CONYERS -- Deputy James Fountain, who specializes in gang intelligence for the Newton County Sheriff's Office, said there are two types of parents when it comes time to question whether their child is in a gang.
"You have parents who are very concerned and will do whatever they can to change the situation ... parents who are having a difficult time dealing with their children who are involved in gangs," he said. "Then, you have the other parents when you bring it to their attention will say, 'Oh no, my child is not involved in gangs. I moved here from Clayton County or Atlanta to get my child away from the gangs.'
"What they don't realize is the child brought that with them here, and the child is still involved in it. Either they don't know or they don't want to know that their child is involved in gangs."
Fountain said strong parenting is really the only way to effectively fight gang activity because it erases the child's need to join a gang.
"We hear the top reasons kids join gangs are for a sense of love, discipline and respect. Those are things they're not getting at home," he said. "They feel like they are loved by the gang members. And, as funny as it sounds, most of these gangs have a hard and fast set of rules. These gang members understand if they break the rules, there's consequences. When they join a gang, that becomes their family and they start getting a sense of self-respect out of that."
Fountain urges parents of both male and female teens to become educated about gangs and not be afraid to be nosy.
"A lot of people don't have a clue. You'd be surprised at the number of parents who will come up to me after a presentation and say, 'You know, I saw that in my kid's room, but I had no idea what it was," he said. "The best thing a parent can do is be a nosy parent. And be a parent. Don't be a friend. Be a parent."
Fountain said that means saying no many times to what parties a child wants to attend and who they associate with.
"Parents need to understand just because their child is doing a certain kind of drawings or wearing a certain color, that in itself is not enough to say they are a gang member. But those are warning signs, and it should be discouraged," he said. "At that point, parents should become a little more interested and know who their kids are hanging out with, where they're going, what type of parties they're attending."
He said finding out their associates is key.
"Parents need to know who their kids' friends are and who their parents are," he said. "If your child has a friend that he or she is hanging out with, but they don't have any idea what that person's real name is -- all they know them by is some sort of nickname -- then you may want to check into that. If you've never heard that person's real name, that's a warning sign."
Fountain said one of the simplest ways to learn about gangs is to log onto the Sheriff's Office Web site at www.newtonsheriffga.org.
"Go to gang information under the Outreach section. We've got a list of warning signs they can use to tell if their kids are involved and how to prevent their child from getting involved in gang activity," he said. "And, if they'd like to talk to me or have me talk to their kids, I'll be glad to do it."
Fountain can be reached through the NCSO Outreach Office at 678-625-1417.