Mentoring and Domestic Radicalization

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May 2017

This review examines research as it relates to mentoring and domestic radicalization. The review is organized around four questions:


  1. What is the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing domestic radicalization among youth?

  2. What factors influence the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing domestic radicalization among youth?

  3. What pathways are important in linking mentoring to prevention or reduction of domestic radicalization among youth?

  4. To what extent have mentoring initiatives with potential to prevent or reduce radicalization reached youth most likely to benefit, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by host organizations?

Research directly addressing mentoring as it relates to domestic radicalization among youth is extremely limited in amount (nine studies) and scope (e.g., carried out primarily in non-U.S. contexts) and as a whole is lacking in methodological rigor (e.g., no well-controlled studies of program effectiveness). As such, available evidence is largely insufficient for answering any of the above questions. Currently, a significant proportion of research and interventions addressing radicalization and violent extremism have focus on acts committed by those affiliated with Islam. However, extant findings do suggest a number of noteworthy possibilities. These include:

  • The potential for program-supported mentoring to enhance core indicators of positive development among youth who, collectively, may be relatively more vulnerable to radicalization (e.g., those from marginalized communities or stigmatized cultural groups); such indicators include social connections with diverse peers, and confidence in being able to successfully pursue postsecondary education and obtain employment;
  • The potential for mentoring to help forestall or interrupt the emergence of attitudes that may reflect tendencies toward radicalization among youth (e.g., a belief that violence toward others in society is justified based on religious or political tenets);
  • The potential for processes significant in linking mentoring to prevention or reduction of radicalization and violent extremism among youth to include both a) those identified as being of general importance when mentoring youth—such as forging of a close and trusting bond and engaging in activities to promote core aspects of positive youth development—and b) other processes that have more specific relevance to susceptibility to radicalization—such as direct discussion of ideological beliefs and engineering of positive contacts with members of other cultural groups;
  • The value of partnerships comprised of diverse local community government and nongovernment entities and stakeholders for facilitating the development, implementation, and reach of initiatives involving mentoring that have aims of contributing to prevention or reduction of radicalization among youth.
  • Both practical (i.e., identifying young persons expected to be most appropriate for participation) and sociopolitical concerns (e.g., perceptions of stigmatization and stereotyping) as barriers to the engagement of youth in mentoring initiatives associated with efforts to prevent radicalization and violent extremism as well as enhanced youth engagement when young persons have meaningful roles in the development or implementation of programs (e.g., peer mentoring).

Insights for practice based on currently available knowledge are appended to this review. This commentary notes that, even when not specifically targeting the prevention or reduction of radicalization and violent extremism, mentoring programs may be in a position to influence factors that have been theoretically linked to radicalization. These include a sense of community and connectedness for youth who may otherwise feel isolated from and marginalized by the dominant culture. Mentoring programs are also encouraged to examine how they may enhance their existing programming to provide training to mentors and program staff on warning signs of possible radicalization among the youth they serve. The commentary also takes note of the encouraging examples of programs that have involved law enforcement in their work to their advantage (e.g., helping to break through stereotypes and foster constructive dialogue) while at the same time highlighting a range of potentially formidable dynamics (e.g., feelings of distrust) and safeguards (e.g., protection of rights to privacy) that merit careful attention in any such efforts.

Click here to read the full review.

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