The Family Project: Backpack symbols
Q. I just discovered strange symbols on my 12-year-old’s backpack. Recently, his attitude at home has changed. He is refusing to do chores and is hanging out with a new group of friends. I am worried that he may be hanging out with a gang. He won’t talk to me about it, other than to say that his new friends are “dope.” What can I do?
The panelists began by discussing the boy’s use of the word “dope” in reference to his new friends. It was identified in this context as a term coming back in use after 20 years that means awesome or cool.
The mother was complimented by panelist Mike Daniels for noticing the symbols, and questioning what to do. He added, however, that what is happening could be simple experimentation, trying out a new persona, or being with different friends, which is not unusual for youths his age.
Panelist Chad Stefanyak said the symbols could be something as simple as logos from video games. “At the same time, we have had kids in middle school connected to gangs who are used to deliver drugs. It is wise for her to be aware, but I’d be slow to jump to that conclusion.”
Stefanyak also noted that a lot of young people think of their group of friends as a gang. “The word can sometimes have a different meaning for kids,” he said.
Contacting the guidance counselor at the son’s school was suggested by panelist Erin Stalsitz. “The school might have knowledge about the symbols, and about the company the boy is keeping.”
Law enforcement is also very much in tune with graffiti and symbols, and could provide information on any gang activity, Stefanak added.
Panelist Pam Wallace said she would want to know what other behavior changes the mother has noticed in her son. “Not wanting to do chores is normal. If he is skipping school, I’d be concerned. A huge dip in grades, concern. If he suddenly has money and a lot of stuff, be concerned.”
Daniels suggested having a non-combative conversation with the son about the mother’s concerns and her need to keep him safe in this world. He said she could begin by saying, “You are entering into a new phase in your life and I just want you to be aware of some things. There are going to be a lot of people and a lot of temptations that are going to challenge the values we are talking about. That’s part of being a teenager. I just want you to know you can always come to us.”
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Denise Continenza, extension educator, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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