This review examines research as it relates to mentoring and domestic radicalization. The review is organized around four questions:
- What is the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing domestic radicalization among youth?
- What factors influence the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing domestic radicalization among youth?
- What pathways are important in linking mentoring to prevention or reduction of domestic radicalization among youth?
- 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 focused 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.
Acts of terror have an enormous economic and human cost. In 2015, the global economic impact of terrorism was estimated at $89.6 billion, its second highest level since 2000, with the human cost reflected (in part) in the 29,376 associated deaths.1 The last 15 years have seen the economic and opportunity costs arising from terrorism grow approximately elevenfold and deaths of private citizens due to terrorism increase approximately sixfold.1 Geographically, terrorism tends to be concentrated in a relatively small number of countries, with four (Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan) being the location for more than half (57 percent) of terrorism-related deaths since 2000.1 The United States and other Western countries account for a relatively small proportion of terrorism globally. Notably, though, 2015 was the worst year on record (since tracking began in 2000) for terrorism in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countriesi, with the number of attacks rising for the sixth consecutive year to a total of 731.1 Among OECD countries, the United States had the third highest number of deaths from terrorism in 2015 and in the first half of 2016.1
Although there is no one agreed upon definition of terrorism, it is often thought of as involving the use of violence against multiple targets/victims to effect societal, political, religious, or ideological change.2 Domestic terrorism in the United States includes acts committed by right-wing, antiabortion, environmental, and religious extremists. For example, the United States had 4,420 right-wing terrorism incidents between 1990 and 2012.3 However, in more recent years, the threat of domestic terrorism by individuals affiliated with ISIL and Al-Qaeda has dominated the conversation. According to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School4, there were 368 cases of terrorist attacks associated with Islamic groups in the United States between 2001 and 2013. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence that violent extremism is particularly likely to emanate from any specific established religious tradition, ideology, or belief system.5 In recent times, most terror attacks have been committed by lone actors rather than domestic or international terrorist organizations, accounting for 98 percent of all deaths from terrorism in the United States since 2006.1 These include the San Bernardino attack in which 14 were killed, the attack on attendees of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina that killed 9, and the Orlando nightclub shooting that killed 50 and is suspected to be inspired by ISIL.ii Furthermore, individuals involved in terrorist attacks in recent times have been relatively young, with mean ages between 25 and 293, 4 and the Internet and social media are increasingly being used as tools for recruiting and planning for terrorist attacks.6
Closely intertwined with the problem of terrorism is the concept of radicalization. Definitions of radicalization also vary considerably.7 For the most part, though, there appears to be agreement that radicalization is the process of developing extremist ideologies and beliefs,7 with extremism (in the context of liberal democracies) understood to refer to “an ideology that advocates racial or religious supremacy and/or opposes the core principles of democracy and universal human rights”.7 USAID’s definition of violent extremism as “advocating, engaging in, preparing, or otherwise supporting ideologically motivated or justified violence to further social, economic, and political objectives”8 (page 2, emphasis added) illustrates the manner in which radicalization and terrorism are understood to be interconnected. Yet it should be kept in mind that many (possibly most) individuals who might be described as “radicalized” do not engage in or actively support terrorism-related violence;iii likewise, not all terrorist acts need be committed by those with deeply held extremist beliefs or ideologies.7
Research on factors leading to radicalization, and among this group factors leading some to engage in or otherwise support violent extremism, is quite limited to date. Available findings indicate that these influences are multifaceted, distributed across individual/psychological, social/group, and societal levels, and variable across individuals, time, and context.9 Illustratively, based on extensive analyses of over 5,000 data sets, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP)1 has identified numerous country-level factors that are associated statistically with terrorism, but also found that these factors tend to be distinctively different for OECD and non-OECD countries. For OECD countries, the IEP1 noted that “socioeconomic factors, such as youth unemployment, militarization, levels of criminality, access to weapons and distrust in the electoral process, are the most statistically significant factors correlating with terrorism” (page 3). Similarly, there is accumulating empirical support for a range of psychological and social/interpersonal processes as potentially contributing to radicalization and violent extremism. These factors include personal motivations to redress grievances and receive anticipated rewards (e.g., money), socially-facilitated entry through family/kinship and other close network ties, and needs for belonging, sense of identity, or personal meaning that may be met through group affiliation.9,10
Some observers of the foregoing types of potential influences on susceptibility to radicalization or violent extremism have proposed the usefulness of distinguishing what have been referred to as “push” and “pull” factors. Hassan11 describes the two types of factors as follows:
Push factors are the negative social, cultural, and political features of one’s societal environment that aid in “pushing” vulnerable individuals onto the path of violent extremism. Push factors are what are commonly known as “underlying/root causes” such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, discrimination, and political/economical marginalization. Pull factors, on the other hand, are the positive characteristics and benefits of an extremist organization that “pull” vulnerable individuals to join. These include the group’s ideology (e.g., emphasis on changing one’s condition through violence rather than “apathetic” and “passive” democratic means), strong bonds of brotherhood and sense of belonging, reputation building, prospect of fame or glory, and other socialization benefits.
To some extent, mirroring this diversity of suspected drivers of violent extremism, approaches to combating terrorism, and radicalization as a precursor to it have been quite varied. These also continue to evolve, seemingly at least in part in response to emerging understandings from research. Of particular note, in 2015 the Institute for Economics and Peace12 noted that whereas “traditional counterterrorism approaches have targeted terrorist activity directly through increased security measures . . . as the understanding about the drivers of terrorism improves, discussion has shifted to prevention strategies so as to reduce the pool of individuals that may choose to participate in terrorist activities” (page 74). In line with this trend, the National Institute of Justice has focused its funding for research and evaluation in the area of domestic radicalization on “Community-level demonstration programs to prevent radicalization to violent extremism [that] may involve a variety of strategies and activities” (page 5). These programs include primary prevention strategies (i.e., those focused on reducing the likelihood of radicalization by working with broad groups, communities, or populations through such activities as antiviolence messaging and education), secondary prevention strategies (i.e., programs directed at individuals who have been identified as being at high-risk for becoming radicalized), and intervention strategies (i.e., approaches that have the aim of aiding the disengagement of radicalized individuals and/or de-radicalizing those who have already adopted extremist ideologies, but are not engaged in planning or carrying out acts of violence). Also of note are more theoretically derived taxonomies of strategies. Davies,13 for example, recently drew on insights from complexity science and theory to outline four types of strategies within education that could interrupt the spread of violent extremism: introducing turbulence through value pluralism, working within the enabling constraints of human rights, building confidence and resilience, and developing networking for social change.
Given the social and interpersonal factors that have been implicated in radicalization (e.g., need for belonging) and the growing interest in preventive approaches and those that are predicated on adult guidance and influence, it is not surprising that mentoring of youth has been widely proposed as a potentially useful approach for combating violent extremism both in the United States and abroad. The present review takes stock of research that pertains to this topic, with a focus on the following four questions:
- What is the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing domestic radicalization among youth?
- What factors influence the effectiveness of mentoring for preventing or reducing domestic radicalization among youth?
- What pathways are most important in linking mentoring to prevention or reduction of domestic radicalization among youth?
- To what extent have mentoring initiatives with potential to prevent or reduce domestic radicalization reached youth most likely to benefit, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by host organizations?
A systematic literature search was conducted to identify journal articles, book chapters, and other types of reports that have reported findings pertinent to one or more of the preceding questions. This included searches of PubMed, Proquest Dissertations and Theses, PsycINFO, and Google Scholar using an established set of keywords as well as outreach to a listserve on youth mentoring research and practice. Additionally, research referenced in relevant chapters (e.g. those in either edition of the Handbook of Youth Mentoring14, 15) and prior literature reviews in the areas of both mentoring and radicalization/violent extremism was reviewed for potential relevance. Several notes are in order as to what type of research was considered to be within the scope of the review.
First, the primary interest was in research focused on mentoring as defined by the National Mentoring Resource Center (i.e., relationships and activities that take place between youth [i.e., mentees] and older or more experienced persons [i.e., mentors] who are acting in a nonprofessional helping capacity—whether through a program or more informally—to provide support that has its aim or realistic potential benefitting one or more areas of the young person’s development; for further detail, see What is Mentoring?). This definition excludes services and supports that are offered in formal professional roles by those with advanced education or training (e.g., social work, counseling) as well as those that are exclusively or predominantly didactic in orientation (e.g., structured curriculum). However, for purposes of the present review, these requirements were relaxed to some degree in view of the limited amount of available research. Notable, too, is that, although “criminal mentoring” and related processes have been implicated in the radicalization of some young persons (see, e.g., Simi et al.14), the present review focused on mentoring with more salutary and prosocial intentions.
Second, research needed to either focus on domestic radicalization (e.g., evaluation of a mentoring program with this goal) or on selected outcomes that may represent particularly notable risk or protective factors for radicalization. These latter outcomes include selected indicators of positive youth development (e.g., morality-based components of character, feelings of belonging to a prosocial group or institution, confidence or optimism about future possibilities such as postsecondary education or employment) as well as beliefs and attitudes concerning violent extremism or closely related ideologies. Consideration of a relatively broad array of outcomes, rather than only those with obvious direct relevance to radicalization or violent extremism, is in line with the argument made later in this review that the Positive Youth Development framework17 provides a useful lens through which to consider factors that may be more broadly and fundamentally protective in relation to susceptibility to radicalization.
Third, youth of all backgrounds (e.g., religious, racial, socioeconomic) were included in keeping with the understanding that the potential for violent extremism is not restricted to any one particular group or population of young persons.
Fourth, in keeping with research suggesting that radicalization is a process that may occur gradually over an extended period of time and thus not necessarily confined to a single phase of development,9 the age range of youth in eligible studies was extended to include young adulthood (i.e., samples of young persons as old as age 25).
Finally, a large proportion of initiatives to counter or prevent violent extremism (including those making use of mentoring specifically) have taken place in other countries; for this reason, research was not limited to the U.S. context. Clearly, though, it is extremely important to keep in mind the potential, and indeed likely, limitations of attempting to generalize findings from research conducted in other countries to the United States.
A total of nine studies met criteria for inclusion in the review; four studies were primarily or exclusively quantitative, two were qualitative, and the remaining three were mixed methods (i.e., combination of quantitative and qualitative). Table 1 includes a description of several different programs that have been evaluated in these studies as well as additional programs or initiatives that were identified in the process of conducting this review, but that have not been evaluated to the best knowledge of the review authors. It should be kept in mind throughout this review that the range of potential types of radicalization and extremism is considerably greater than what is reflected in the identified research and program examples. Concern with radicalization linked to either intentional distortion or unintentional misunderstanding of Islamic religious teachings is well-represented (and, in fact, arguably overrepresented). In contrast, work focused on exploring or leveraging mentoring’s potential to reduce the likelihood a young person will gravitate toward violence in conjunction with other religious viewpoints (e.g., Christianity) or any of a variety of nonreligious beliefs or grievances (e.g., racial superiority, animal rights) is notably absent.
i The OECD currently consists of 35 member countries and includes many of the world’s most advanced countries, such as the United States, Germany, and Australia, but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile, and Turkey. For a complete list go to http://www.oecd.org/about/membersandpartners/
ii Although clearly significant, the economic and human costs of terrorism are relatively small in comparison to other forms of violence. During 2015, for example, terrorism accounted for only 1 percent of the total global economic impact of violence, which reached $13.6 trillion;12 likewise, globally, the homicide rate is 13 times that of the rate of deaths attributable to terrorism.1
iii It is worth noting that this perspective, in which radicalization does not always serve as a precursor to terrorism, does not appear to be universally held. Illustratively, the National Institute of Justice, in its most recently issued guidelines for applications for research and evaluation of prevention and intervention demonstration programs focused on domestic radicalization, defines radicalization as “the process by which individuals enter into violent extremism” (page 5).
What is the Effectiveness of Mentoring for Preventing or Reducing Domestic Radicalization among Youth?
Mentoring is frequently included in initiatives to prevent violent extremism, suggesting that it is viewed as having the capacity to make a measurable contribution to preventing or reducing radicalization among young persons. As with other suggested strategies to curb radicalization or extremist activity, these efforts as a whole have not been guided by well-developed theories of change (i.e., delineation of specific processes through which mentoring could affect radicalization and related outcomes and the conditions under which these are expected to be most likely to occur). Among a myriad of theoretical perspectives that could be brought to bear on this question, one that appears particularly promising is positive youth development. Below, this framework is considered with respect to the question of why mentoring could be expected to be effective in preventing or reducing radicalization. Attention is also given to aspects of the framework that suggest ways that mentoring can be ineffective or even counterproductive for this purpose. Examples of mentoring programs that appear to be aligned with important components and assumptions of the framework are provided.
Overview of Positive Youth Development framework.
Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a strength-based perspective that has provided an influential counterpoint to more deficit-oriented approaches to research and practice directed toward “at risk youth” over the past two decades.34 As summarized recently by Erdem and colleagues,35 “One of the major premises of the PYD framework is that youth development takes place in a system of bidirectional processes between youth and their ecological context through which youth build strong relationships with parents, peers, teachers, and other adults and connect to communities, schools, and other institutions.36, 37, 38 Youth, as constructive agents of their development, use such ecological assets and resources to achieve healthy development in academic, psychological, social, and moral domains and continue to both grow and ultimately contribute to civil society as young citizens”37 (page 466). Along those same lines, the Social Development Model39 postulates that when youth have opportunities for bonding to persons and institutions whom they regard as holding prosocial values, this will reduce the youths’ susceptibility to involvement in antisocial behavior such as substance use or violence. Conversely, if such assets are lacking (for example, youth have opportunities primarily to form positive bonds only with those not perceived to hold prosocial values or those who overtly espouse antisocial viewpoints), involvement in problem behavior is expected to become more likely.
Lerner and colleagues17, 37, 40 have proposed that PYD consists of assets in five key domains, referred to frequently as the “5 Cs”: competence (social, academic, and/or cognitive skills); conﬁdence (positive self-worth, self-efﬁcacy); connection (positive bonds with people and/or institutions); character (sense of morality and integrity); and care and compassion (sense of sympathy and empathy for others). When the 5 Cs develop, they are expected to contribute to the emergence of a “sixth C” of contribution that includes (in part) actions taken to benefit one’s community and institutions of civil society (e.g., neighborhoods, schools, religious groups).17 Following from the basic premise that as positive behaviors increase negative behaviors will decrease, PYD, as reflected by the 6 Cs, is expected to be associated with a decline in problem behaviors, including aggression and delinquency.17 This idea, which also has received robust empirical support17, suggests one potential pathway of PYD to prevent or reduce violent extremism. More compelling, perhaps, are the linkages that are readily apparent between the Cs themselves and factors implicated in radicalization and violent extremism. These include, for example, unmet needs for a sense of belonging to a group or community (connection) or personal meaning and purpose (confidence), lack of opportunities for success in important arenas of development such as school and employment (competence), moral disengagement (character), and undeveloped empathy or sympathy for others whose actions one could affect (caring). Positive contributions to one’s community through activities such as volunteering and participation in more sociopolitically oriented efforts to promote social justice, furthermore, can arguably be conceptualized as the antithesis of violent extremism that abrogates the rights and welfare of other groups.
In line with the foregoing possibilities, a systematic review of the effectiveness of interventions to prevent violent extremism among young people found that those emphasizing capacity building or empowerment were among the most effective.41 For programs focused on violent extremism generally, effectiveness was associated with debate and discussion as well as education and training, whereas in the case of those emphasizing prevention of violent extremism in the name of religion “outreach/peripatetic mechanisms and multiagency working” were prominent among factors linked to apparent effectiveness. The authors of this review (which also considered programs directed toward other “target population groups,” such as women and entire communities) cautioned that none of the studies involved robust quantitative analyses, making their findings and conclusions highly tentative.
Application of PYD to mentoring.
Within the framework of PYD, mentoring can be conceptualized as having the potential to serve as an important ecological asset that may promote positive development for youth.35 Consistent with this understanding, Lerner and colleagues17 highlighted a range of specific ways in which mentors of youth could potentially promote each of the 6 Cs. These include, for example, helping mentees to identify and explore their special interests or hobbies (competence); feel loved and valued (confidence); have their voices heard in the community in ways that support a sense of mattering (connection); understand the values that their mentors hold, the behaviors or activities they do and do not find acceptable, and why (character); have a positive role model for caring in their mentors (caring); and participate in causes that align with their interests and concerns (contribution).
In line with these possibilities, activities or opportunities aimed at fostering positive adult-youth relationships have been identified as an important feature of programs that contribute to improvements on indicators of positive development among youth38 and thus are widely recognized as a core feature of positive developmental settings.42 In support of these possibilities, a recent study of youth mentored in the Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based program in Canada found that reports of greater support from mentors (including scales assessing “Developmental Support”—an example item for which was “Tries to find out what I like to do”—and “Practical-Oriented Support”—an example item for which was “Teaches me a skill or how to do things”) was predictive of higher assessed levels of PYD (the indicators for which were measures of the 5 core Cs).35 In this way, mentoring may be able to serve, in effect, as scaffolding that enables youth to satisfy, in a prosocial and adaptive manner, the same types of basic needs (e.g., for belonging and a positive identity) that appear to attract some young persons to extremist ideas or groups when otherwise unmet. Viewed from the perspective of the distinction between the previously described “push” and “pull” factors in the process of radicalization,9this possibility suggests mentoring may have the potential to help mitigate the influence of “pull” factors by engaging young persons in functionally equivalent, but prosocial pathways of development. This might take the form of either preventing the emergence of extremist attitudes or behaviors or counteracting such tendencies if already apparent. Reflecting this viewpoint, a recent report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation43 on preventing violent extremism noted the following: “Normal developmental vulnerabilities common to adolescents make some amenable to the influence of violent extremism, a trajectory that, through inhibitors such as community engagement, mentoring, therapy, and education, can be altered or suppressed.” (emphasis added, p. 16).
A set of mentoring programs developed by Mosaic, a government-supported organization in the United Kingdom, with the aim of supporting youth in marginalized, predominantly Muslim communities, are illustrative of a PYD-aligned approach to supporting young persons whose life circumstances have the potential to make them vulnerable to radicalization (see Table 1). The organization’s Primary School Programme, which serves 9- to 11-year-old girls and their mothers, is school-based and uses a group format in which each mentor (a female volunteer from a professional background) is paired with a small number of girls and their mothers. Sessions are facilitated by a teacher and structured so that the children’s mothers variously participate together with or separate from their daughters, with a resource booklet used to help mentors address themes such as confidence, communication, and educational aspirations for girls and citizenship and understanding the British education system for their parents. The Secondary School Programme, which also uses a group format and serves youth ages 11 to 18, is geared toward enhancing life skills and employability (competence), improving self-efficacy and educational aspirations (confidence), and reducing feelings of isolation (connectedness). Mosaic’s Ex-Offender Programme is directed toward young persons ages 18 to 30 and uses a one-to-one mentoring model. The PYD-oriented aims of these programs include establishing a long-lasting relationship that continues into the community-integration phase and in which mentors provide practical assistance in areas such as securing housing and employment.
These examples illustrate ways that mentoring efforts, which extend across youth of varying developmental levels and life circumstances, can benefit efforts to counter violent extremism. They also are consistent with the potential suggested above for mentoring to be oriented toward either interrupting or redirecting putative risk processes for radicalization, such as criminality, or preventing such processes altogether.
By the same token, mentoring relationships may not necessarily encompass the attributes expected to promote core indicators of PYD. Illustratively, the formation of a close bond in which the mentee feels deeply cared for and validated by a mentor may facilitate growth in areas such as connection and confidence. Yet the realization of this type of bond is by no means a routine feature of either naturally occurring or program-supported mentoring relationships among youth (e.g., see Bayer et al.44).45 Thus, it is not difficult to imagine that there might be limited or even no benefits of mentoring relationships with respect to reducing radicalization or associated behaviors among young persons. Of further note is the possibility for mentoring to undermine aspects of PYD in ways that could increase potential for radicalization and associated behavior. These include, for example, diminished feelings of self-confidence and sense of connectedness in the wake of perceived abandonment when mentors fail to follow through on commitments46, 47 as well as inadvertent or even intentional encouragement of problematic values or behaviors through the example that is set by the mentor’s own actions.48 The recruitment of individuals into violent extremism, in fact, has been described as involving processes of social bonding and influence that bear noteworthy similarities to those understood to be central to prosocial forms of mentoring.7
Six of the studies included in this review reported findings that address the question of how effective mentoring may be for prevention or reduction of radicalization. Three of the studies reported on outcomes relating predominantly to PYD, whereas the remaining three reported on outcomes with more direct conceptual ties to the radicalization process and extremism. Three of the studies included a comparison group of youth not participating in the mentoring program; however, in all instances the design used was quasi-experimental (i.e., the comparison group was constructed by researchers from a pool of youth not participating in the program, rather than on the basis of random assignment to the mentoring program or comparison group). Other notable limitations of the extant evaluations include small sample sizes, lack of details regarding procedures for constructing the comparison group, substantial percentages of study participants without post-test data on outcomes, and unclear or missing information on statistical tests for significance. Further details on the methodology and findings of each study are provided in Table 1.
Positive Youth Development.
In a quasi-experimental evaluation of the Nightingale Project mentoring program in Spain for students ages 10 to 16 of foreign origin, findings were consistent with benefits of the program for participating youth, relative to comparison group youth, in several areas.23 These include greater learning of the Catalan language, establishing broader and more diverse networks of friends in school, developing higher educational aspirations and expectations, becoming better acquainted with the new municipality in which they were living, and improved self-confidence and self-esteem. Findings of another quasi-experimental evaluation of outcomes for youth participating in the Secondary School Programme of Mosaic21 (referenced above) similarly suggested improved aspirations and expectations for postsecondary education as well as greater confidence in being able to find a job after schooling for mentored youth relative to those in the comparison group. In contrast, in the US context, a quasi-experimental evaluation of a school-based group mentoring program within a highly ethnically diverse high school (see Lapidus29 in Table 1) found no evidence of an effect of mentoring program participation on students’ reports of ethnic group belonging and an unexpected negative effect on their reports of school belonging.
A pre-post design without a comparison group was used to evaluate a program within an Islamic association in the United States with the stated goals: “to implant correct Islamic teachings and the seeds of peace” (see Harun20, in Table 1). The program involved the Imam teaching youth about the Islamic faith in the context of a support group comprised of 10 male and female teens from Yemen. The developer of the program (who also served as group facilitator and evaluator) identified the youth involved as those in the congregation who appeared to be at risk for radicalization due to factors such as poverty, unemployment, and “frustration over and discontent at the injustices that Muslims face” (page 12).
The evaluation reported pre-post improvements (but no clearly described procedures for testing statistical significance) on survey questions assessing participating youths’ knowledge and beliefs related to Islamic teachings on extremism and violence. Examples of the questions asked include: “I comprehend that Islam prohibits extremism and evil activities”, “Indulging in extremism and evil activities do not serve Islam”, and “Advocates for religious violence do not adhere to Islamic teachings.”
A mixed-methods evaluation was conducted of the Being Kenyan Being Muslim (BKBM) intervention,32 which uses an interactive/experiential group learning format to promote value complexity as a strategy for countering violent extremism and other forms of intergroup conflict. The evaluation found that scores on a measure of the construct of Integrative Complexity (IC), intended to assess the complexity with which participants think about conflicted social issues relevant to extremism, increased significantly by the end of the 16-hour intervention. In line with this finding, qualitative analyses indicated that participants demonstrated an ability to perceive some validity in different viewpoints in their oral presentations at the end of the intervention. A noteworthy feature of this intervention and evaluation is that participants included not only individuals deemed vulnerable to involvement in violent extremism (including six former members of the extremist group al-Shabaab), but also staff of the USAID-funded Kenya Transition Initiative and its grantees/beneficiaries. Although gains in IC were apparent for both types of participants, they were larger for the latter group. Of note, the authors of this evaluation recommended that one-to-one IC mentoring be provided for the most vulnerable participants, in addition to the BKBM course, to help them consolidate the gains that the group sessions produce.
Another mixed-methods evaluation examined the Australian sports-based More than a Game program (see Table 1).25 This program, which is designed to address issues of identity, sense of belonging, and cultural isolation among young Muslim men, includes a component in which participants receive mentoring from members of law enforcement. Both qualitative and quantitative findings indicated improved attitudes to and understanding of other cultural groups, particularly Jewish people, among participants. Qualitative findings were assessed as also indicating benefits for participants in a number of areas that suggested enhanced resilience due to improvements in core components of PYD. These included character and confidence building, skills for conflict resolution, and sense of belonging. A further noteworthy finding, similar to those for the BKBM intervention, is that there was qualitative evidence of positive transformation among program stakeholders (e.g., mentors) in their perceptions of cultural differences.
- Preliminary evidence suggests the potential for program-supported mentoring provided to youth from marginalized communities and those with recent immigrant backgrounds to enhance indicators of PYD that may reduce their susceptibility to radicalization or violent extremism (e.g., rewarding social connections with diverse peers, confidence in being able to successfully pursue postsecondary education and obtain employment); however, the amount and quality of this research is notably limited and restricted to non-US contexts.
- Very limited research has examined the potential for mentoring to help forestall or interrupt the emergence of attitudes or behaviors that may reflect tendencies toward radicalization among youth; there is, however, limited “proof of concept” evidence for this possibility with respect to attitudes for mentoring carried out with Muslim youth and young adults in varying contexts (i.e., faith- or community-based).
What Factors Influence the Effectiveness of Mentoring for Preventing or Reducing Domestic Radicalization among Youth?
The extent to which mentoring proves to be useful for preventing or reducing radicalization and violent extremism among young persons has the potential to be conditioned (i.e., amplified or diminished) by a wide range of factors. Theory49 and prior research50, 51 on mentoring for youth suggest the potential importance of characteristics of both the young persons who are intended to receive mentoring and those who provide mentoring to them, as well as programmatic and other contextual considerations.
Research on mentoring more generally suggests that it may be particularly beneficial for youth who face conditions of environmental risk or disadvantage.50, 51 As noted previously, literature on radicalization and violent extremism frequently references factors such as socioeconomic deprivation within one’s neighborhood or community and marginalization or stigmatization of one’s cultural group by other segments of society to contribute to the emergence of radicalization and its progression toward violent extremism. Youth with higher levels of exposure to these types of contextual adversities could be among those most likely to benefit from mentoring, in part because of its potential to be supportive of young persons in ways that help to avoid or at least mitigate their harmful effects (e.g., through supporting youth with educational attainment and accessing opportunities for employment or offering experiences of positive contact with members of other cultural groups). A similar line of reasoning suggests the potential for young persons with higher levels of individual-level risk factors or experiences tied to radicalization and extremist behavior to be especially likely to show gains in outcomes of interest. A cross-sectional study of Dutch Muslim youth (N = 131), for example, found that personal uncertainty, perceived injustice, and perceived group threat experiences of being discriminated against or devalued by other groups were linked to proposed indicators of a radical belief system (e.g., perceived illegitimacy of Dutch authorities and superiority of Muslims) that, in turn, predicted more accepting attitudes of violence by other Muslims.52 Mentoring could potentially be helpful in lessening such vulnerabilities (e.g., through improvements in self-confidence, exposure or viewpoints or perspectives that offer nonviolent ways of acting on perceptions of threat or injustice, or guidance that affirms the salutatory components of a youth’s religious or other deeply held beliefs while fostering reconsideration of those that could promote intensified radicalization).
Another possible conditioning factor in this domain suggested by a reading of the available literature is how far along (if at all) the young person being mentored is in the process to radicalization. For example, compared to youth exhibiting initial signs of radicalization (e.g., demonstrating positive interest in some of the ideas associated with an extremist ideology), youth or young adults who have already committed themselves to extremist attitudes or activity may be more difficult to reach and influence through mentoring for a variety of reasons, both psychological (e.g., confirmation bias—the tendency to attend selectively to information that supports one’s already held beliefs) and contextual (e.g., fears of loss of support and potentially even retribution from individuals or groups with whom the young person has become affiliated in conjunction with radicalization). On the other hand, considering that violent extremist behavior is rare, there may be less opportunity to demonstrate impact when mentoring is directed toward youth who do not exhibit signs of radicalization, even if they are more susceptible to radicalization based on the types of environmental and individual risk factors discussed above. Possibly, too, the degree of existing radicalization or extremist behavior could operate differently depending on the outcomes involved. Marginalized youth without such tendencies already evident, for example, may be primed to show relatively immediate improvement on indicators of PYD in response to mentoring but less so on measures of radicalization (although in the long run such benefits could well become more apparent). Further complicating matters, the manner in which youth characteristics condition the effectiveness of mentoring with regard to outcomes of interest for prevention or reduction of domestic radicalization may be contingent on the types of mentor characteristics and program practices and design features that are discussed in the following sections.
One characteristic of mentors that could theoretically condition the effectiveness of mentoring for prevention or reduction of radicalization or extremism is whether they share the same religious or cultural background as their youth mentees. It may be that mentors whose backgrounds align with youth in this regard could be particularly effective. They may, for example, have knowledge and experiences that make them especially adept at helping youth to cultivate positive ethnic or racial identities or non-extremist understanding of tenets of religious or other beliefs and may be viewed as more credible sources of guidance in these respects by youth. In alignment with these possibilities, several of the mentoring programs summarized in Table 1 have utilized mentors who share the cultural or religious backgrounds of the youth involved. In a recent National Mentoring Resource Center review of research on mentoring for first-generation immigrant and refugee youth, for example, Oberoi54 noted some support for the idea that mentors associated with the country of resettlement may be able to serve as cultural and system translators for immigrant and refugee youth, such as by facilitating language learning, providing exposure to the behavioral and social norms of the new country’s culture, and serving as a source of “bridging” social capital in ways that help connect youth to important resources and institutions. Programs that are clearly consistent with this perspective can be found in Table 1. The same review also noted a theoretical potential for second-generation mentors who are from the same cultural background as immigrant or refugee youth to prove especially effective to the extent that they are able to capitalize on their familiarity with important aspects of both the youth’s culture of origin and that of the new country. Similar benefits may be realized (at least in part) even when mentors do not share the youth’s background, if they are culturally competent, potentially with the aid of training or other programmatic supports (as is discussed further below). On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that the broader research literature has failed to reveal consistent differential benefits for same-race/ethnicity versus cross-race/ethnicity mentoring relationships.53 Furthermore, keeping in mind the potential for experiences of marginalization and exclusion to increase risk for radicalization, positive ties with mentors who do not necessarily share the youth’s cultural background have potential to offer important benefits.
Another noteworthy feature of the mentors utilized by some programs and initiatives with aims of curbing domestic radicalization is that the mentors themselves have previously been involved in activities or groups that support extremism. This approach is illustrated by the EXIT program, a Swedish organization supporting neo-Nazis’ disengagement from the extremist right (see Table 1). By drawing on their own experiences, such mentors (sometimes referred to in the literature as “formers”) may be particularly well positioned to help youth who are open to the prospect of exiting extremist groups or organizations to safely and effectively navigate this process.33 A risk involved with utilization of formerly radicalized mentors is that in some instances these individuals may not have fully extricated themselves from extremist influences or have satisfactorily resolved their own issues or questions, thus suggesting a potential for selective instances of serious harm in which mentee radicalization is accentuated rather than abated. Along these lines, Christensen55 argued that the use of formers as mentors in EXIT may fail to contribute to mentees’ development and reintegration into democratic society if they (the mentors) have not contextualized and reinterpreted their own narrative of (dis)engagement and combined it with deliberate practices aligned with EXIT’s approach when interacting with mentees. Several program practices, ranging from appropriate provisions for mentor screening and ongoing support and monitoring of mentoring relationships once established, could serve to avoid these potential pitfalls. Others practices, such as utilization of developmentally advanced peers as mentors, could potentially amplify them. These possibilities further illustrate the ways in which the design features and other characteristics of mentoring initiatives with aims relating to prevention or reduction of radicalization among young persons could be influential in conditioning their effectiveness.
Program design and practices.
Programmatic considerations that research and/or practice-based experience have pointed to as having the potential to enhance the effectiveness of mentoring for youth more generally may well have similar implications for the impact of initiatives in which radicalization of youth is an area of concern (see, for example, recent meta-analyses34, 51 and the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring). Benefits may be most likely to be realized when the design features and practices involved are tailored or adapted specifically for this purpose. Possibilities already mentioned in this regard or that can be inferred from program examples include mentor screening and training, relationship monitoring and supervision, and structuring mentoring so that it incorporates opportunities for religious or ideological guidance or positive contact with youth from other identity groups (e.g., cultural, racial). Another could be the expansion of the traditional role of mentors to include advocacy,34, 51 with a focus on facilitating access to supports for PYD (e.g., skill development, educational attainment) and giving “voice” to mentees in ways to help ensure that they receive fair and just treatment within different settings, such as school or the juvenile justice system.
Other decisions with potential consequences for effectiveness when designing mentoring programs or initiatives include the age of the mentors involved and whether mentoring is provided in a one-to-one or group format. Peer mentoring has been utilized as a strategy in several instances (see Table 1, for examples). In discussing needs for positive relational experiences among American Muslim youth, Ahmed and colleagues56 note that mentors who are closer in age may often be better able to relate to and engage these youth, and in so doing may serve as role models and as a valuable resource for navigating intersecting developmental contexts and concerns (e.g., family, friends, religion). Favorable findings reported in an evaluation of the US-based WORDE program,57 which is a multicomponent program that includes a peer gatekeeper training program, also suggest that peer mentors, particularly those within an individual’s network, may be well positioned to play an important role in recognizing signs of radicalization and intervening. However, the transient life stage that many younger mentors may be in could result in a high turnover rate, making longer-term (and potentially more impactful) relationships relatively difficult to achieve.56 Ahmed and colleagues56 also elaborate on a range of possible distinctive benefits of older adult mentors, including advocacy through their social and professional networks, serving as aspirational role models, and helping to build positive lines of communication between youth and their parents. These considerations largely echo those that have been discussed in the broader literature with respect to mentor age. As has been found in that research, both younger and older mentors may have the potential to be effective for preventing or reducing radicalization when programs are thoughtfully designed with both the opportunities and challenges of the selected age group in mind.58, 59 Similar arguments could be developed for the potential effectiveness of both one-to-one and group mentoring formats and programs in which mentoring takes place in either a particular setting (e.g., school, faith-based), the community-at-large, or online. Examples of most of these possible program design variations can be found in Table 1.
In addition to these types of considerations are two less commonplace programmatic considerations that may have particular importance in the context of efforts to use mentoring for prevention or reduction of radicalization among young persons. One of these is whether the aim of the program is to establish new relationships or draw upon those that already exist in the youth or young adult’s social network. Although seemingly most programs have adopted the former approach, arguments also have been made in support of capitalizing on existing social connections. Illustratively, the Danish VINK program aims to support frontline workers to assume a mentoring role with young persons deemed potentially susceptible to radicalization: “Rather than assigning an external mentor that the radicalizing youth might not know and trust, VINK believes that those that are best positioned to influence radicalizing individuals are those frontline workers who already know them.”27 In line with this approach, the systematic review of programs to curb violent extremism referred to previously concluded that “outreach/peripatetic work” (which includes use of community-embedded persons) was one of the most salient factors of programs showing signs of possible effectiveness.
A second potentially key area for strategic decision-making that merits attention has to do with whether—and if so how—to involve law enforcement in mentoring efforts directed toward preventing or reducing radicalization among young persons. A discussion of police-community engagement in counterterrorism efforts in the United Kingdom drew a distinction between strategies focused on “community cohesion” and “liberal freedoms associated with liberal democracy,” respectively.60 In the community cohesion strategy, Islamic ideology is portrayed as being in conflict with Western values and as being associated with a perceived increased risk of committing acts of violence, such that political, religious, and ethnic identities associated with being Muslim are “securitised and responded to by the state above and beyond established rules and frameworks that exist within what might be termed ‘normal politics’” (page 14).60 In comparison, the liberal freedoms approach seeks to “enable individuals to draw upon the liberal freedoms associated with liberal democracy” (page 14) so that a range of actions other than violence are considered legitimate for individuals to pursue their aims (e.g., social and political activism).
The context and strategies for involving law enforcement in mentoring would clearly differ between these approaches. When taking an approach emphasizing liberal freedoms and democracy, police officers and policing units have become involved in partnership approaches with those community members who are “formerly and/or currently practising ‘securitised identities’” (page 14)60 to support their efforts to work with individuals deemed “at risk” of committing acts of violence, but without such mentors themselves being problematized or securitized by law enforcement. Mentoring schemes mounted from this perspective have also involved multiagency partnerships between police and other statutory agencies such as probation or housing. Such efforts broadly align approaches suggested as potentially effective earlier in this review (e.g., facilitating positive development, use of “formers” as mentors, and advocacy). Approaches associated with the other framework may alternatively position law enforcement in roles (e.g., surveillance, questioning of religious beliefs) that make it difficult to establish the conditions of trust that are widely understood as fundamentally important for mentoring of young persons to be effective.49 Spalek and Davies61 offer the following caution: “It is important to stress that there is a danger that mentoring schemes can be part of broader net-widening strategies to bring . . . particular groups of individuals to the attention of law enforcement authorities [and] can, if appropriately governed, comprise of overzealous and ill-informed flagging of individuals for ‘vulnerability’ ensuring unnecessary collection of personal data” (page 365).
None of the research identified in the literature search for this review reported findings addressing the potential role of different factors in conditioning the effectiveness of mentoring for prevention or reduction of radicalization among young persons. It is notable, though, that the potential effectiveness of approaches reflecting different variations on several of the mentor characteristics and programmatic considerations discussed above is suggested by the findings of the evaluations discussed previously (see the initial section of this review addressing overall effectiveness of mentoring for prevention or reduction of youth radicalization). These include mentors who share the religion of the youth and those who come from more diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as those who have affiliations with law enforcement; programmatic use of schools, faith-based organizations, and the broader community as settings for mentoring; and structure mentoring to include religious guidance or positive contact with youth from other cultural groups.
- A wide range of youth and mentor characteristics and programmatic considerations have the potential to condition the effectiveness of mentoring for prevention or reduction of radicalization among young people, potentially in interaction with one another; however, research to address such possibilities is lacking.
- Existing evidence, although preliminary, suggests that the potential for mentoring to advance aims of reducing or preventing violent extremism may extend across mentors with varying backgrounds as well as programs utilizing a range of settings and strategies directed toward this aim.
What Pathways Are Important in Linking Mentoring to Prevention or Reduction of Domestic Radicalization among Youth?
As noted in an earlier section of this review, developmental processes, particularly those involving the promotion of core components of PYD (i.e., the 6 Cs), have the potential to be important in linking mentoring to reduction or prevention of radicalization. The following discussion focuses on two additional types of intervening processes that may be significant in this regard: attitudes, beliefs, and experiences that may serve as precursors to radicalization or violent extremism and features of the mentoring process itself.
Attitudes, beliefs, and experiences.
Perceived credibility of a range of different ideologies or other sets of beliefs—particularly those that propose that the rights or welfare of one group are being fundamentally and unfairly threatened by the actions or even the mere existence of others—may serve as important contributors to radicalization among young persons. To some extent, in fact, sympathy toward such viewpoints and other related attitudes (e.g., negative views of members of other racial, cultural, or religious groups) can be regarded as indicative of an early stage of radicalization itself.7, 9 These types of attitudes may be fueled by a range of more personalized factors, including grievances stemming from perceived experiences of discrimination or unjust treatment, social isolation, and identity concerns. It will be recalled, for example, that one recent study found that personal uncertainty, perceived injustice, and perceived group threat experiences of being discriminated against or devalued by other groups were linked to indicators of a radical belief system.52 Another recent study of a large sample of Arab-Palestinian adolescents (N = 3,178) similarly found that the association of the adolescents’ perceived ethnic discrimination with reports of engaging in serious physical violence against others was partially mediated by normative (i.e., accepting) beliefs about violence.62 Notably, the associations between adolescents’ reports of direct and indirect exposures to violence in their neighborhoods and engaging in violent behavior were similarly mediated. Given that mentoring is primarily an individual-level intervention with demonstrated effects that are limited to the attitudes and behaviors of the youth who receive mentoring,51 there is a theoretical potential to contribute to amelioration of some, but clearly not all, processes that may be involved in setting the stage for radicalization and extremism.
The strength of the affective bond that develops between youth and their mentors is one of most robustly established processes through which such relationships can be beneficial for a range of different outcomes (e.g., psychological well-being, risk behavior, academic success).44, 63 Previously referenced theory and research also point toward social disconnectedness and unfulfilled needs for belonging as contributors to radicalization among young persons. It thus would seem that features of mentoring relationships that cultivate feelings of closeness, such as mutual sharing, engaging in activities of shared interest, and duration over time,64, 65 could all be important in processes linking mentoring to outcomes of interest for prevention or reduction of radicalization. In a group mentoring format, feelings of closeness toward not only the mentor(s) but also other participating youth could be similarly important. Other processes that could be important, as suggested earlier in this review, include teaching or guidance, intentional efforts to promote core components of positive development (e.g., self-confidence, character, leadership skills), and advocacy on behalf of youth.
Any of these processes could prove to be more or less salient in facilitating desirable outcomes with respect to radicalization or extremism depending on the extent to which they take the form of addressing issues or concerns specific to this goal. Possibilities include teaching or guidance that incorporates discussion and perhaps even debate about ideology,41 approaches to promoting development that bring youth into positive contact with members of other groups that are most likely to be devalued or mistrusted in conjunction with radicalization, and advocacy efforts that place special emphasis on ensuring that young persons’ rights and privileges are not infringed upon.
A few studies have reported quantitative or qualitative findings that are relevant to possible processes through which mentoring may be linked to outcomes of interest in efforts to prevent or reduce radicalization. These investigations are limited methodologically by a number of considerations, including lack of robust assessment of chains of influence from mentoring to possible intervening processes to outcomes of interest.
An evaluation of a school-based group mentoring program referenced previously (see Lapidus29 in Table 1) found that higher scores on a combined measure of mentor/mentoring group belonging predicted increases in reported levels of both school and ethnic group belonging. In combination with the finding that participation in the mentoring program was not related to improvement on these measures, these results were interpreted as evidence of the importance of mentoring group cohesion and feelings of connection to the group’s mentor as conditions required for mentoring to provide benefits in these areas. Interestingly, if the student’s mentoring group’s focus on cultural issues was high, there was a heightened risk for the student to report a decrease in ethnic belonging. Qualitative findings from the same evaluation suggested factors that might have contributed to this finding. These include the possible downsides of heightening mentees’ awareness of critical problems they faced relating to their ethnic minority backgrounds (e.g., racism) without corresponding attention to helping them to deepen their understanding of these issues (i.e., critical consciousness) and identifying active ways of responding to them that are affirming of their ethnic identities.
Qualitative interviews with 16 stakeholders (mentors and project staff) of the West Midlands 1-2-1 Mentoring Scheme in the United Kingdom61 revealed several points of general agreement about desirable aspects of the mentoring process for the young persons served through this program, all of whom were deemed to be at risk for violent extremism. These include utilization of both “befriending and interventionist” strategies. Befriending strategies emphasize communication of empathy and efforts to foster mutual feelings of trust, in part through resolution of issues of confidentiality. Interventionist strategies are oriented toward fostering youth empowerment without a focus on attempting to convert a youth to a specific school of theological thought. There also were several areas in which stakeholders had varying views, raising several questions about the goals and intended outcomes of mentoring in this context. Is the overall aim to support vulnerable individuals or to change them in some way? Should mentoring always involve challenging beliefs or should emphasis be placed on the strategies to achieve personal or political goals while leaving beliefs alone? Should mentoring styles be hard and confrontational or soft and empathetic; and when and for whom are varying styles appropriate? Should mentors disclose personal information about themselves?
Finally, analysis of qualitative data collected in the evaluation of the More than a Game program25 identified several processes that appeared to be important to the program’s assessed success. One of these was the creation of a safe and supportive environment in which the participating youth felt free to explore issues that may otherwise not have been addressed. This included their relationship with police, which was addressed through “enthusiastic and wide-ranging debates” and role-plays as part of the mentoring component of the program that involved police. Also judged to be significant was the emergence and strengthening of trust and respect among young people from different communities and between young people and police across the different program activities, enhanced sensitivity to the harmful effects of dehumanizing stereotypes, and skills development in areas such as communication, leadership, and personal accountability.
- Available evidence suggests that several of the processes understood to be important in connecting mentoring to positive youth outcomes more generally—such as forging of a close and trusting bond and engaging in activities to promote core aspects of PYD—can also be significant in linking mentoring to prevention or reduction of radicalization among youth; however, these findings are highly preliminary due, in part, to a lack of examination of the viability of potential pathways in their entirety (i.e., from mentoring to lower levels of radicalization).
- Some of the processes that tentatively appear to represent viable routes for connecting mentoring to prevention or reduction of radicalization—such as direct discussion of ideological beliefs and engineering of positive contacts with members of other cultural groups—extend beyond those that have been most widely addressed in the general literature on youth mentoring; however, there is also preliminary evidence to suggest such processes (e.g., discussions focusing on culture and ethnicity) may prove ineffective or problematic when initiated with limited preparation or response planning.
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?
Efforts to prevent violent extremism—also often grouped together under the umbrella terms of “preventing violent extremism”67 (PVE) or “countering violent extremism” (CVE)iv—have come under considerable critical scrutiny both abroad (e.g., Lindekilde et al.68) and within the United States (e.g., LoCicero & Boyd69) for a host of reasons. These include their potential to violate civil liberties (e.g., freedom of expression, right to privacy) and to unfairly stigmatize entire religious, cultural, or political groups as well as their perceived lack of demonstrated effectiveness and potential to do harm. Illustratively, a 2012 process evaluation of programs for preventing violent extremism among young people in the United Kingdom as part of its Prevent Strategy67 found that negative reactions from the local community, partner agencies, and other practitioners regarding the initiative and its predominant focus on Muslims presented a significant challenge to implementation. Approximately half of the projects in this effort included mentoring in some form. This fact speaks to the reality that mentoring strategies operating in the same general space of concern with prevention or reduction of radicalization among youth are unlikely to be immune to the foregoing types of concerns or their fallout with respect to issues such as program adoption, reach, implementation, and sustainability.v
There is also reason to be concerned about the capacity of initiatives to sustain youth involvement for significant durations of time (e.g., one year or more). In the above referenced process evaluation, approximately two-thirds of the young people participating in those interventions that took a targeted or preventative approach were involved with them during only one quarter (i.e., a three-month period) of their time of operation; just over 3 percent were engaged with the projects for a year or more. The absence of collaborative relationships with social service and law enforcement agencies also appear to be barriers to help-seeking behaviors among individuals who may notice signs of radicalization in youth.57
As noted previously, one identified trend in the broader literature on programs to prevent violent extremism among youth is that programs appear to have had greater success when incorporating multiagency partnerships and outreach/peripatetic mechanisms for engaging participants (for supporting data, see also Hirschfield et al.67). In line with the potential relevance of such factors to mentoring efforts specifically, a recent study of 21 programs categorized as “community/mentoring” (e.g., Big Brothers Big Sisters) found that predictors of program sustainability included connection to a well-functioning coalition.70 Both the serious concerns voiced regarding initiatives to prevent violent extremism and the identified value of localized outreach efforts suggest that partnerships may be most successful when they include groups and organizations that legitimately represent the interests of youths and their communities and have ongoing relationships with them. Illustrating this approach, Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism (BRAVE), currently being implemented in Montgomery County, Maryland, seeks to foster community engagement and representation by incorporating a wide range of stakeholders, including faith community leaders, public officials, law enforcement officers, educators, social service providers, and civic activists. Youth participants in this program indicated that service learning opportunities, inclusion of arts and music, as well as encouragement from significant adults (e.g., parents and counselors) were compelling factors in their participation.57 Even in the context of such efforts, there is ample reason to expect that direct involvement of youth in areas such as program planning and implementation (e.g., peer mentoring) may still be critically important both for ensuring their engagement and facilitating implementation. This may be especially true of mentoring initiatives considering their likely dependence on relative levels of trust and investment on the part of the young persons who are intended to be served.
iv In February 2015, a White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) was held; in January 2016, the US Department of Justice launched a Countering Violent Extremism Task Force.
v To some observers in the United States (Brennan Center for Justice, n.d,), concerns about government-sponsored CVE initiatives have led them to conclude that it is inappropriate to even attempt the implementation of social programs and services such as mentoring within such initiatives.
With relevance to partnerships and community involvement, in the evaluation of the Midlands 1-2-1 Mentoring Project in the United Kingdom,66 “caution was expressed with regard to outsourcing, as it was felt that local expertise and ownership was important” (page 5). Additional findings identified potential risk to the host organization associated with loss of reputation if a client committed an extremist act or the project was not generally successful, as well as general agreement that an appropriate “business model” for the program would include both accreditation and modest remuneration for mentors, in part so as to ensure professionalism and accountability.
The More than a Game evaluation25 similarly identified promoting linkages between local communities, government and nongovernment entities (e.g., local media), and community consultation with a local Islamic organization as key contributors to the assessed success of the program. This evaluation also highlighted the value of being able to make appropriate changes to the program as it was being implemented. In particular, although not an initial aim of the program, the spontaneous creation of a Jewish-Muslim football team provided an avenue for cross-cultural engagement and breaking down of stereotypes that contributed considerably to the overall achievement of the program’s objectives.
Findings pertinent to reaching and engaging youth in mentoring supports or services with connections to efforts to prevent radicalization/violent extremism were also reported in a study that included interviews with 39 young Muslims in Denmark.68 It was found that the “vast majority” of these young persons “protested against the ‘governance through individual support and response’ initiatives, in particular the role model/mentoring schemes” (page 122).68 Their concerns included the perception that the implicit message of such efforts is “discriminatory against the target groups, as it suggests [incorrectly] that these groups (i.e., young Muslims) are in particular need of role models” (page 122).68 Challenges to engagement of young persons, specifically how to identify those who were most appropriate for services, were also noted in the previously described process evaluation of projects in the United Kingdom. This evaluation also reported difficulties with recruitment and retention of both mentors (including Muslim men in particular) and staff within projects. These appeared to stem from concerns about the aims and approach of the overall initiative (in part as portrayed by press coverage), as well as, in one instance, objections to the delivery of a project by a criminal justice agency. In contrast, projects utilizing young persons both in peer mentoring and leadership roles reported relative success, including greater sustainability for projects.
- Partnerships comprised of diverse local community government and nongovernment entities and stakeholders (e.g., community activists) may be important for facilitating the development, implementation, and reach of initiatives involving mentoring that have aims of contributing to prevention or reduction of radicalization among youth.
- Barriers to the engagement of youth in mentoring initiatives associated with efforts to prevent radicalization and violent extremism have included practical challenges associated with identifying young persons expected to be most appropriate for participation as well as overt resistance stemming from sociopolitical concerns, including perceptions of stigmatization and stereotyping. Preliminary evidence suggests that the effects of such barriers can be at least partially offset through meaningful involvement of young persons in programs both as peer mentors and in leadership roles.
Implications for Practice
(Mike Garringer, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership & Dr. David DuBois, NMRC Research Board Chair)
Most youth mentoring programs likely do not see their work as being part of a global response to terrorism or violent radical extremism. While many mentoring programs in the United States do focus on supporting groups of youth who are marginalized, disenfranchised, or otherwise neglected, often to the point of anger, by mainstream American society, it would be quite a stretch to describe most mentoring programs as being part of “the war on terror.” As noted in the review, radicalization and violent extremism are extraordinarily rare pathways for young people to take. In spite of the seriousness of the crimes committed by extremists, this is simply not something that most mentoring programs will seek to address directly. However, looking beyond just mentoring programs, it’s easy to see how mentoring is a strategy that may be considered by many organizations to combat radicalization of young people. Thankfully, this review offers several good starting points for thinking about the role mentors might play in this work.
As suggested by the findings of this review that point to thwarted opportunities for PYD (as reflected in the 6 Cs: caring/compassion, connection, character, confidence, competence, and contribution), we can see how just about any mentoring program or mentor can play a role in preventing youth from becoming radicalized. Mentoring programs, and the work of mentors, in fact, are almost inherently focused on fostering a sense of belonging and meaning or purpose in young people, which are central facets of pathways to healthy development. The role of a mentor, as traditionally conceived, is to help a person find out who they are, who they can become, and how they can find acceptance, validation, and some measure of success in the world. Jean Rhodes’ conceptual model of youth mentoring speculates that identity development is one of the cornerstones of personal growth in a mentoring experience and that the development of a strong and positive identity helps youth find their way in the world. In this regard, to the extent they reach and serve marginalized youth, all mentoring programs are part of the fight to help such youth build a positive sense of self and experience love and acceptance, even if their world or community and the messages they receive from them about themselves or groups of which they are a part are far from ideal. Thus, simply by offering the love and support of a mentor to all youth who need it, America’s mentoring programs can be argued to be contributing to the fight against extremism and violence. And with that in mind, there are some things they should consider when thinking about how their services might contribute to the greater struggle to prevent violent extremism and radicalization.
For “Typical” Mentoring Programs
There are a few strategies suggested by the research and theory covered in the review that practitioners in just about any mentoring programs may want to consider, regardless of the scope and purpose of their services, which might help prevent mentees from becoming radicalized over time:
1. LOOK FOR WARNING SIGNS THAT YOUTH MAY BE ON A PATH TOWARD RADICALIZATION.
As noted in the review, reversing the process of radicalization appears to become more challenging the deeper a person falls into those ways of thinking. Preventing extremism from taking root in the first place is certainly preferable to trying to turn it around after radicalization has occurred. But stopping this process early on requires knowing what to look for. Thus, both program staff and mentors may want to familiarize themselves with warning signs that a youth in their care is perhaps beginning to think in an extreme or radicalized way. This might be especially important for programs serving youth who may be experiencing bullying and harassment, those serving youth of a specific ethnic group or religion, those serving recent immigrants and refugees from war-torn parts of the globe, and programs serving older youth who may be trying to find employment and economic stability in their young adulthood.
Although in the United States we often think of violent extremism as being something limited to certain ethnic groups or religions, it’s important to remember that violent extremism can also be part of the dominant culture or based on political views. The tenor and tone of the 2016 presidential election certainly appears to have sparked a renewed wave of white nationalistic views, armed antigovernment groups, and violent racially motivated attacks on minorities and women. So be sure to look for signs of radicalization or extreme views in any youth served by your program.
It is worth noting here that “extreme views” does not refer to strongly held opinions or beliefs that the mentor does not personally agree with⎯every mentoring relationship is likely to have those differences of opinion. It also does not encompass the natural anger and strong emotions that can result from a young person’s newfound deeper understanding of systemic injustices. Rather, we are referring here to beliefs that categorically demonize another group of people (the “us” vs “them” mindset referenced elsewhere in this review), views that condone or accept violence as a primary solution to social or political issues, and other viewpoints or desires for action that seem driven by newfound dogma or are otherwise out of character given the mentor’s understanding of the youth’s personality and values.
While there is no single magical list of signs that definitively predicts radicalization, there are things mentors and staff can look for, and the following resources may be helpful to programs that want to educate staff or work these concepts and warning signs into mentor training:
- Preventing Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism: A Community Policing Approach - Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
- Spotting Signs of Radicalization – Operation 250
- Hate Symbols Database– Anti-Defamation League
- Behaviour Barometer: How to Recognize Radicalization Behaviours Leading to Violence – Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence
2. EXAMINE HOW YOUR PROGRAM BRINGS THE 6 CS TO LIFE THROUGH MENTORING.
Perhaps the clearest guidance in the review for mentoring programs in preventing radicalization is found in the aforementioned “6 Cs” of PYD. In these words, mentoring programs can find the strategies to combat radicalization, help youth feel better about themselves and their world, and help the disenfranchised find meaning and purpose in positive, not violent ways. Mentoring programs and mentors interested in how they might incorporate these PYD principles into their work can learn more in this series of fact sheets housed on the National Mentoring Resource Center website. Think carefully about how your program brings each of those elements to life for young people and if you find that you are missing some of those Cs, work to fill the gaps in what you are offering young people. (As an aside, these resources focus on the first of the 5 Cs of PYD as listed earlier; research suggests that bolstering these lays an important and perhaps essential foundation for enhancing young persons’ efforts to make a difference in their communities through contribution, the sixth C.)
It’s also worth noting that those same principles that define healthy and positive development are also used by those who would radicalize our youth. Those who mold young persons into terrorists certainly spend their time teaching their versions of character and values, building up feelings of confidence and competence in executing a violent plan, and cultivating a sense of compassion for whatever disenfranchised group they claim to represent. Arguably, the fundamental difference between PYD and this misappropriated version of personal growth is the definition of “community.” Proponents of violent extremism simply don’t see the people they oppose and the victims of their violence as part of a “community” worth belonging to or even one that should be free to exist unharmed. So, if we are going to counter this approach, which might even be thought of as “negative mentoring,” we will need to provide strong and meaningful opportunities for youth to connect to the larger community and see themselves as part of a greater whole than the dim worldview offered by those who bend toward extremism. If we don’t meet those key Cs in our mentoring work, someone with much less positive ideas about the world just might.
3. HELP YOUTH EXPAND THEIR HORIZONS.
As noted in the review, one of the key ingredients in becoming radicalized often appears to be a sense of isolation from others and a mindset that views groups of people as an “other” or as persons not worthy of respect and civility. One of the best ways of combating this aspect of radicalization is to expose young people to individuals, institutions, and viewpoints that they may feel very negatively about or with whom they find little common ground. Part of the magic of mentoring is widely understood to be the process of exposing youth to ideas and parts of their community they might never have seen otherwise. So, think about how your mentoring program exposes mentees to the broader community, to different cultural groups, and to new experiences that might close that distance between “us” and “them.” As noted in the review, programs that build bridges between different ethnic groups, or between oppressed groups and law enforcement, appear to have the potential to go a long way toward changing negative opinions and attitudes. These programs must bring groups together cautiously and with clear intentions, purpose, and activities, lest they inadvertently reinforce negative viewpoints and stereotypes. But it makes sense conceptually that it’s probably a lot harder to think about doing harm to an “other” after you have spent some time in their company and experienced them as people, not abstract concepts. All mentoring programs have a role to play in helping mentors and adults alike in crossing boundaries and exploring differences (and similarities!). That’s work you are likely already doing (or could do more of) that can be in service of something as seemingly distant as preventing violent extremism.
For Programs Explicitly Focusing on Preventing Radicalization
If your mentoring program is explicitly focused on the prevention of radicalization, there are some additional strategies or considerations noted in the review that you may want to consider:
1. USING MEMBERS OF THE MENTEE'S ETHNIC GROUP OR RELIGION AS MENTORS.
While the research is a bit unclear in this area, mentors from the same ethnic group or religion that are encouraging the radicalization might be particularly capable of helping youth interpret problems and understand how the world works in a more positive light. One of the precursors to extremism is a narrowing or calcification of one’s worldview and thinking; those in the process of radicalization are often victim to extreme confirmation bias that bends the world into their preconceived notions. Breaking through that way of thinking might require a mentor with extreme credibility and some knowledge of the grievances that are driving the youth’s radicalization. These mentors may be especially well-positioned to help mentees know that they understand their frustrations and grievances, while also steering them toward more positive solutions. As suggested by the encouraging findings (albeit preliminary and non-definitive) of one program that used an Imam for this purpose in mentoring Muslim youth thought to be vulnerable to radicalization, such persons may also be instrumental in helping youth interpret religious texts or other indoctrinating literature more accurately or compassionately. As noted above, exposing youth to the “other” is a key part of stopping radicalization. Yet, as we learn more about the potential contributions of mentoring in this area, it will not be surprising if it turns out that facilitating a youth’s meaningful connection with a messenger or guide who has a similar background, ethnicity, religion, or life experience may also achieve status as a “best practice.” Such persons may be more capable of role modeling clear thinking and positive responses to negative circumstances than individuals from other groups or the dominant culture. Clearly, though, as suggested in the review, this type of strategy need not exclude others that are focused, perhaps in a complementary manner, on combating other potential contributors to radicalization (e.g., absence of meaningful exposure to groups or persons that represent potential victims of a young person’s radicalization toward violent extremism).
2. THE POTENTIAL IN A BLEND OF ONE-TO-ONE AND GROUP MENTORING.
Given the seriousness of the work at hand, programs attempting to prevent radicalization should consider providing each mentee with a dedicated mentor who can help them grow and develop in what may be very individualized and specific ways. But, as noted in the review, there also seems to be power in going through a program with a cohort of peers and having opportunities for norming new ideas and behaviors. Peers can be powerful motivators to change ways of thinking and to build that positive sense of belonging that acts as a shield against isolation and internalized anger. Groups of youth may also have an easier time contributing in meaningful ways to the community by their collective action, reinforcing the notion that there are positive and effective ways they can begin to address the issues that may have been nudging them toward radicalization in the first place. Of course, programs looking to use peers in this role should be sure to offer plenty of monitoring and support to ensure that these influential peers are not actually reinforcing negative views of others or engaging in other behaviors that might spur further radicalization.
3. CAREFULLY EVALUATING HOW AND WHEN YOU MIGHT INVOLVE LAW ENFORCEMENT IN YOUR EFFORTS.
The review noted many examples of programs that involve law enforcement professionals in their work, helping to break through stereotypes and foster dialogue between members of a particular group and what might have seemed to some youth like “the enemy” or a representation of the very system of oppression that was driving them toward extreme views. And while there are many good reasons to involve law enforcement in this kind of mentoring work, there are also risks. Unfortunately, these types of programs may be perceived by some communities as a strategy for “keeping tabs” on them, if not outright violating their privacy and fundamental rights as citizens. Programs that involve law enforcement must have clear lines of how they will respect their clients’ privacy, right to assembly, and civil rights, and the limits of their engagement with law enforcement professionals and institutions. A program that is perceived as being a vehicle for spying or further oppression is unlikely to get buy-in from the very individuals they need to reach most.
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You can also find several tools and activity guides that can support mentoring in the Resources section of the NMRC website. And remember that you can always request NMRC technical assistance to help start or improve a mentoring program.