Parents are often mistaken as to when their kids get steered off course and land in a gang lifestyle, according to a local expert.
“People think that all of a sudden when their kids are 18, they become gang members,” according to Rob Rai, assistant manager of the Safe Schools Department for the Surrey School District.
“Rubbish,” he said.
The seed is planted early “because of all kinds of things are missing in their lives from the age of three.”
For example, parents are often working 10 to 12 hours a day to make ends meet.
“Parents are working all day to build a bright future for their children, but at what cost?” Rai asked.
“Maybe if I act out at school, somebody will pay attention to me there,” Rai said of some youths’ reaction.
If needs aren’t met at home or school, he said the problem often shifts to the police, when kids start acting out in public.
Rai said today’s parents have to be acutely aware of what their kids are up to.
Parents should not only be watching their children, but the friends their kids choose to hang out with as well.
They should be on the phone with other parents regularly to touch base about their kids’ activities.
Often youth will say they are going to stay at the other friend’s house, when neither occurs, and they end up in a park or elsewhere.
Rai acknowledges that parenting today is harder than it was 18 or 20 years ago.
“When we used to go out, back in the day, whoever you connected with on the telephone at home,” that’s who you would go out with, Rai said.
Now with smartphones and computers, the connections continue 24 hours a day –
often with friends of friends who they don’t know.
Decades ago, youth would hear about a fight that occurred five days after the event, Rai said. Now, kids hear a fight is about to happen, and they’re expected to be there as back-up.
“All of the sudden, you’ve got 20, 30, 40, 50 kids there,” Rai said.
He does say the mystique around the gang life is beginning to wear off.
Youth are now starting to say, “I’m out, I don’t need to get shot,” Rai said.
He notes it helps to discuss with kids who are fearless about gang life what it will mean to their family to lose a son or a brother.
“By and large, most kids get it,” Rai said.
One of the components of prevention is the complement of police officers assigned to Surrey Schools, known as School Liaison Officers.
There are currently 10 for Surrey, which is the largest school district in the province.
Rai said in a perfect world, he’d love to have one for every school. There are 120 schools in the city, with 70,000 students.
The city has 34 new RCMP officers that have arrived this year, and another 100 on order for this year.
“If the powers that be dedicate some of those to my schools, I would be incredibly happy,” Rai said.