It is apparent that young people are the target of extremist groups, because they are the most vulnerable and easy to radicalise. During a person’s adolescent and teenage years they are very impressionable to the world around them. The most important thing for most of these adolescents is to find a place to fit in. It is the period of time where they want to be independent but they still have to rely on their parents and the thoughts of their peers; they do not know which way to go. All they want is to think freely, but social and economic pressures make it difficult for them to discover who they are and what they want. Their minds are so malleable that they make the perfect prey for terror groups to spread their ideology. By creating an exclusive subculture, extremists make their targets feel like they are important; their opinions are finally heard and deemed valuable. How can we avoid this? How can we save our youth before they are in trouble? There will never be one definite answer, however, emphasis on the Good Life Model (GLM) in schools and everyday life has great potential to strengthen the minds of the vulnerable and halt radicalisation.
The GLM focuses on creating a balanced and well dignified life for not only young people, but all people. However, it is essential that a young person is raised in the values that it upholds so he or she can be confident in their trade and pass on their knowledge. It is human nature to want to succeed in life. There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting an A or being promoted or actively improving at a skill. The GLM assists in strengthening one’s ability to create goals and plans to get to these points of achievement in the most efficient way. If someone can create goals and set a path to follow, they are more likely to succeed and not slip through the cracks of vulnerability. What parents can do to help their kids not see this as a daunting task, but rather as a way of life, is to instil it from the beginning: make it a habit. Mayumi Purvis, PhD, of University of Melbourne conducted research and settled on 11 classes of primary goods that are necessary to create the GLM: life, knowledge, excellence in play/work/agency, inner peace, relatedness, community, spirituality, pleasure, and creativity. It may seem like a lot, but it emphasizes that everything that a person needs in life must be done in moderation. If a child has too much time playing, he or she will not understand the importance of work. However, if he or she spends too much time working, their creativity and pleasure will falter.
So, what does this have to do with radicalisation? Well, if a child is not comfortable with finding the balance in their life, they become easy targets. If too much time is spent focusing on one or two elements of the list of primary goods, it is easy to resent it and look for a way out. Extremists jump in at that moment and fill that void. Many young people who have been victimized by radicalisation have said that in the beginning the radicalising influences made him or her feel as if they were the most important person. Fighting in Syria quickly went from a farfetched daydream to their sole purpose in life. Islam is built on brotherhood and tribal tendencies. A young person who does not fit in will follow because they want to be included in something. By putting the idea of Westerners destroying their values and cultural traditions, young people want to respond, because it is a part of their life that they strongly identify with. Extremists understand that these brilliant young people- who at times are not widely accepted by their peers- want to channel their knowledge into a cause that will change the world. They use that to their advantage. They fill in the untouched primary goods of the GLM that the young people do no experience in their daily lives.
There is no easy way to solve this problem. Radicalisation can go completely unnoticed by families, friends, teachers, etc. because it is done so quietly. Extremists usually get in contact with young people via social media and slowly build a relationship with them until they agree to come and fight. The only thing that can be done to slow the rate at which is happening is by making people aware that it is. Parents and teachers and adults alike, take notice in the youth. Are they happy? Are they living a balanced life? What aspects of the Good Life Model are they missing? Be open to their ideas and be someone they can confide in. Young people, as much as they do not want to admit it, need positive reinforcement and attention from their elders. It is comforting and reassuring for them when they know that they are not alone. It is easy to want escape reality, but do not let them follow through with it. Do not let the extremists win.
Written by: Allison Phillips