police department.

• If you are being abused in any way verbally, physically, sexually, report it to an adult you can trust and your local police department.

Resources for girls:

The National Center for Victims of Crime can be contacted for referrals to local services anywhere in the country. Call Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST, (800)-FYI-CALL (394-2255).

This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Richard Carranza (Beat 1: Coastal, beach and pier areas). He can be reached at (424) 200-0681 or richard.carranza@smgov.net.