Family Is Greatest Factor That Causes Youth to Reject Violent Extremism

For Release

September 29, 2015

Family influence is more important than peer groups in dampening a young person's propensity toward becoming a terrorist, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Studying young people in the Palestinian West Bank, researchers found that encouraging nonviolent political activity is unlikely to reduce terrorism.

The report suggests that policies aimed at undermining radicalization should emphasize family members — especially parents — more than friends. This should include teaching parents how to discuss detrimental messages on social media, as well as building programs to strengthen families' influence on youth and ties to local communities.

“We found that we should approach efforts to reduce radicalization among youth in much the same way we work to prevent other problems such as underage drinking and gang recruitment,” said Kim Cragin, lead author of the report and a senior political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

RAND researchers interviewed 10 politicians from the Palestinian organizations Hamas and Fatah in 2012. Seven of the politicians had been arrested by Israeli security forces and three had been involved in violence.

Researchers also surveyed 600 Palestinian young people aged 18 to 30 who lived in Hebron, Jenin and Ramallah. Among those who participated in the face-to-face survey, 8 percent had been arrested by Israeli security forces on terrorism-related charges.

The study concludes that for residents of the West Bank, rejecting violent extremism is a process with multiple stages and choices within each stage. While family plays a greater role than friends in shaping attitudes toward nonviolence, demographics do not have a significant impact on attitudes toward nonviolence.

In addition, researchers say they found that, among respondents, opposing violence in theory is distinct from choosing not to engage in violence.

Cragin said that future studies on radicalization — or rejecting extremism — should be careful not to equate measures of support for political violence with a willingness to engage in violence. “Policies shaped by these types of studies might lead policymakers in the wrong direction when it comes to counter-radicalization programs,” said Cragin.

The report, “What Factors Cause Youth to Reject Violent Extremism? Results of an Exploratory Analysis in the West Bank,” can be found at Other authors of the study are Melissa A. Bradley, Eric Robinson and Paul S. Steinberg.

This research was supported by philanthropic contributions to RAND's Initiative for Middle East Youth and conducted within the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, part of International Programs at RAND. The Center for Middle East Public Policy brings together expertise from across RAND to address the most critical political, social and economic challenges facing the Middle East.

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