Radicalization into violent extremism and terrorism remain an increasingly high threat to global security as well as social cohesion. Families are often at the center of issues and challenges related to extremism. When an individual becomes radicalized, and begins to elicit extremist behavior, it not only has an impact on the person, but also their family, friends, and community.
Children and especially young people, are a vital source of recruitment by violent extremist organizations (VEOs). VEOs recruit using a variety of techniques, including deception, kidnapping, human trafficking, and force. Others join freely because of the allure of a shared identity, the promise of economic security, sentiments of exclusion, grievances, and personal ties such as family networks. These techniques have been made easy through online propaganda and the use of social media.
Preventing recruitment is one of the most effective ways to counter terrorism. An effective approach necessitates the detection of early signs of radicalization, and the mitigation of individual grievances. Key actors, including families, need to be involved in the efforts to prevent and counter the spread of radicalization and recruitment.
Why are Families Important in PCVE?
The response to the challenge of violent extremism requires a multi-pronged approach that extends beyond security and involves the whole community. Families are an important source of resilience against violent extremism, and their efforts in countering extremism is increasingly being recognized.
Firstly, families can influence family members’ behaviors towards non-violence. Peer groups and social networks in general have a significant influence in enabling or hindering processes of radicalization into extremism. Positive social networks are crucial for maintaining peaceful norms and overcoming VE and, as research shows, families are an important form of social networks responsible for providing support, guidance, and context when children and young people start questioning realities in the world around them. Parental influence is especially important because when a parent has less influence in their children’s decision-making, then they are highly likely to be inefficient in guarding their children in cases of radicalization into extremism.
Secondly, when effectively supported, family members can detect early warning signs of vulnerability to radicalization, especially among young people. Because families are those closest to a person, they are frequently the first to notice early or subtle changes in behavior, attitude, social networks, or emotional responses in one of their members.
Thirdly, families are an important part of the reintegration and rehabilitation process because they stand a greater chance of convincing the radicalized individual(s) to give up on their extremist and violent ideologies. While disengagement and rehabilitation are a process, the commitment and connections to a family may be a powerful motivator from disengaging from violent extremist beliefs and activities. In some of the rehabilitation programs, former extremists are encouraged to build families, or become a part of a larger community.
Families need to be involved as partners in early prevention of radicalization and resilience development efforts in order for future generations to be able to reject the appeal of joining extremist groups and seek out healthy solutions to their personal problems.
In addition, families with members who are at risk of radicalization should be better informed not just about how to spot early indicators of radicalization, but also about who to seek help from if they fear their relatives are interested in extremist ideologies. Consequently, families’ willingness to disclose dangers to authorities or seek treatment when their children are being influenced by VE recruiters is sometimes disadvantaged by the securitized nature of counter-terrorism, therefore, there is need to promote collaboration with law enforcement to improve information exchange, and cooperative opportunities for prevention.
There is need for safe channels for parents to report early signs of radicalization to violence, and an infrastructure of experts able to deal with vulnerable youth before they become a security risk.
Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Key Resources for Families
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides parents, families and caregivers with information about how to talk to children about war and terrorism.
Extreme Dialogue Stories consists of compelling films that reveal the various ways ordinary people can be affected by extremism.
Parents can find answers to common questions and resources to help protect children from extremism here.
Parents for Peace organization works with, and empowers families, friends and communities to prevent radicalization, violence and extremism.
The Devon Children and Families Partnerships aims to make families and children get the right support and are safeguarded online from radicalization and extremism among other things.
Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Lifecycle Initiative Toolkit includes all existing and new tools that address the lifecycle of radicalization to violence.