Gang activity is exceedingly harmful to youth. Once a young person enters the gang ring, there are few opportunities to leave it. The gang leader becomes a father to those within the gang, providing protection from rival gangs, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of importance and increased self-esteem. Adolescents who enter gangs tend to have other socio-economic factors which drive them toward gang involvement, but a breakdown in the parent-child relationship is a critical reason to join—everyone needs to feel loved and wanted.
Parental involvement and monitoring in a child’s life has been widely recognized as an integral factor in preventing gang involvement. Dr. Phelan Wyrick, the Gang Program Coordinator for the (OJJDP), and Dr. James Howell, the Adjunct Researcher for the National Youth Gang Center, recognize the parent-child relationship as “likely to have the greatest impact” in dealing with children involved in gangs.
Wyrick and Howell also advocate the use of after-school programs and probation periods to assist in rehabilitation, but they specifically note the power and importance of preserving and improving the parent-child relationship as key to success. Citing four academic studies taken over the past fifteen years, Wyrick and Howell state that “poor family management, including poor parental supervision (monitoring) and control of children, has been shown to be a strong predictor of gang membership.” Parents must take the lead in raising their children; the strength of that relationship is integral to ensuring the best interest of the child.
One commentator claims that “parents play a pivotal role in keeping young people out of gangs,” and that “parents can protect their children from gang activity through taking positive actions, such as monitoring their children's activities, fostering close relationships with them, and using positive discipline strategies.” What parents think, say, and demonstrate to adolescents is a powerful message with a profound impact. While we generally think that parents lose their influence over their children during their teen years, research indicates that the opposite is true. Parents have a profound impact on their children’s lives, guiding and directing their growth.
Closely tied to this issue is another destructive community which easily entraps adolescents: cults. One of the tactics cult leaders use to gain control over their followers is to alienate cult members from their parents and family members. This creates an isolation which drives members toward the cult leader as their new “father.” Some cults will split up families within the cult, forcing children to live with other parents, and even at times forcing spouses to split and live with other people, in order to centralize power within the cult leader. This has a devastating effect on the psyche and personal growth of the child.
But the damage doesn’t end there: families coming from cults have difficulties in their interaction with each other. One commentator notes that “post-cult marital pairs often view each other in the way they viewed the cult leader,” and that conflict within the family may be dealt with by “projecting uncomfortable or unacceptable feelings onto their partners.” The danger of treating your partner like the cult leader is that suspicion of motives and manipulation becomes commonplace within the marriage, making it significantly more difficult for spouses to work out their problems without putting on a façade with their partner. Family interaction is destroyed.
Life is highly regulated by the cult leader—so much so that “married couples may feel that it is best to hide their positive feelings while in the cult, because true affection between members can be perceived as a threat to the power of the cult leader.” Even the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit is regulated by the cult leader. The cult leader’s manipulation and example permeate all of life, regulating every personal interaction of the cult members in order to preserve his power. Families are completely destroyed.
Organizations that rescue individuals from cults highly recommend that parents become actively involved in helping their children recognize the dangers and appeals of cultic practices. While parental actions may not be perfect in keeping young people from joining cultic groups, it does significantly decrease the risk of entering such practices. There is a reason why cult leaders attempt to appear to their followers like a parent: the position of a parent in the life of a young person is powerful, and its power should be protected and preserved in the hands of the right people—his loving parents.
Preserving the parent-child relationship without government intervention is critical to attaining success in a number of societal ills regarding children. In recognition of this fact, the Parental Rights Amendment was proposed to forever protect the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. By supporting the rights of parents to raise their children in a responsible way, we can fight the social evils caused by groups which attempt to replace the love of parents with a group leader.