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Dr. Masuda received his doctoral degree from the University of Washington, Seattle, and is currently a licensed psychologist in the State of California. He is in his 12th year on the staff of the Asian-Pacific Family Center, Rosemead, California, and is the Clinical Director of School-Based Services. His specialty areas are adolescent psychology, family therapy, and community interventions. Currently he is coordinating a school, community, and law-enforcement program. He is also currently a part- time core faculty member and Associate Professor of the California School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles. He has taught classes in professional development, and ethnic- minority mental health and is very involved with the schools and adolescents throughout the County of Los Angeles.
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People often introduce me as a gang specialist, and I always correct them by saying, "No, I am not a gang specialist." I am a professional psychologist working primarily with adolescents and teenagers, and as gang behavior is a major aspect of their environment, identifying gang behavior is a consequential aspect of my work.
In identifying the problems of adolescents, I am very specific about what and who I am referring to. I begin with a definition of an adult. Adulthood is typically defined simply by age (currently in the U.S. it is eighteen). But adulthood according to my definition is determined by three different criteria, age not being one of them. To fit my definition of an adult, a person must be 1) responsible for his or her behavior; 2) accountable for his or her actions; and, 3) very cognizant and aware of how his or her own actions and behavior impact other people. We all know people who are in their 20's, 30's, 40's, or 50's who have not yet attained the status of adulthood according to my definition. At the same time we might know a 16- year-old who tends to act in accord with my definition.
Adolescents are basically "adults in training". They are on their way to becoming adults, and they are trying hard to get there. But, as my father used to tell me, you are not an adult until you act like one. In my case, it wasn't until I was 30, and I did have to work very hard to finally qualify.
I have spent the last twelve years working with Asian- Pacific youths and their families in school-based mental health programs. Why did we go into school-based mental health? When our agency first opened twelve years ago, we already had—and still do have—a wonderful staff of psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, case managers, and community workers who are all very talented, multi-lingual, multi-skilled individuals. Our services are designed for all Asian-Pacific Islander kids, because the language capabilities that we have at our agency are Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Chu Chao, Toi Shan, Korean, Japanese, and probably a couple more Chinese dialects, and so we are dealing with the Pan-Asian population. The interesting thing is that the parents have really liked the staff. The problem is that the adolescents and teens often do not. The complaint was, "I don't want to go see Doctor Lin because he sounds like my dad, he looks like my dad, he talks like my dad, he even smells like my dad. So I don't want to go and see him."
We realized that we needed a more cross-cultural and appropriate approach for these young people, so we decided to ambush them right in their high schools. We have been very successful. In fact, we started to find all sorts of problems—depression, suicide, run-away behavior, drug abuse—all those types of behavior that are of current concern. We are finding that young people between the ages of 14 and 17 whose cases are being referred to us are saying, "Could you do something? We are involved in gangs." We are finding it very difficult to sway these young people away from that type of activity and behavior.
As a matter of fact, the very first case I got was someone sent here from New York City because there was a "hit death contract" on him, so he was here for early intervention purposes. I had to tell the staff person at the time, "It's a little late for early-intervention for somebody who is crying for his New York City girlfriend but who would be shot on sight if he went back there."
It became evident that prevention needs to take place earlier, such as when students are initially being influenced or forced into gang activity and behavior. Many parents have come into our agency—referred to us by police, probation officers, school officials, the clergy, or others—who basically say the same thing, "She was a wonderful, beautiful child—a straight 'A' student all the way up until she got into high school. And then suddenly, everything changed." What we are discovering is that these changes do not happen "suddenly". There are specific signs that many adults are not aware of, or are just not paying attention to, that can be identified as we look into the history of a child's behavior.
To be continued