Why Young People Join ISIS

Analysts recognize the adult fighter in the video


Several days ago, a girlfriend said to me, “I just can’t understand why any young person would join ISIS.”

My immediate response was, “I can.”

Her mouth dropped open and a 30-minute conversation ensued.

Here’s what I tried to convey to my friend.

Every child is born with a fundamental need to find purpose and meaning in their life. Our job as parents is to raise our children in a manner that teaches them that meaning is found through psychological, physical and spiritual means.

In other words, we help them build emotional strength so they can have great relationships and be emotionally sound. We invest time and money to discover their talents so they can feel fulfilled in their work. And most importantly, we show them that deep meaning in their life comes from being created by God for a purpose.

As they mature emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually, they come to understand the meaning and purpose of their lives. Thus, they experience deep satisfaction.

Not all children are so fortunate.

Many live with voids so deep they are driven to fill them. They are lonely, isolated and emotionally and spiritually vacuous because they live in an environment that doesn’t adequately satisfy their fundamental needs. They are ripe for manipulation. They scour the landscape to find a place to feel accepted, nurtured and important. When they find a high-profile group like ISIS that proclaims it needs them, they jump because they are anxious to know they matter.

Many pundits claim young people join groups like ISIS because of political pressure or ideology. This may be true in part, but it is by no means the whole picture. They may join for multiple reasons, but political convictions alone won’t make them strap bombs on their backs and blow themselves up. Something deeper must propel them to act so radically.

What would that be?

Religious Conviction
Men and women — especially young ones ¯ find life’s highest calling not in pleasing other people but in pleasing something bigger than themselves: God. Religious tenets teach them what to do and how to act, but it is a deep belief that fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives gives their lives meaning. This drives them to fanaticism. ISIS wants them, but the God of ISIS needs them.

e Judeo-Christians have the perfect antidote to this. Jewish men and women understand God as Yahweh, creator, not destroyer of humanity. Christians take this truth further. We believe this same Yahweh is Jesus, who also gives life. Yahweh creates men and women, and Jesus breaths new life into them. But the most important tenet of our Christian faith is this: We know Jesus sacrificed his life for us and never asks that we sacrifice ours for him.

Let me ask this: Do your children know this?

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, "The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids," part of The Strong Parent Project.

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