Many people gravitate toward extremist groups for many of the same reasons people join gangs and cults, their lives are missing something, and these groups help fill that void. Some of the most common reasons people join extremist groups are:

  • that they feel ostracized by their peers and are looking for a place to belong

  • they are searching for their own identity and believe that they will find it by joining these groups

  • they are simply looking for a new thrill or source of excitement

  •  they want to go out and correct a perceived injustice

  •  they already believe a less extreme version of the religion or ideology, but become influenced by an authority figure or someone they look up to who has a more extreme doctrine


Western youth, some as young as 12 years old, have attempted to commit acts of terror in the West in the name of ISIS since 2014

of these youth were radicalized by online recruiters.

An additional 17% of these children had no formal contact with the Islamic State which indicates that they were likely radicalized by viewing ISIS’online propaganda


There is not one sign, or one behavior, that indicates your child may be becoming radicalized. Since everyone reacts differently to difficult situations, there are many different types of behaviors that are potential indicators. Some warning signs to look out for include:

  • suddenly becoming much more political or religious

  • dressing differently or changing their appearance in a specific way

  • surrounding themselves with a new group of friends and ignoring old ones

  • becoming disinterested in school or old hobbies

  • becoming more socially isolated

  • suddenly approving of the use of violence to support a cause

  • believing that anyone who does not support their beliefs as less than

  • arguing and fighting with friends and family members more often

  • spending a lot more time on the internet and/or social media

  • visiting extremist websites

  • starting to show sympathy towards extremist groups

  • displaying intolerant and discriminatory behavior towards people of other races, ethnicities, etc.


Just because your child exhibits one or more of these behaviors does not necessarily mean that they are becoming radicalized. Some of these warning signs could mean that there is some other problem going on such as depression, in which case it is also important to be aware of the issue and try and give them the help they need to get to a better place psychologically. Discovering what is really going on in your child’s life can be a difficult task, especially if they are determined to shut you out, but if your child is talking to extremists or beginning the process of radicalization, it’s important to know these warning signs and red flag behaviors as it is the first step in leading them away from radicalization.

It is also important to keep in mind that many radical groups have become quite skilled in teaching their recruits how to deceive those around them. Most recruiters will instruct their recruits to act as normally as possible and will ask that they not change their behavior significantly (to avoid being caught). For more information please read What to Do if Your Child is talking to An Unsafe Person


Sources: Statistics are from a report conducted by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point