Parents on the Front Lines of Youth Radicalization

Parents on the Front Lines of Youth Radicalization
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It is hard to believe, but there is a number of our children and youth who will befriend and even fall in love with radical beliefs and prefer them to the company of their family and friends. Parents do not know--can't imagine--that their child could become vulnerable to radicalization. Most think this could not happen to their children, but in reality it can and does happen to anyone, anywhere in the world. In fact, it's already happening on a massive scale. In schools across the world, teachers and parents are working to disrupt the process of radicalization that leads our youth toward disengaging from family and community, as our society faces intensifying threats from radicalization groups targeting our children.

What is Radicalization?

It can be seen as the process by which individuals--usually young people--are introduced to an ideological and/or belief system that encourages a shift from existing or mainstream beliefs towards extreme views. The radicalization of our youth typically originates from ideals that form beliefs, moral, principles, ideas, which is rooted in hate and intolerance. And, despite the media spotlight on ISIL, they are not the only organization to radicalize our youth. There are currently 892 hate groups operating in the United States. Some parents have witnessed their children becoming "brainwashed" and feel powerless in the midst of these changes. These groups or individuals radicalize youth by indoctrinating them into their culture of hate and away from their existing family values.

It is important to understand that although most radicalization groups do go against the establishment or the cultural norms we live by it is important not to equate radicalism with terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic and it is not limited to Islam, or any religion for that matter. There exists an important difference between holding radicalized beliefs and engaging in radicalized actions and as such, radicalization does not always lead to violence. It is understood as an extremely fluid state, one in which vulnerable youth are extremely susceptible to.

Why are Children Targets?

Millions of people are trying to understand why children are so easily torn from their families through radicalized beliefs. There is no clear answer or one behavior that fits for every youth who has been radicalized. But what we do know, is that when our children and young adults feel disconnected, the internal, and emotional forces that they struggle with can leave them vulnerable to extremist ideologies.

Joining any group is typically about searching for meaning and purpose.

Becoming aware of the telltale signs of youth who are vulnerable to radicalizing is the key to understanding and disrupting the radicalization process. Some of the things to be on the lookout for resemble typical teenage behavior, but when parents investigate these behaviors they can decipher 'normal' teenage angst from real turmoil and vulnerability that could be addressed.

  • Disengaging from family
  • Anger and resentment
  • Inner life of anxiety and a sense of feeling trapped
  • Turning off music while driving
  • Removing photos from their bedroom walls
  • Hanging out with new friends
  • More time spent on social media
  • Newfound dedication to physical training
  • Dropping out of school
  • Changing the way they dress
  • Resignation or lack of purpose and belonging
  • Feeling disappointed in themselves and discouraged by what life has offered them thus far
  • Feeling despair at the emptiness and meaninglessness of their daily activities

Those most at risk are already disconnected, disillusioned, without work or purpose and angry. These behaviors require individual attention and support from trusted individuals. It is imperative that we disrupt the process of disengagement by reaching these youths before they can make decisions that have far reaching implications.

What Can We Do?

Our challenge as concerned citizens and parents, is to stand at the front lines of radicalization and disrupt the radicalization process. For those families whose youth are already gone, we must find a way to get them to reengage and want to interact with the family again. The radicalization of children and young men and women by extremists, is a condition that demands an immediate and effective multi-level approach to keep our children safe.

The media landscape is a point of instability and we must address it before it becomes a greater crisis.

Modern technology has the potential to advance the motives and accelerate the methods of radicalization--ideologies and activities that perpetuate hatred and extremism. When we leave young men and women and children unattended on the Internet, they are left to access social media alone without anyone knowing what they are reading, hearing or seeing. This alone does not guarantee radicalization, but without alternative messaging, decisions are largely being made through the emotional appeals on social media sites. Many hate groups, including ISIL, employs a complex and diverse set of tactics for radicalization and recruitment, mostly found via the Internet--videos, photos, slogans, songs, sermons, twitter and Instagram accounts--all aimed at establishing an individual connection with our vulnerable youth.

It becomes important to be involved and knowledgeable on what Internet sites your child is frequenting. In this way, the family is truly at the front lines of disrupting any radicalization attempts. Family ties are important in keeping vulnerable youth from being radicalized.

Parents and teachers together can work to keep our children from becoming detached, by helping to develop engagement, meaning and a means toward purpose for our youth. In the current and emerging radicalization threat, deterrence is not only about preventing something from happening, but it is also about preventing something from escalating beyond our capacity to respond. We can help our children and communities immeasurably through our own engagement with our youth's development towards purpose and meaning, until they are safe and out of harms way.

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