The report by peace activist group International Alert draws on interviews with 311 Syrians, their families and members of their communities in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
It found that males between the ages of 12 and 24 were most at risk of joining jihadist organisations like the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
But instead of being attracted by the groups' ultra-conservative ideologies, young Syrians are more driven by "the need to earn a basic living, regain a sense of purpose and dignity and the belief in a moral duty to protect, avenge and defend".
Young Syrian men said joining armed groups afforded them "a strong sense of purpose, honour and self-worth".
"People can find a new meaning to their life in extremism. Extremism opens a door to a new life where they are wanted," one interviewee told International Alert.
For young children, recruitment into jihadist groups offers them a chance to belong to a peer group that war has denied them by excluding them from class.
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With more than two million children out of school in Syria, IS and Al-Nusra have been "filling this gap by providing their own forms of education," the report said.
The "Cubs of the Caliphate" recruitment programme run by the Sunni extremists of IS includes courses in religion and military tactics.
"These 'schools' are highly segregated, exploit sectarian divisions and support divisive narratives."
To prevent recruitment, the report urged host countries for the millions of Syrian refugees to enrol children in school programmes that incorporate psychiatric support and trauma treatment.
The report also urged "providing alternative sources of livelihood, better access to positive social groups and institutions, and avenues for exercising non-violent activism".
"If not for this job I would be on the front line with a Kalashnikov," one Syrian man who works as a peace activist in Lebanon said.
Jihadist groups like IS and Al-Nusra have shot to prominence in Syria as the uprising that erupted against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 has degenerated into a devastating civil war.
More than 270,000 people have been killed and nearly five million fled abroad.