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Tony McAleer is a co-founder and former board chair of Life After Hate. This column was published in Haaretz, the longest-running newspaper still in print in Israel.

What should a parent do when their child becomes involved in the neo-Nazi movement?

As parents, when first confronted with this situation, our first response is to try and correct our children by addressing the factual disconnect and ideas our child has, challenging the ideology of the far right, using logic to persuade our children.

What if I told you that is exactly the course of action you should NOT do?

My personal experience and research has shown that ideology (whether political or religious extremism) is not, in general, the main driver for a child being drawn into the world of violent extremism. Rather, the critical trigger is a much deeper psychological longing.

Within the white supremacist movement, I found power at a time when I felt powerless, attention when I felt invisible and acceptance when I felt unlovable. I could have gotten my identity, purpose and belonging as the captain of the football team, but I was not a jock – so I sought it elsewhere.

If you wait for your child to walk through the front door with a fascist haircut wearing a swastika, it is almost certainly too late, as by this stage the problem is beyond the skill set of most parents. So the best thing a parent can do is to engage your child early. Engage your child with curiosity, non-judgment and open communication.

Find out who they are, how they see themselves in the world and what they believe. Create a safe space for them to be open with you long before they encounter dark ideologies. It is from that space that you can sense if things are starting to go wrong.

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