Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Shade of Grey Should Never Hurt

Saturday, January 31, 2015

In a couple of weeks it will be Valentine's Day!.  As a high school counselor, I am often visited by the devastated students who never receive a gift because they are not in a relationship or the other person just doesn't get it. That often makes me reflect on my own experience with Valentine's Day and, yes, I was one of the unfortunate teenagers who never received flowers or chocolates from an admirer on Valentine's Day.  Every year, it was always the same group of girls who would get showered with roses, bears, balloons, and chocolates.  So to make myself feel better, I would immerse myself in one of my favorite romantic movies and pretend I was one of the characters in the film. The guy would sweep in and rescue me from my boring life and all the girls in my school would be insanely jealous (evil laugh)!! Overtime, I think these movies shaped my concept about romantic relationships, female sensuality, and human attraction. Also, I am not sure if this was the healthiest way to learn about relationships with the opposite sex and may have had a negative impact my self concept. So, let me share three movies that I believe had some impact on my self image from middle school to college.

1979 - Sooner or Later

This was the year that I finally got to wear mascara and shave my legs!  It is also around the time that I couldn't wait for the ABC movie of the week to come on television.  That year, one movie really caught my attention. The movie was about a 13 year old girl who fell in love with a 17 year old boy.  In order to win his affection, the girl pretends to be a 16 year old high school student and the boy falls for it.  Although the girl gets caught up in her web of lies, the game of pretending to be older looked appealing to me!

1983 - The Thorn Birds

This television mini series was the second highest rated miniseries after "Roots".  It told the story of a young Australian woman and her forbidden romance with a Roman Catholic Priest. Although the priest was in love with her, his ambition was to advance in his career.  Longing for a man she could not have, the young woman remained deeply committed to him even though his loyalties and obligations were elsewhere. This is the first time I was introduced to the concept of obsession in a relationship and how it could land you the man you desire.

1990 - Pretty Woman

 Who didn't love Julia Roberts' sassy attitude and her ability to take control of Richard Gere.  In fact, this low budget production was the top grossing movie of the year watched by more women than men. Although their relationship started as a business transaction, they eventually fall for each other.  At the end of the movie, Roberts is whisked off her feet by Gere and they live happily ever after.  As a young woman in college at the time, I bought into the fantasy that a good woman could change her man. The character of Vivian, even though she was a hooker, taught Edward the essentials of a happy life: taking time to relax, treating people fairly, and falling in loving a good woman. So, the myth was perpetuated that you can change your man as long as you are a good woman (okay, this myth doesn't work).

Thankfully, as I matured, my ideas about romantic relationships changed.  I realized there was more to relationships than manipulation, chemistry, and changing someone to your specifications.  A relationship requires hard work, communication, boundaries, and mutual respect; however, I don't think we do a good job of helping our girls understand the concepts of a healthy dating relationship. Unfortunately, the majority of our teens get their self concept from the romantic fantasies created by Hollywood, the music industry, and books.  Case in point, take the lyrics from the song S & M by the unintended poster child for dating violence, Rihanna.

Result of Rihanna's Abuse
Love is great, love is fine (Oh oh oh oh oh)
Out the box, outta line (Oh oh oh oh oh)
The affliction of the feeling leaves me wanting more (Oh oh oh oh oh)
'Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

In fact, Tom Sherak, Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences, confirms the theory that media is both a manifestation and driving force of  the ideals of our society.

Perpetuating the Hollywood Myth of Romance 

In 2011, a book was released online by a British author that set the internet on fire. The book was called Fifty Shades of Grey and has out sold the Harry Potter Series.  The book has been turned into a movie that will be released the day before Valentine's Day with the subtitle, "Mr. Grey will see you now." In fact, if you watch the trailer for the movie, you are given the idea that the movie is a love story with consensual sex between a handsome wealthy business man and a young, innocent college student. However, if you read the book, you will see that the relationship between the couple is anything than romantic and healthy.  The book gives us a peek into the attitude of Christian Grey and how he doesn't believe in love.  He forms a business agreement with Ana Steele in which she will be available to him anytime, any place, and any where.  Normally, the heroine would run from a man like this, but not this modern character.  Since this series (yes, there are three books and subsequent movies) has become popular with moms and their daughters, there may be a huge shift in our culture as accepting unhealthy relationships as the new normal.

Glamorization of Violence Toward Women

Amy Bonomi, Professor at Michigan State University, firmly believes that the novels and upcoming movie glamorizes violence against women. She is specifically concerned about the cultural normalization of a potentially lethal practice called Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; and Sadism and Masochism. For those that regularly practice BDSM, they believe it is healthy to arrange a "yes, no, and
maybe" checklist of behaviors for each partner to follow when they agree to participate in this type of relationship. However, Christian defies the BDSM rules and goes off the grid by constructing his own rules about BDSM.  Bonomi found that only ten percent of the population were really aware of BDSM; however, since the book became popular, more people are talking about participating in this type of "kinky" lifestyle.

Christian and Ana's Relationship: Is It Considered Dating Violence?

If you view the domestic violence checklist, you will notice there are some similarities between the behaviors that are considered violent and the relationship between Christian and Ana.

Excessive jealousy

Christian follows Ana to a nightclub where he sees her being kissed by one of her guy friends. Although they are not in a "relationship", he gets mad at her and refuses to let her mention her friend in conversations.

Constantly checking in with you or making you check in with him.

Christian puts a GPS chip in Ana's phone to check her every move.  He explains the reason for his checking on her constantly is his concern for her.  Also, he emails her constantly and gets upset when she doesn't respond back immediately.


Ana signs a nondisclosure agreement before she finds out that she will be sexually submissive to Christian; therefore, she is unable to confide in anyone about their relationship or her growing concerns about the BDSM relationship.

Blames problems on his/her past.

Christian confides in Ana that he was seduced (aka molested) by his mom's friend at 15 and had a six year relationship with her.  

Has a explosive temper.

Ana is always afraid she is going to do something to make Christian mad and tries hard to please him. 

Pressures you into sexual activity with which you are not comfortable.

Christian constantly pressures Ana to participate in BDSM and even buys her expensive gifts to make her feel that she owes him for his generosity.

Does not take responsibility for his/her own actions.

Ana feels that Christian is perfect (he is handsome, rich, and successful) and she must keep him happy.  When Christian gets mad at her, she feels she is the cause of the issue.

Examples of Domestic Violence from Fifty Shades of Grey

Some other disturbing facts from Fifty Shades include:
  • Ana feels the need to please Christian by allowing him to hit her as hard as he can. 
  • After inflicting physical pain, Christian gives Ana painkillers and rubs her down with ointment.
  • Christian tries to not only be Ana's lover, but father figure by admonishing her for certain behaviors, providing for her physical needs, being protective, and threatening to punish her.
  • Ana falls in love with her abuser and feels that she can change him.
  • Even when Ana says no, Grey continues to force himself on her.
Does Fifty Shades Promote the Acceptance of Male Exploitation and Violence?

Susan Hawthorne has a belief that Fifty Shades of Grey is an anti-feminist piece of work that supports sexual colonization and male dominance. In 1979, Kathleen Berry defined and identified the practice of sexual colonization as domination of women socially, economically, and politically by their colonizers (men). Examples of sexual colonization in our society include: prostitution, domestic violence, and pornography. One example of sexual colonization in Fifty Shades of Grey includes Ana's relationship with a man that has a significant power over her (she is poor/he is rich, he can beat her/she can't touch him without permission, she must perform whenever he asks/she has no control over their physical intimacy). Could it be possible that today's women, including celebrities, have a difficult time acknowledging the violent themes of Fifty Shades movie or the new "mom porn"?

Failure of Women to Stand Against Mom Porn

Oprah Winfrey has been a strong voice for the oppressed since she was introduced to television. Unfortunately, the OWN Network has embraced the Fifty Shades novel and its popularity among the middle class mom culture.  Lisa Ling, from the OWN Network, hosted a series on BDSM among average Americans and even failed to recognize sadomasochism as a mental disorder by the DSM. Another proponent of the series of books and movies is Dr. Logan Levkoff who debated Dr. Drew Pinsky on the innocence of the series.

Correlation Between Fifty Shades and Porn

The porn industry is a male dominated business and tends to direct the majority of its aggression toward women.  In a typical porn movie, women are subjected to slapping, choking, and gagging. The reaction of the female player is a sense of excitement and pleasure (remember the lyrics by Rihanna?).

In the documentary, Love and Sex in the Age of Pornography, the makers of the film traveled to Hungary and Los Angeles to interview workers in the sex industry.  In their interviews, many of the male workers indicated that they learned about sex by watching porn. Also, the women interviewed said they found many of their sexual encounters unpleasant, but they felt that it was important to please their partner. The attitudes of the actors in the porn industry resemble the characters in the Fifty Shades series.

Potential Impact on Teens

As Valentine Day approaches, many of my teen students and adult females are planning to see the movie. As a result of the book series and impending novel, I read that sex toy sales have exploded and there seems to be a growing acceptance of sadism as normal part of a relationship.  Eca Paz Taylor believes that many adult females will tend to recognize the dysfunction in the relationship between Ana and Christian, but she wonders if teens will recognize the abuse.  Taylor postulates that teen girls will identify with Ana and may fall prey to dating violence.  This month, before the movie
hits, it is important to teach students the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the signs of dating violence, and how to set up boundaries in their relationships.

Activities and Awareness:

If you are not sure where to get started, there are several resources you can use in your school.

First, consider downloading the the Dating Violence Awareness Kit. This kit has a quiz about healthy relationships, activities, facts, and additional resources to use during the year.

Next, think about participating in the Dating Violence Awareness Chat on Feb. 10th @ 8:30 PM EST hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution and the UnSlut Project.

Instead of spending money on the movie, urge your staff members to donate $10 to a domestic abuse shelter.

Good Point!
If you tweet like me, use the hashtag #50ShadesIsAbuse to share the posters with your followers.

Also, consider sharing with your staff and parents the list of companies that promote porn (even child porn).  These companies are considered the Dirty Dozen and the list blew me away.

If you need more education about porn culture, like me, check out the website, Stop Porn Culture. This website is sad, but eye-opening to me as a parent and educator!

Think about sharing this app with your students and parents about healthy relationships called Culture Reframed.

Last, check out these additional articles, resources, and information on this issue. Unfortunately, I don't see this topic going away anytime soon.

Fifty Shades of Grey Condemned as a 'Manual for Sexual Torture'

The Sad Truth About Fifty Shades Readers-Study from the University of Ohio

Jimmy Carter Speaks Out Against the Mistreatment of Women-  A man standing up for women around the world!

Your Brain on Porn - Effects of porn on the brain.

Porn is Not Sex Education - Great article

Seven Deadly Apps All Parents Should Know

CDC: Sexual Violence


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dating Violence Awareness Chat

Sunday, January 25, 2015

If you enjoy Twitter chats, like me, you may be interested in this one! Join me and my friend, Emily Lindin from the "UnSlut Project", for a chat on dating and sexual violence among teens sponsored by the Association for Conflict Resolution.  

The Event

February 10, 2015

8:30 PM EST


More About Emily and The UnSlut Project

The UnSlut Project promotes awareness about sexual bullying, slut shaming, and other related issues.  The project started in 2013 and has been featured on The Katie Couric Show, HLN, and NPR. Also,  Emily was named as Glamour's Hero of the Week in 2013!

Association for Conflict Resolution

The Association for Conflict Resolution is a national association for mediators, arbitrators, educators, and other conflict resolution practitioners. ACR works in a wide range of settings throughout the US and around the world.

The Education, Research, and Training Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution is sponsoring its first chat on Twitter.  The ERT section is responsible for providing resources, training, and support for practitioners, educators, students and young people, trainers, community activists, and administrators in the fields of peace and conflict resolution.  

Dating Violence Awareness Resources:

Teen Dating Violence Awareness - activities and resources to use in your school.

Centers for Disease Control - Healthy relationships.

Love What's Real -Toolkit from Idaho Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Love Is Respect - Safety kit for teens.

Breaking the Cycle - Warning signs of dating violence.

Lesson Plans - Grades 6 - 12

Healthfinder - School Proclamation

Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence - List of resources and activities.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Improve Your Registration Process

Monday, January 19, 2015

It is that time of year again...registration. For nine weeks I will be "trapped" in my office following the same script day after day after day.  Last year, I decided to turn our mundane registration procedure into 30 minute conferences with each student. My goal is to meet every student in my alphabet at least once this year.  

Since we do not not have an Teachers As Advisers Program for our school at this time, our registration process is the only true advisement with my students and their parents.  In three week increments, I will meet with each grade level of students starting with the rising seniors.  It is going to be exhausting, but I feel this is a good investment in making relationships and giving my students the information they need to make good decisions during their senior year.

If this is your first time going through registration or you are looking to put some "meat" in your program, think about extending your registration into an advisement conference. This is not for those who want quick mini sessions, but these are real meetings that take a lot of planning.

Here is how my advisement conferences work:

1.  Students and parents arrive and are given a folder with a registration form  that is completed by me based on graduation requirements and prior courses, a list of senior courses/electives/pathway courses (a pathway course is a career/technical/fine art/foreign language), and a checklist of information we will cover.

Registration Presentation for Students - Here is a registration presentation for students prior to registration from Coweta County Schools, Georgia.

2. When students and parents arrive, they complete a Google form with demographic information. After completing that form, the student ranks 10 electives that he/she is interested in taking.

3. The student, parent, and I go over their status and goals using my updated Credit Audit Sheet, Senior Action Plan and the checklist. This will take 15 - 20 minutes.  For those who don't understand how credits work, here are two great little cheat sheets on counting credits/counting credits pt. 2 created by Centennial High School

4. Students will be given information regarding:
Difference Between Graduation and Preparing for College
Georgia's HOPE Program- HOPE is Georgia's scholarship program based on course rigor and grade point average.

For athletes, I give them a handout about the Difference Between Graduation and NCAA Requirements.

5. Following our discussion regarding courses and their rising senior plan, students will go into our college/Career Center and meet with our staff to receive testing information, Dual Enrollment information, how to request a transcript

Here is an additional handout- List of colleges and universities that do not require standardized tests

6. When students leave, they will have the following form to complete and return to me prior to next year:

Senior Recommendation Packet (this is a great example from Etowah HS in Cherokee County, Georgia).

7. Some additional information that can be given to students include:

Campus Visit Planner
Careers Trends (2020)
College Admissions Requirement in Georgia
College Application Checklist
College Application Organizer
College Application Responsibilities
College Essay Tips
College Fit Kit From Cappex
College Search Calendar
Community Service
Gap Year
GPA Calculator
Senior Survival Guide (great example from Paulding County Schools, Georgia)
Senior Timeline
Summer Programs
What prospective student should know about the Common Application

Do you have a registration and advisement format that you follow? If so, feel free to share with your counseling colleagues.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

February Social Awareness Events for High School Counselors

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

February is a busy month if you are a high school counselor.  From registration to handling day to day problems, we can easily get caught up in mundane activities.  However, if you want to make an impact during the month of February, there are several social awareness activities you can implement in your school.  Oh, wait!  I almost forgot!  February is a very special month if you are a school counselor!  It is special because we get to celebrate our profession during National School Counseling Week! 

National School Counseling Week
February 2nd-6th

Here is daily list of activities...

NSCW Downloads

Monday Poster

Wednesday Download

Other materials:

ASCA School Counselor Materials Order Form - if you want to order materials, you can place an order until Jan. 23rd.


Sample Morning Announcements

Additional Ideas from Wisconsin School Counselor Association:
  • Create special school counseling announcements focusing on all areas (academics, personal/social, career) where a counselor can help the student body.
  • Have lunch with your colleagues and celebrate your many accomplishments  (Build a sub)
  • Create daily contests that engage students in learning more about the counseling program (Tear down walls, support  your counselor, watch your stress disappear)
  • Advertise to parents and teachers what you do through newsletters, brochures, and/or emails.
  • Share creative ‘gifts’ with students or staff to demonstrate you appreciate their support.
  • Mint candy – “you are worth a mint to me…compliments of the counseling department
  • Pencil – “School Counselors point you in the right direction.”
  • Hugs/Kisses – “School Counselors promote a positive school climate.”
  • Lifesaver – “School counselors can save the day…if you give them a chance.”
  • Gum – “School counselors can get you out of a sticky situation.”
  • Snack bag of chips – “School Counselors will chip in and help anytime.”
  • “Extra” brand gum – “School Counselors work extra hard to make our school great.”
  • Mounds candy – “If you are under mounds of pressure, come see your school counselor.”
Organize your own event to help parents and students with the FAFSA or provide the dates for other College Goal Sunday events in your area.
What is College Goal Sunday?
College Goal Sunday is a free event where seniors and their parents can get assistance with the FAFSA for college.

February 9-13, 2015
Since the Ray Rice incident hit the media, there has a been a huge campaign to talk about violence in relationships. As a school counselor, you can bring awareness to this issue in your school by downloading activities from the Love Is Respect website.
Respect Week Handbook

Some notable activities:

  • Post comments to twitter using the #respectweek2015

  • Wear orange for love on February 10th

  • Arrange a pledge campaign called "These Hands Don't Hurt" where students sign a hand pledging not to participate in dating violence.

See other ideas from my posts on Sexual Bullying and Dating Violence Awareness.

Kindness Week

February 9-15

Celebrate random acts of kindness in your school by downloading your kit.  Also, check out my Kindness Week blog for more ideas! 

See you in March!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

High School Counselor Chat-The College Campus Tour

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January's High School Counselor Chat features Amber Shepherd and Laura Sestito discussing the college campus visit.

High School Counselor Chat

Join #HSCCHAT every 2nd Tuesday of the Month!

Kindness Week-It's Possible in High School!

Want to reduce your stress and slow down aging?  If so, practice kindness! Being kind produces serotonin which heals your wounds and makes you feel better.  In fact, kindness boosts serotonin in the giver, the receiver, and those who witness the act.  In addition to serotonin, kindness also produces endorphins or the body's natural ability to kill pain and oxytocin or the chemical that encourages bonding and trust. So kindness has a lot of positive side effects that can have a ripple effect in your school (even high school!). 

Science of Kindness

View these two videos on the science behind kindness and how it works.

National Kindness Week

National Kindness Week is just around the corner  (February 9-15) and you can improve the climate of your high school by promoting kindness.  Go to the Random Acts of Kindness website and sign your school up to be a RAKtivist!

Sign Up to be a RAKtivist!

Just want resources to spread kindness, check out the RAK resources below:

RAK Resources - download posters, quotes, book suggestions, and more!

Kindness Cards

Mini Kindness Poster on Kind Texting

School ideas from 2014

Lesson plans - register and download lesson plans on active listening, peer pressure, problem solving, and feelings.

Calendars and activities

Other Kindness Links

Try these Random Acts of Kindness for High School Students and High School Counselors from RAK website:

  • Positive Office Referrals-send students to the office with a positive referral. 
  • Kindness Challenge-ask the principal to challenge students with a kindness challenge on the intercom each day.
  • Kindness Posts-have your peer helpers post positive notes on lockers, bathroom mirrors, walls, etc.
  • Janitor Appreciation-clean your office for the janitor and leave a note for him or her expressing your gratitude.
  • Valen-Kinds-make and send staff valen-kinds to say thank you for their support and hard work.
Post any of your kindness activities on my blog!  Love to hear from you!!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

National Drug Fact Awareness Week-January 26th-February 1st, 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Barbara Roberts
Each day our brains are exposed to many useless facts. For instance, did you know that...

  • Barbie's real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts ( wonder they shortened it to Barbie).
  • Every time you lick a stamp, you consume 1/10 of a calorie (so much for my diet).
  • It is illegal to hunt camels in Arizona.
  • If you hold your nose, it is impossible to hum (it is really is true...I tried it!)
    Guess what....never mind.
(sources: WiseGeek, DJ Tech, & Buzz Feed)

Even if they may seem trivial, here are some facts that are helpful to know.

  • Drugs and alcohol have a negative impact on the developing brain of a teen,
  • 50% of teens do not believe it is harmful to experiment with
    Potent THC Products
    crack or cocaine.
  • 6.5% of seniors smoke marijuana daily.
  • Current levels of THC in marijuana are much higher and much more dangerous than the levels in the 1970's. 
If these are the facts that you want to expose to your students, then you need to consider participating in Drug Fact Awareness Week!

What is National Drugs Fact Awareness Week?

The purpose of National Drugs Fact Awareness Week is to debunk myths about drugs and drug abuse.

Date of Event

January 26-February 1, 2015

Preparing for National Drugs Fact Awareness Week

Did you know that you can order free materials for your event?  Order your free materials until January 15th. I received my materials today!!

Also, check out the SAMSHA website for additional drug facts and pamphlets and the Truth About Drugs website for free downloads.

Planning for your Event

NIDA provides interactive lessons, worksheets, and materials for schools.  One event that I am going to host is a discussion/lesson on marijuana use by teens in our freshman health class. 

Publicizing your Event

Publicity Video

Teen Drug Trends

Drug Use Among Teens


Here are some links where you can get additional facts about drugs and drug use among teens.

  • Drug Facts - List of different drugs and their impact on the body and brain.

  • Downloads - Get decals for posters, t-shirts, & stickers. See two examples below...



Other Resources

Above the Influence - Great organization for getting more information on teen drug use.

Some Examples of Events to Implement in Your School

1.  Teach a lesson-Below are a few lessons that are available along with quizzes and worksheets.

Prescription Drugs
Brain and Addiction

2.  Participate in the NIDA Drug Fact Chat on January 30, 2015 (8:00 am - 5:00 pm)- live chat between high school teens and scientists.

Drug Chat Transcripts (2007-2014) - includes questions asked by students, responses from scientists, and links for more information.

Short video regarding the 2013 Drug Fact Chat

Please feel free to share your ideas about Drug Fact Awareness Week with me!  

Monday, January 5, 2015

January Peer Helper Chat - No Name Calling Week Activities & Ideas!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Join yours truly and my co-host, Dr. Roselind Bogner, for our second Peer Helper Chat.  Our topic will include a discussion on how your school can organize a No Name Calling Week Campaign at your school.  Come with your ideas, activities, and questions!  Please join us whether you have a peer helper program or you just want to share your ideas.

No Name Calling Week- January 19-23, 2015

For more information on activities and lesson plans download the kit:

Peer Helper Chat
January 14, 2015
8:30 EST
Twitter  #peerprograms

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gang College for High School Counselors

Sunday, January 4, 2015

In our middle class world, we don't think twice about using the terms "mug", "biscuit", or "Picasso". In our culture, these words all have a common and benign meaning.  However, according to the book, “Gang Related: Signs, Signals and Slang of Modern Gangs and Organized Crime", these terms have a very different meaning for gangs which is often dark and nefarious.  For instance, take the word "mug".  In our world, the word "mug" represents a cup used to hold hot beverages, but for many gang members it can mean sexual intercourse, idiot, or identification of another gang member. Now take the term, "biscuit". A "biscuit" usually means a hot roll made from dough; however, for gangs it often identifies a gun.  Lastly, when we think of the term "Picasso", we see him as a vibrant painter, but for gang members it can mean a face slashing (ouch!).

The Gang Image Portrayed by Hollywood

The Baseball Gang...really?
For the majority of school counselors, we fail to understand the world of gang members or why someone would want to join a gang.  In fact, gangs don't seem that bad on television or movies.  The first time I saw Hollywood's interpretation of a gang was the 1979 cult classic, "The Warriors". This movie starred the handsome Michael Beck, as the gang leader of the Warriors, who was trying to get his group back to Coney Island after they were falsely accused of killing Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs. Throughout the movie, you have several gangs (clowns, baseball players, women) running after our heroes until they were finally able to prove their innocence and the real shooter was caught (you never see what happens to the shooter and his gang, but intuitively you know they were killed). At the end of the movie, former Eagle, Joe Walsh, sings a top 40 rock song and our hero walks off into the sunset with a girl he picked up along the way.  Thirty six years later the film, "The Warriors", is still popular with our current youth.  In fact, while I was writing this post, I asked my teenage son where the phrase, "Can you dig it" came from and he had no trouble identifying the movie.  Also, a comic and a video game have been made from the movie.  However, the movie is not without controversy.  During the initial showing of the movie in 1979, movie theaters had to hire extra security because youths were bringing guns to the cinemas.  After a showing in 2012, three deaths were associated with the film and two of the deaths were gang related killings.
No Cyrus, we don't dig youth joining gangs
Violence Off the Screen the Worst Recent Movie Theater Attacks-Gang Film The Warriors Sparks Violence

Hollywood Biker
Fast forward thirty years to another gang related show called "Sons of Anarchy" (SOA).  The show is based on the world of the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (OMC).  However, unlike real motorcycle gangs, the characters are suave, have perfect teeth, and have good hygiene. In the SOA series, the members are all white (like most OMCs) and they are portrayed as cool and glamorous. In addition, the show elevates the status of the "One Percenters" or the small percentage of bikers who are involved in organized crime (i.e. Hell's Angels and Mongols). Also, the series shows law enforcement as corrupt and easily manipulated by the bikers (like cops need more bad press). Due to the popularity of the show among bikers and the "One Percenters", the National Gang Crime Research Center makes several predictions about how it can impact biker culture:

1.  Because the show glamorizes the "One Percenters", many bikers may be enticed to join outlaw gangs like the Mongols.
Real Biker
2. There is a chance that these bikers will simulate the SOA identity and participate in crime and violence (drugs and prostitution).
3.  Due to the simulation of the SOA persona, these bikers may assume the colors of OMCs when they ride; therefore, they may be confronted by the "One Percenters" as wannabes and become victims of gang attacks.

Sons of Anarchy

Although "The Warriors" and "Sons of Anarchy" are creations of Hollywood, gangs are a real part of American culture and a threat to our youth.  The FBI has identified several gangs in America that pose the greatest threat due to their involvement in prostitution, drugs, sex trafficking, pornography, violence, and involvement in terrorism.

Dangerous American Gangs

History of Dangerous Gangs in America

The rise of dangerous gangs in America began in the 1820's from the mass immigration of ethnic groups from Eastern Europe to the Northeastern and Midwestern US.  Due to the lack of jobs and economic poverty in urban areas, youth consistently engaged in violence among ethnic lines. Overtime, youth gangs dissolved, but reemerged with the migration of African Americans from the South. Interracial violence occurred when white youth fought to keep black youth out of their neighborhoods.  Following the influx of African Americans to the cities, a great migration of Hispanics arrived in the Southwestern United States. It was during the 1960's that gang demographics changed in the United States with two-thirds of the gangs becoming Black and Hispanic.

Gangs came to national attention in 1965 when a white police officer pulled over 21 year old Marquette Frye on suspicion of intoxication. Following his arrest, the Watts Community, in South Central Los Angeles, erupted into violence with rioting by street gangs.  After the riots, the street gangs decided to organize under the Black Power Movement which was eventually disbanded by the FBI. From the lack of leadership in the Black community, the youth in the South Central Los Angeles formed the gang called the Crips. Quickly a rival gang formed in Compton area called the Bloods and violence spilled into the neighborhoods. Since the 1960's, the number of gangs has grown astronomically to include over 33,000 groups who regularly recruit youth in the schools, neighborhoods, and online to keep their groups alive and thriving.

History of Street Gangs
Gang History Timeline
PBS: Crips and Bloods

Reasons Why Youth Join Gangs

Although there is no universal definition of a youth gang, the National School Safety and Security Services identifies four characteristics that must be present in order to be classified as a gang. These characteristics include:
  • frequent interaction in the community and/or school
  • involvement in illegal activities
  • common identity (ethnicity, beliefs, interests)
  • common method of identification (colors or clothing)
Although we may not understand the reasons why students decide to join gangs, researchers have found multiple reasons.  Researcher Buddy Howell says that there are multiple negative factors that push youth into gang involvement as well as perceived positive reasons that pull them into gangs. These pushes and pulls are risk factors that make it more likely that an individual will join a gang and include:

1. Individual factors include problem behaviors in schools, impulsiveness, negative life events, abuse, and victimization.  In fact, early aggressive behaviors in 2nd or 3rd grade (stealing, lying, fighting, and blaming others) can be individual factors that can predict push factors for future gang involvement. Also, researchers found that the availability of marijuana in the community increases the odds of joining a gang by 3.6% (Early Precursors of Gang Membership: A Study of Seattle Youth).
2. Family factors can push youth into gangs. The examples include divorce, family transition,
disengaged parenting, inconsistent rules, and poor parental supervision.
3. School factors like poor school performance, low school attachment, constant suspensions/expulsions, and labeling students as slow learners can push students toward gang involvement as they are looking for acceptance that they lacked in the school environment.
4. Peer Group Influence or the association with delinquent peers can cause youth to feel pressured (whether they believe the actions are wrong or right) to act out their antisocial beliefs and separate from their mainstream peers.
5. Community factors include poverty, neighborhood disorganization (segregation, high crime, and marginalization) can push students into gangs.

Maslow and gang membership
About half of the kids who display these risk factors do not actually join a gang, but just try the gang out to see how it fits. However when a student has an accumulation of risk factors in multiple domains, the more likely the youth will be pushed into joining a gang. Surprisingly, students are generally not forced to join a gang, but are enticed by positive opportunities or pulls like money, girls, drugs, and power. Youth involvement in gangs usually starts in late elementary or early middle school when kids are between the ages of 10 or 12. The decision to join takes about 6 months to a year with the mean age of initiation into a gang around age 15.

Gangs on Social Media

Gang members showing signs on Facebook
Although gangs exist in schools and communities all over the world, youth don't have to go looking for gangs to be able to join. A youth who lives in a school or community without the presence of gangs can merely go to Facebook and type in gang slang to access a gang site.  Many of these pages exemplify gangs who are involved in racial hatred, drug dealing, sex trafficking, pornography, arms sales and much more.  Although these are public pages, one must know the terminology to find them buried deep within Facebook.  Since gangs thrive in anonymity, it is often difficult for the regular civilian to detect them in neighborhoods or schools. Since they are cyclical and ever-changing, community and school leaders often do not recognize the signs of gangs in their schools; therefore, they tend to deny or downplay their presence. Also, gangs thrive in environments where there is animosity toward authority and law enforcement, distrust, and lack of social order. Since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, gangs have used the disillusionment of the youth of the area to recruit new members. Their presence was noticed by civil rights activist Delia Bell-Powell who was interviewed by Newsweek Magazine. “  The gang members who’ve been here [among the protesters] are not something we can ignore...we’ve got a large gang culture in this area, so these gangs getting bigger, gaining more members, is disconcerting. That might end up being the worst repercussion of all this.”

Why Youth Join Gangs
Gangs on Facebook
Newsweek: For St. Louis Gangs: Ferguson Has Become a Recruiting Tool

How Can Educators Make a Difference for Youth?

Now that we know gangs are ever present in our community, schools, and on the world wide web, how can we help our youth? The National Gang Center provides a great video for educators to view about gangs and why youth decide to join these organizations.  In addition, this video is a great staff development tool to use to educate your staff about this underlying issue in our schools.

National Gang Center Educator Video

Tips for educators to help youth stay out of gangs:
  • Show genuine interest in youth.
  • Create safe environments for youth that include normal routines and predictable outcomes.
  • Provide choices that give them a since of control.
  • Instill hope for the future by helping them set goals.
  • Set clear, firm limits.
  • Recognize that disruptive behaviors are often the result of trauma.
  • Provide opportunities where youth can safely talk abut experience.
  • Help youth become re-engaged in school.
  • Anticipate reminders of traumatic events and provide support.
  • Teach techniques to help overwhelming feelings.
  • Get youth involved in positive causes.
In addition, the National Association of School Social Workers and the American Counseling Association provide specific roles  that  school counselors and school social workers should play in order to reduce gang involvement.  
  • Become knowledgeable about the warning signs of youth gang involvement. Look for gang signs and symbols.  Some of these signs include:
  1. Tattoos (see Prison Tattoo Field Guide and generic identifiers for more explanations of gang tattoos).
  2. Graffiti (see Gang Graffiti 101)
  3. Gang related art
  • Provide information and support to parents.
  • Implement an awareness program.
  • Offer direct help and resources to students.
  • Target the gang prospects by offering these students alternative ways to spend their time and create a life outside of the gang. Experts believe you may only have six months or less to show them the advantages of leaving the gang.
  • Advocate for policies inside schools.
  • Collaborate with outside agencies.

Warning: Flipping Out a Gang Member

There are many reasons why people leave gangs. Some of these reasons include:
  • Growing older and the gang doesn't meet their needs.
  • Getting married and/or getting a job.
  • Becoming a parent.
  • Disagreeing with the activities/beliefs of the gang.
Of course it is our desire for youths to leave gangs!! However, if you are working with a student to help him or her leave a gang, aka flipping, there are some things you want to keep in mind:

1.  When a youth leaves the gang, he or she must be educated about healthy relationships. If a student's needs are not met when leaving the gang, he or she may return to the only type of relationships he or she knows.

2.  Relocating students is not always the answer to leaving the gang. Students can take their problems with them to their new location and connect with another gang.

3.  Ask the student what happens if he or she leaves.  Can they fade out or is there a ritual (beating)?

4.  It is important to be real about the expectations of what will happen if he or she decides to leave the group.

5.  Do not make the decision for them to leave; they must make their own decision.

6.  Talk about a safety plan and involve other professionals in this plan. 

7.  Encourage students to complete their education as this increases the opportunity for students to want to leave.

Gangs 101

My Experience with Gang Members

Since I have been a school counselor, I have had several students involved in gangs.  I want to share stories about two of my students.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a gang member.  He was born into the gang and his family was heavily involved in drug dealing.  We never spoke about the gang, but I knew he was involved due to comments he would make about fighting other students for disrespecting him or his boys.  Often, he was suspended for fighting, constantly hung out in the bathroom, and he was failing most of his courses. When we would meet to discuss his graduation plans, his parents would never attend the meetings and he would change the subject to other topics. Often he would talk about his beliefs and philosophies like how the world would end when aliens attacked our planet, how his boys would take over the school, or how stupid the police and the administrators at the school were in their decision making.  However, he always came to see me and we formed a good relationship.  I always tried to encourage him to finish school and go to school to pursue his passion for cars.  During his last year of high school,  he was expelled for drugs and was forced to move (I am not sure if he graduated).

A second gang member was a girl who was initiated in the gang by sex. She was a sweet young lady, but involved with a group of boys in another county.  Eventually, she ran away from home and joined the gang full time. Fortunately, she was found by the police and returned home to her concerned mom.  Being fearful she would return to the gang, her mother sent her to live in another state with relatives. I asked her to email me and let me know how she was doing in her new school. Her involvement in a gang has made me more aware of girl gang involvement which has increased sharply in recent years.

Girl Gang Involvement

Want to Know More?

If you really want to see the underworld of gang life, I encourage you to check out History Channel's tv series, Gangland.  Also, check out Gangs 101, Idaho Gangs and the Gang Library from the Washington/Baltimore area for information on the structure, recruitment strategies, and information about major gangs in the US. In addition, I have included more resources for you to view if you want to learn more about youth gangs.


National Mentoring Conference Summit
January 28-30, 2015
Washington, D.C.

At Risk Youth National Conference
February 15-18, 2015
Myrtle Beach, SC

National Conference on Bullying
February 25-27, 2015
Orlando, FL

Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Students
May 7-8, 2015
Seattle, WA

National Gang Crime Research Center Conference
August 10-12, 2015
Chicago Westin Hotel

Crimes Against Children Conference
August 10-13, 2015
Dallas, TX


School-Police Partnership-January 14, 2015-3:00 pm.


Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere-includes training and resources for educators.


Gang Intervention on Steve Wilkos

Ain't No Deny'n-Gangs and Violence

PBS Video on One Man's Journey From Gangs to Academia


Gang Colors Seminar, Lisa Taylor-Austin, Gang Counselor

Resources for Schools

School Gang Brochure -Township High School District 211

Gang Card for Parents