11 January 1999

Don't Cut Those Apron Strings Yet

One of the best ways teens can politely refuse to join a gang may be to use their mothers as an excuse.

Huff said he developed this "blame mom" strategy -- based on the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance -- over the past 12 years of interviewing gang members. "One thing I found consistently in my interviews is that gang members say they love their mothers. They don't usually say much about their dads, but they have a lot of affection for their mothers. When they talk about their moms, there will be tears in their eyes."

The most common regret expressed by gang members -- particularly those who have been to prison -- is that their criminal activity has disappointed their mothers, Huff has found. In fact, more than 80 percent of gang members Huff has interviewed said that, if they had a choice to do it over, they wouldn't join.

This provides teens with a good way to sidestep gangs, he said. "Youths attempting to resist gang involvement might tell gang members they respect them and might like to join the gang, but that their mother disapproves, and they don't want to show disrespect to her," Huff said.

"I believe many gang leaders would let someone slide if they said they didn't want to join because of their mother. Many gang members probably wish they had done the same thing."