Forum

UK labeling kids as potential terrorists extreme, harmful

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Throughout my years of elementary school and middle school, I saw teachers branding students as “brilliant,” “dumb,” “kid-with-a-potential-for-greatness,” “absolutely abysmal.” I have never really approved of this branding — it either made children think too highly of themselves or think that they had no promise at all — and when I heard of another label being put on children — that of “potential terrorist” — I flipped out.

According to an article in the British publication The Independent, the police have identified 200 schoolchildren in the U.K. as “potential terrorists,” as these children were “vulnerable to Islamic radicalization.” The aim of this picking and choosing, it seems, is to change the mentality of the children at a young age and prevent new terrorists from developing.

While the ultimate goal of this process may seem noble — preventing the creation of more terrorists is great — I have issues with the way this is being done. The details of what is going to be done with this group of children seem a little unclear. The article explains that the selected children will be a part of a program that includes discussions with parents, teachers, and the local imam. But it also states that “a handful have had intervention directly by the police.” “Direct police intervention” could mean anything — and having a rather wild imagination, I’ve been having visions of the worst. Even if we consider the best scenario, that the program only involves discussions with the children, picking out a handful of children and telling them that they are being given therapy sessions as they are more prone to blowing up the world than their other classmates is not the way to go about doing this.

Labeling children as anything has a profound effect on how they turn out later on. If you take a handful of children aside and label them as “dangerous,” they are going to feel intimidated. It’s not hard to imagine what the natural tendency of such children would be — would they realize that the counseling is for their own good and that of the rest of the world, or would they start thinking that they are being targeted and prosecuted for no apparent reason? Although this may not occur in all the cases, I believe that for a majority of cases, the counseling will only end up in producing children with low self-esteem who feel that they are always under the scrutiny of the public eye and the law. In fact, this might result in the exact opposite effect of what the authorities are hoping for; instead of preventing these children from turning to terrorism, the program might end up affecting the child’s self-confidence to such an extent that he or she might turn to extremist groups for protection. Although this is the extreme case of what may happen, what is more likely to occur is that children who could have grown to be confident, smart individuals will grow up to be nervous adults.

Programs like this are examples of desperation and thoughtlessness in difficult times. I agree that as terrorist attacks become more and more frequent, people feel the urgent need to do something about it, but if the plans are not well thought out, they could have serious repercussions. The authorities need to think about the consequences of the programs they plan before implementing them. If the authorities were really concerned about extremist groups’ influencing young children, they could start programs in schools that educated all children about the dangers of wrong influences. The discussions in the program could be the same, but if they were directed at all children instead of just a select group of children, they might be more effective and less intimidating.

The authorities have to realize that dealing with such issues, especially when they relate to children, can be extremely tricky, and have to be handled with utmost care.