Political Activism of Palestinian Youth: Exploring Individual, Parental, and Ecological Factors

By Spellings, Carolyn R.; Barber, Brian K. et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Political Activism of Palestinian Youth: Exploring Individual, Parental, and Ecological Factors


Spellings, Carolyn R., Barber, Brian K., Olsen, Joseph A., Journal of Marriage and Family


The growing literature on youth and political conflict has not included an adequate focus on youth activism. To address this deficit, this study used youth- and parent-reported data (N = 6,718) from the 1994 - 1995 Palestinian Family Study to test an ecological model of family influence (parents' activism, expectations for their adolescents' activism, support, psychological control), youth characteristics (self-evaluation), and elements of the broader social ecology (socioeconomic status, religiosity, and region of residence) predicting Palestinian 9th graders' political activism during the first intifada (1987 - 1993). Parental activism was the strongest predictor of youth activism, both directly and via parental expectations for activism. Classic parenting behaviors were not systematically useful in understanding activism; neither were socioeconomic status or religiosity. The model applied equally well for sons and daughters, with the exception that maternal activism contributed uniquely to daughters' activism beyond the significant effect of fathers' activism.

Key Words: family diversity, gender, Middle Eastern families, parent - child relations.

Throughout history, youth have been regularly involved in wars and other forms of political conflict (Barber, 2009). For example, even when just considering youth who are conscripted (e.g., child soldiers), both males and females are actively involved with armed groups in scores of countries throughout the world (Boothby & Knudsen, 2000). Untold thousands of others experience war as passive victims. Moreover, many other youth engage in political conflict voluntarily. The wave of political strife that swept through the Middle East and beyond in 2011 is the most current illustration of youth's capacity to actively participate in movements that involve substantial political conflict.

Although research has been accumulating rapidly on some aspects of youth experience with political conflict, it is nevertheless limited in significant ways. One major limitation is the lack of attention to understanding political activism itself. That is, although there is a rapidly growing literature on the effects of exposure to or involvement in political conflict (see Barber & Schluterman, 2009, for a recent review), very little attention has been paid to which youths engage in political activism, to what degree, and why. The present study is an initial attempt to formally test these questions in secondary analyses of data from a large sample of Palestinians who were adolescents during the first intifada (1987-1993).

Although there have been two Palestinian intifadas (the second intifada occurred during 2000-2005), the first was particularly characterized by widespread youth involvement (Barber & Olsen, 2009). The second intifada, although more violent in scope, saw relatively lower participation rates from young people (Norman, 2010). Although the first intifada took place many years ago, the type and levels of youth activism are actually quite similar to current instances of conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, and thus findings from youth experience during the first intifada are relevant to important contemporary events.

UNDERSTANDING YOUTH ACTIVISM

In this study, we investigated youth activism with a particular attention to family influence, concentrating specifically on the role of parents. The voluminous and long-standing literatures documenting the role of parents in the lives of youth have not extended adequately to parent -youth dynamics in contexts of political conflict. Specifically, although some studies have linked parenting to political activism in relatively peaceful societies (e.g., Bloemraad & Trost, 2008), no known study has tested the effects of parents on youth activism in contexts of armed conflict. Moreover, the limited scholarship that has formally studied youth political activism in conflict zones has not traced its etiology in socialization patterns but instead has attempted to trace activism's association with various aspects of youth social competence or mental health (e. …

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