What Drives Kids to Extremism and Radicalization?

In light of what has been going on around the world from the mass shootings in the United States and the terrorists acts in Europe and Middle East to young kids committing horrific acts of violence and joining terrorist organizations, I thought it would serve a good purpose if I posted my Take on what is driving all these good people and young kids to these extremes. Though, I have to make clear that these are only my thoughts and beliefs and this is not a research paper. This article is not about guns, gun control, or any political topic. This article is meant to explain my Take on these situations and others like it.

In the recent years we have all witnessed or heard the unbelievable acts of violence and mass shootings in the United States. From the Aurora shootings where 12 were shot and killed and 58 others injured to the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown where 26 innocent children and adults were gunned down, there is no denying that there is a clear break in the system. A break where someone can get to the point of seeing no other way than killing other people before killing themselves, to get out of whatever issue they are dealing with in their lives.

If we look closely at the shooters in these killings, we can see a clear trend. Harper-Mercer: Oregon shooter, 26; Abdulazeez: Chattanooga shooter, 24; Roof: Charleston shooter, 21; Rodger: Isla Vista shooter, 22; Zawahri: Santa Monica shooter, 23; Lanza, Newtown shooter, 20; Holmes, Aurora shooter, 24; Loughner, Tucson shooter, 22; and the list goes on and on. There is a clear and shocking trend in the majority of the mass shootings in the United States. The shooters are young people, especially males, in their 20s and 30s, and are lonely and unemployed. Of course, there is no denying that some were suffering from mental illness. I am not discussing the medical aspects here, I will leave that to experts in mental health who are more qualified to comment on this than I am.

Recently, the threat of ISIS and ISIS inspired attacks around the world is all we hear on TV, radio, read on online blogs and etc. It is even a major part of the 2016 United States Presidential primaries. The threat of being attacked by the terror group, and the thought of teenagers and the youth fleeing the Western countries to go abroad to join the group to fight for their “cause”, is too much to handle.

But what cause? What are they talking about? What is it that they think they achieve by killing innocent people or by joining a terrorist group? What makes them even think about doing any of these, knowing they will get killed in the end. What drives them to what I call “insanity”? What enables the perpetrators to be able to so easily brainwash them and to radicalize them? What makes some individuals more susceptible than others?

More often than not, I hear people in the media blame these impressionable youths. Yes, I completely understand that if someone shoots and kills 14 people, they are to blame and that justice must be served. I understand that completely. My heart is with the family members of all the victims of all of these horrible crimes and I cannot possibly understand what they must have gone through. But what I am trying to get to here is, what if we step back for one second, and instead of just blaming or explaining things with mental illness, think about what might have driven the kids to the level that they thought they had to find an alternate option… Maybe if we look at things in this manner we could find a way to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future, or reduce the likelihood of their happening.

When I was a child, I was taken to many different parts of the world, thanks to my father’s cabinet position in the ministry of energy and natural resources. My sister and I were taken from country-to-country, continent-to-continent, from the day I remember. From Germany, to China and then Japan, to Iran and Dubai to Cyprus to Canada. I have been places. I have great memories and bad memories of my childhood going from one country to the next.

When I was 7 or 8 we had to move to Japan for a long-term oil and gas project my father was working on with his Japanese counterparts. Because of my young age, I was forced to go to an all-Japanese school, whereas my sister got lucky and ended up going to an English school. I cannot speak for my sister, but I do recall my own experience in school when I spoke absolutely no Japanese and they spoke no other language than Japanese. As much as I love the Japanese now, I did not have the best experience then. I was always lonely, got beat up by other kids, got humiliated, got ganged up on, singled out and had no real friends. I ran from school so many times that my mother had to come to school, stay there in the hallway all day to make sure I did not run away from school. God bless her for having the love and patience to do this all day everyday for 3 years, probably with no food most of the time.

I felt extremely lonely, and at that young age I did not feel like I was liked by people around me. I spent hours and hours in front of the TV playing video games, being alone, and just to myself (sound familiar?). I was so quiet and lonely that I did not see a point in talking to others, because I did not think I was gonna be liked or heard anyway. I was more than willing to be part of a group, any group or find someone who was willing to be my friend, at any cost. I was most susceptible to being harmed or radicalized, but thank God that this is a 20-some-year-old story, when the world was a much safer place to live in.

Some kids are by nature quiet, shy and introverts. It is hard for them to communicate with their peers, to join them, to be friends with them. They get bullied the most in schools, get discriminated against the most and have the most amount of fear when it comes to life and society. Some go on to become difficult aggressive kids that cannot be controlled even by their parents, rebels that damage everything they find. Some, like myself, try to find ways to find a friend; someone who accepts them with open arms. Boys or girls, they all want and need comradery, love and friends. They all want to belong. They want to feel equal.

For example, when I saw other kids talking about certain cartoons and TV shows, I was more inclined to watch them and forced myself to like them so that I could be a part of the conversation in school. I was so willing to do whatever it took to have a friend, to be embraced and liked by my peers that I just walked around and listened to what people were talking about, and I tried to fit in, somewhere. A couple of years after when I moved up in school and was in around grade 3 or 4, I came across a more religious group and I was immediately drawn to them, because their message was “You are welcome with us, you belong”. I went to become a deeply religious young kid, who worshiped God religiously and participated regularly in religious worship sessions and groups.

When I left Japan and moved to Middle East, I was still in grade 5 and it was a major culture shock, again. I had to go to a transition school where I could speak the language well enough to participate in regular schools and learn the culture again to be a part of the society. There were many kids from almost every country in the world, except… Japan. I was the only kid that came from Japan. I was lonely and miserable, again, ready to do whatever it took to be accepted, to have friends.

I went through middle school and high school very much the same way, no friends, most of the time alone, a rebel. I spent all of my breaks alone, sitting in a corner, eating a sandwich or a piece of fruit that my mother had packed for me, looking at other kids with their friends, in their groups laughing, playing and having fun, trying to figure out what was it about me that drove people away.

I was not good at talking to guys or girls. I really wanted to talk to girls, but I rarely had the courage to even say hi. This bothered me the most. I always saw other kids going out with girls after school… and I never got a second look from anybody. I felt desperate. I felt that there was something wrong with me…

Attracting and talking to the opposite sex is arguably the most difficult part of anybody’s life. I had so many issues talking with girls, even when we were just playing games. I could barely ask a girl out and keep a relationship afloat for more than 2 weeks.

Growing up, I was taught to care about my education and my studies the most. To do nothing but study. This is the extreme opposite of not paying attention to your child and letting them do whatever they want. I was not allowed to socialize with girls, all fearing that the relationship with girls would slow down my studies and would hinder my opportunity to get good grades.

I cannot express how important it is for kids and youth to spend time and interact with the opposite sex. The kids that are not able to talk to or have a normal relationship with their opposite sex are are a higher risk of getting drawn to the extremes. There has been many sitcoms, Married with Children, 8 Simple Rules, etc. in which the father kicked the guys wanting to date their daughters out of the house with the fear of the guys trying to take advantage of their daughters. Being a man, wanting to have a daughter one day, I can totally understand why some go to the extremes. If we teach these behaviors and prevent a clean, respectful relationship between boys and girls, we are contributing to many psychological disorders that can manifest itself later on in a child’s life. Of course I am a strong advocate of a fully supervised relationship between boys and girls.

Every person I became friends with drove me to doing something they enjoyed. Whether it be watching certain cartoons, playing soccer, damaging people’s properties, etc. I just knew I needed to belong.

Would I have been a great target for extremist groups? You betcha. Religious groups, extremist groups have come to understand the nature of the beast, really well. They understand the psychology of loneliness and the need for belonging. They include positive messages filled with hope and beautiful nature of having a group that you belong to, having someone you can call a friend. They put a friendly face on when they make advertisements, they include images of them laughing, being friendly to one another, eating in a group, all those nice things we all want to have. On the surface, they offer what lonely individuals lack and want. If a young man or a woman sees an opportunity to belong and they are at their wits’ end, what could possibly stop them from actually joining them? Nothing.

Now, I am in my early 30s, educated and successful, and live in the best country in the world, in the best city in the world with my family and have great friends all highly educated and successful.

I am very happy and thank God that in my rebellious and those years my blood was filled with an overshot of testosterone, I did not cause any damage to anybody. However, I must admit I did cause many damage to properties, mainly my parent’s car and their belongings. I have done and said many things that I am not really proud of to my father, mother and especially sister, and if I could take them back or turn back time and do it all over, I would do so in a heartbeat.

When I read the stories of these young men and women who commit horrific crimes, kill innocent people and themselves, or join terrorist organizations, I see beyond the surface; past what most people see. I see the real frustration, the real desperation that drives them to the extreme, to do whatever it takes. Reading the posts and watching the videos these young people make before they go on their rampages, beyond a reasonable doubt tells me that they are where I was when I was a kid. I can clearly feel the void within, their sadness, and their desperation. I feel their anger and their constant questioning of why, what is wrong with me, why doesn’t anyone like me.

But, who is really responsible here? Are the kids to blame? Would you blame a kid that is radicalized and joins ISIS, for example? As hard as it is to say and I know I may get a strong opposition to this, I say no. I say the kid is not to blame.

So then, who is to blame then??

First, and foremost, I want to blame the parents. Yes, I understand that includes my own parents. Kids are supposed to get love, attention and feel as if they belong, in the family. Troubled kids, more often than not, lack this in their families. Their parents do not act in a manner that shows and teaches the kids the value of love and belonging. This could be a direct result of the parents being too busy and preoccupied with work, or not being present in the child’s life or not taking an active role in the child’s life. Or, it could be that the parents are separated and the child is missing a strong role model in their lives.

I know some parents might argue that they need to provide food and shelter for the family, that they need to work long hours, or work 2 to 3 jobs to be able to provide for their families. I hear you and I understand you. But you have to understand, your job as a parent is not just to provide food and shelter. Your job is to provide love, care, affection, food and shelter.

If the children do not learn the sense of belonging from an early age, within the family, they are going to suffer throughout the rest of their lives. If they don’t learn how to interact, how to talk, how to behave, how to deal with other people, in the family, they will suffer from low self-esteem, from anxiety, depression and many other issues in their lives.

One thing that the Western societies and cultures are known for is the weak family bond. These days every child has a TV in their rooms, a computer with internet access in their rooms, they eat separately in their rooms, they have very little interactions with their siblings or parents, they do what they want, when they want. What is wrong with this picture? Nobody talks to each other! All that the kids learn is loneliness and whatever it is on TV, which more often than not, violence and risky behavior.

What we as adults, and as parents, fail to do is to create a Family. We rent or buy a house, have kids and call it a family. But it really is not. A family is more than just a couple of people that have sex and kids that are the results of the sex, living under the same roof. A family needs love, affection, deep respect and care for every member. A family needs to spend time together. Parents need to spend quality time with their kids, go for a walk, hike, rent a couple of tandem bikes and go for an hour of bike ride, go camping, create a culture of love and togetherness in the family, show your kids what the meaning of belonging is, invite their friends over, give them a chance to socialize and connect outside of the pressure of school and competing groups.

What is interesting to me is that, we somehow, magically, find time to spend time with our pets, take them for a walk, get them the best food we can but when it comes to our own flesh and blood, we fail and we let them be on their own.

One thing I really enjoy seeing when I deal with parents that get involved in family sports is how the kids laugh, enjoy and have fun when they do something with their parents. The joy in their laughter, the spark in their eyes is truly priceless. You don’t need to take up a new sport, spend hundreds of dollars a month to do this. Buy a couple of badminton rackets or a soccer ball, a football or a basketball… all you can pick up from a store that is probably 5 minutes from where you live, under $10. Play with your kids, let them look forward to something to do with YOU after they do their homework, let them look forward to doing something with YOU after you get home from work and you should look forward to doing something with YOUR kids that makes them happy, that keeps them engaged, that teaches them the power of the family. Show interest in their daily lives, in them, in what they do, in what they want to become, be encouraging, they are YOUR children. Show them love.

In closing, I want to emphasize a few key points:

I, personally, do not believe that the kids that are driven to the extremes are to blame. As people, we are social beings, we need to socialize, we need to belong, hear and be heard, love and be loved. If we do not get these from our families, especially at a young age, we look for alternative sources to provide us with our emotional needs. It is very similar to quest to satisfy our hunger. If we do not get enough food to eat through proper channels, there is a good chance we will commit a crime, steal food, hurt someone, just to have something to satisfy ourselves with.

Extremist groups understand this very well and they monetize on this by sending warm and welcoming messages to the vulnerable. They create images of what it would be like to join them, images filled with laughter, joy, belonging and friendship.

I believe it all starts in our families. We need to create a more loving, caring and fun environment for our kids. We need to spend time with them, to love them, to listen to them, to do things with them. If they get these from us, they have no reason to look elsewhere for them.

That was the Coach’s Take for this week. I hope that this provided a basis for understanding the problem and hopefully a foundation for preventing the youth from engaging in crime and extremism.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.