Have you validated your children's feelings lately? Do you listen to them, speak with them about what they're doing at school, with friends or during hours when you're not around?
If you believe Patrick Sabaitis on this issue, you better start having answers to these questions — especially if you live in the region's urban core. If you don't, there's a good chance your children will be indoctrinated into a local terrorist organization.
Sabaitis, of Hammond, knows all too well. He used to prey upon kids who lacked engagement at home, who felt dejected or even hated their parents. He would offer them a place in the world by recruiting such kids into the Almighty Latin Kings street gang.
In a recent column in The Times, Sabaitis very aptly described street gangs as terrorist organizations, in which children — our children — are taught to steal, kill, sell drugs and evade police.
Take a look at the Hammond federal court docket, and you'll see just how real these terrorist organizations have become in Northwest Indiana, with their guns, drugs and body counts.
Sabaitis left gang life years ago and now uses his street knowledge to help reform gang kids — or keep them away from gangs in the first place.
But there was a time when he harnessed that knowledge into the recruitment of gang members —actively seeking out city kids from the weakest or most vulnerable or turbulent family structures.
Most parents — urban, rural, white, black or otherwise — can be counted among the guilty in parental blunders.
Sometimes we don't listen to our kids. Sometimes we're too busy, tired or annoyed. I've blown off my 10-year-old sons before at the end of a busy day or in the early morning hours sprinting to get ready for work. I always feel badly about it later.
I can only imagine the distractions parents living in the urban core face, sometimes wondering from where the next meal, paycheck or general source of survival will come.
It's under conditions like these that Sabaitis' former self thrived. It's where countless recruiters for today's street gangs continue to do their finest work, luring children into the fold of gang families that will listen to them — provided they shoot dead whomever they're asked to kill or peddle drugs upon whichever street corner they're ordered.
It's an absolute wake-up call to all region parents — but especially those in the urban core. At the very least, listen to your kids. Don't blow them off. Know what they're up to. Give them purpose in the family.
Otherwise, street gangs may train them to do a whole lot of things, including dying for their street families.
You don't have to take it from me, a south Lake County white guy who resides about as far from the region's urban core as possible without leaving the county.
Take it from Sabaitis. He's been there and done that. He knows the problem is more urgent — the consequences more imminent — than any foreign act of terrorism.
This is a remedy beginning in the home, not with the intervention of some government social service agency but with parents caring enough to engage their children.