We're here to help
If you are worried that someone you care about is heading
down a path toward extremism, you are not alone.
Call our helpline at 1-844-49-PEACE
Who should call the helpline?
- Anyone concerned that someone they care about is becoming involved in any kind of extremism.
- The helpline was designed with the experiences of parents in mind, but is always available to other family members or friends with concerns.
- Community members like teachers, coaches, or others who concerned about someone they know are also welcome to call.
- We believe that family and friends have an important role to play in helping a vulnerable individual. Our goal is to help you become an effective mentor, using your established relationship as a foundation for guiding the person back onto a path toward healthy choices
- We provide a safe space to share your concerns – your privacy is important to us.
- We do our best to provide general support and constructive feedback on the challenge you are facing.
The time from adolescence to early adulthood is filled with many social, academic, career, and personal transitions. Young adults are trying to figure out who they are, where they belong, and what they should believe about the world. Excitement, energy, and optimism are often mixed with confusion, disappointment, and stress. Sometimes, young people adopt harmful ways of coping with these common challenges. While “radicalization” is not usually thought of as a way to cope with an identity crisis or typical life struggles, research and the experiences of many families shows that this can be the case.
There are many extremist groups with very different beliefs, but most share a key similarity: They view the world in terms of “us vs. them.” Extremist groups believe that they are under attack and must take action against the out-group in order to survive.
Most people have seen a friend or family member change in ways that were harmful to themselves or others. Radicalization, in the simplest sense, is a process of change in an individual’s beliefs and behaviors, influenced by extremist individuals, groups, or networks. The greatest concern about radicalization is that an individual may come to believe they are justified in taking violent action. Radicalizing influences may be direct and targeted, such as when extremist group members focus recruiting efforts on a specific vulnerable person through in-person or online interactions. Other times, influences are more broad and general, like the extremist propaganda circulating in online forums or within offline social environments.
When someone you care about adopts strange or hateful beliefs and isolates themselves from friends and family, it’s natural to ask “Why?” What is the individual getting out of it? As strange as it sounds, joining an extremist movement can provide a shortcut to feelings of personal significance and sense of belonging. Although extremist ideologies seem complex, most issues boil down to the “us vs. them” dynamic. This makes understanding the world and all of its problems easier. By belonging to the in-group, they know who they are, what they should believe, and who they should associate with. Personal traumas, grievances, and feelings of marginalization can now be blamed on the “them.”
Every person and radicalization process is unique. Determining whether the “radicalization” label fits is not the end-goal; the goal is to better understand the situation so you can look for ways to help the person you’re worried about. The list below includes some changes in mindset and behavior that you and other family and friends may be noticing.
- Justifying the use of violence to advance a cause
- Adopting a rigid worldview with no room for dialogue
- Feeling persecuted or marginalized due to their identity
- Suddenly losing interest in goals, activities, or hobbies
- Using hateful or discriminatory language
- Distancing from friends and family
- Spending large amounts of time interacting with strangers in online forums
- Centering social life around a secretive or unknown new group of friends
- Hiding their beliefs, or aggressively pushing beliefs on others
- Major changes in emotional expression
Remember, these are just a few examples. Always consider your concerns within the larger context of the individual’s life. There may be a different serious issue they need help addressing.
You can make a difference
It’s normal to feel confused, angry, and unsure of what to do in a situation like this. The good news is that friends and family members can play an important role in a very natural intervention process. You don’t have to be an expert on extremism and radicalization – you are an expert on the person you’re concerned about.
Why are you concerned?
What is your loved one doing they doing that’s different or unusual?
Do you think these changes have been influenced by specific people?
What are their goals and dreams?
Are they still excited and working towards them?
Parents for Peace is just one many organizations established in recent years to address the challenge of violent extremism. See the links below for more information and resources you may find helpful:
CPRLV– Montreal’s Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence offers tools that can be useful for families and community members.
Crisis Text Line – 24/7 anonymous text line where people get can support from trained crisis counselors.
Program on Extremism– A leading research center at George Washington University producing reports and analysis on extremism in the U.S and abroad.
Freedom of Mind Resource Center – A consulting and coaching service that helps families reconnect with estranged loved ones and assists people caught up in cults.
Connectfutures – A UK based organization engaged developing a range of programs to build resilience to extremist thought in young people.
“People Against Violent Extremism” – A grassroots Australian non-profit working to counter extremism, including through short educational films.
Serve2Unite– A creative service learning project for students inspired by PFP members Arno, a former violent extremist, and Pardeep, a survivor of violent extremism.
International Cultic Studies Association– Resources for concerns about cult involvement that may also be helpful for concerns about extremist groups.
Mothers for Life– A global alliance of mothers who have experienced violent jihadist radicalization in their own families.
Theory of Enchantment – provides educators with a world-class social-emotional learning program (SEL) that integrates pop culture with developmental psychology.
EXIT-Germany– An initiative assisting individuals who want to leave extreme right-wing movements and start a new life.
“Sisters Against Violent Extremism” – A global network based in Austria that provides women with the tools to challenge extremist thinking and terrorism.
Extreme Dialogue– Videos and multimedia educational resources spotlighting the lives of former extremists.