Mar 2, 2018

Best defense against cults is trust

Robert Wallace
The Brunswick News
February 23, 2018

Dear Dr. Wallace:

One of my good friends earned a full scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a very bright student and had planned on going to law school and then into politics. She was in her first semester and doing well with her studies, but another friend told me that Emily had dropped out of school with her new boyfriend and they joined a religious cult. Her sister confirmed that it was true.

I’m really shocked. Emily was not the type you would think would quit college and join a religious cult. She is quiet, studious and very conservative in her lifestyle. Why would such a bright young adult get sucked into abandoning college, her family and friends, just to enter a wacko cult?

— Kayla,

Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Kayla: Teens join cults for the best and worst of reasons. Young people are often idealistic, rebellious and gullible, a combination of qualities that cynical cult recruiters try very hard to exploit. Every teen, as he or she begins making life decisions for the first time, will make mistakes.

Those teens who are most vulnerable to the suggestion of cult life often present a picture of the world of having rock-solid plans for their future, but are in fact deeply insecure about what the future might bring and hunger for a sense of belonging, according to the Cabrini Mental Health Clinic in New York City.

The Clinic believes that a yes answer to several of the following questions indicates a vulnerability to cult involvement:

1. Is the teen unsure of his or her decision-making ability?

2. Is the teen facing a major decision in life, such as choosing a college or career, or leaving home for the first time?

3. Has he or she recently experienced a trauma, such as the death of a family member or friend, or the end of a relationship?

4. Is the teen trying to find himself or herself?

5. Does he or she find it difficult to face the world as it is, wishing instead for simple answers or a “better world”?

Many cults play off this vulnerability by isolating new members on utopia-like farms in the countryside, where it is impossible to maintain a perspective on the outside world. New recruits are also frequently put to work selling literature or flowers on a grueling dawn-to-dusk basis, which further weakens their resistance.

In addition, many cult diets are low in protein, contributing to members’ physical weakness.

Young adults who join cults feel their lives lack fulfillment and have been convinced that the cult holds the answer for a better life in a better world. But a cult, almost by definition, is exploitative and manipulative, and eventually the falseness of its promise will become apparent. Chances are Emily, who is a bright young woman, will soon see through the empty promises and come to her senses.

For parents, the best defense against cults is to build strong relationships with their teens based on mutual trust and respect within their family!

— Write to Dr. Wallace

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