When I was 15, my mother let me take the bus to Lynn, a small city about five miles from our house and two blocks from my father’s office. I was pretty pleased with myself because otherwise my independence was limited entirely by my leg strength.
This week, three girls that age — Amira Abase, 15, Shamima Begum, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16 — allegedly took a different kind of odyssey, buying tickets from London to Istanbul in what appears to be a successful attempt to cross over into Syria and join the radical terror group ISIS. The governments are fighting with each other about how this could happen, who knew what when, and the like. My question is simple: Why?
Babies aren’t born to hate. If anything, as a mother, I would say there is an inherent sweetness in babies that touches our souls. Kids can be rough, but that’s the stuff of bruises and broken bones, not terrorism and mass destruction. How is it that these three young women, none of whom are from extremist homes, ended up on this dangerous journey?
News reports, of course, say it’s the Internet. It’s the Internet where young people gather to discuss ideas and presumably spout ideology. But we all know that much of what appears on the Internet bears no relationship to truth.
That’s where parents come in. When I was raising my kids, there was a popular ethos that anything a child had to say had “value,” that it was meaningful, that it was worthy of discussion. You weren’t supposed to just say “no”; you were supposed to discuss why “no” was a better answer. I’m sure I made these mistakes many times myself.
With the advent of the Internet, it is possible to sit at a table of four people, none of whom ever speak to each other, all faces buried in their smartphones. Some families eat this way. If the Internet is going to scream lies, and it is, then parents have a responsibility to counter with truth.
Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. Changing a diaper is easy. Getting your teenager to talk seriously is hard. I do not know these parents, and my sympathy goes out to them and to their family. But for the rest of us, it’s a stark warning that even though your kids know more about how to operate within the Internet technically, that doesn’t mean they have the mature judgment to discern what is worth listening to and what is rubbish.
The First Amendment, with limited exceptions, prohibits the government from blocking communications. We like to believe that in the marketplace of ideas, the good ideas will triumph. But that’s an ideal, not an answer to ISIS.
Some estimates say that around 3,400 people from Western countries have left their homes in an attempt to join ISIS, and approximately 150 of them are from the United States. This week the focus is on three girls from England. Next week, who knows? In the meantime, every one of us should be as engaged with our own children about their political views, their angers and their frustrations as the clever and sophisticated ISIS recruiters they meet online are.