Extremism and radicalisation

Young people may be vulnerable to a range of risks as they pass through adolescence. They may be exposed to new influences and potentially risky behaviours, influence from peers, influence from older people or the internet as they may begin to explore ideas and issues around their identity.

There is no single driver of radicalisation, nor is there a single journey to becoming radicalised. The internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised, since it’s a worldwide 24/7 medium that allows you to find and meet people who share and will reinforce your opinions. Research tells us that the internet and face-to-face communications work in tandem, with online activity allowing a continuous dialogue to take place.  

What are the signs to look out for?

There are a number of signs to be aware of (although a lot of them are quite common among teens). Generally parents and carers should look out for increased instances of:

  • A conviction that their religion, culture or beliefs are under threat and treated unjustly
  • A tendency to look for conspiracy theories and distrust of mainstream media
  • The need for identity and belonging
  • Being secretive about who they’ve been talking to online and what sites they visit
  • Switching screens when you come near the phone, tablet or computer
  • Possessing items – electronic devices or phones – you haven’t given them
  • Becoming emotionally volatile.

Why could social networking be a concern?

Your child may actively search for content that is considered radical, or they could be persuaded to do so by others. Social media sites, like Facebook, Ask FM and Twitter, can be used by extremists looking to identify, target and contact young people. It’s easy to pretend to be someone else on the internet, so children can sometimes end up having conversations with people whose real identities they may not know, and who may encourage them to embrace extreme views and beliefs.

Often children will be asked to continue discussions, not via the mainstream social media, but via platforms, such as Kik Messenger, Whisper, Yik Yak or Omegle. Moving the conversation to less mainstream platforms can give users a greater degree of anonymity and can be less easy to monitor.

People who encourage young people to do this are not always strangers. In many situations they may already have met them, through their family or social activities, and then use the internet to build a rapport with them. Sometimes children don’t realise that their beliefs have been shaped by others, and think that the person is their friend, mentor, boyfriend or girlfriend and has their best interests at heart.

Talking about radicalisation with your child

This is a difficult topic to broach with your child and needs to be dealt with sensitively if you’re concerned about their behaviour. Here are some tips to help you raise the subject and information to give your child to prevent them being unintentionally exposed to radical ideas:

Be approachable

Let them know you’re there to help them if they get into trouble online – and if they’re concerned about something they can come to you.

Be calm and don’t get angry

Your child is far more likely to be open and honest with you if you remain calm about the situation.

Tell someone

Make sure your child is aware that if something them worried or uncomfortable online their best course of action is always to talk to an adult they trust.

Talk to them about their online friendships

Find out what sites they go to, where they met their online friends, how they communicate and what information they share. Talk to them about being cautious about what they share with people online. Remind them that even though people they’ve met online might feel like friends they may not be who they say they are, and that they may have ulterior motives for befriending them.

Don’t be confrontational

Your child’s beliefs are a sensitive subject and need handling carefully as you don’t want to push them away or shut them out.

Be safe in real life

Teach your child to never arrange to meet someone they only know online without a parent present.

Encourage them to share their ideas and opinions

Many young people are often not aware of the realities and consequences of the radical ideas they have formed or the arguments against them.

Where to get help

If you feel your child – or another child – may be in immediate danger, a threat to others or there is a risk they may leave the country, contact the police and ensure that their passport is kept in a safe place.

You can report any concerns about online grooming to the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command.

The Active Change Foundation (ACF) provide a confidential helpline to prevent British nationals from travelling to conflict zones. 020 8539 2770

The Anti-Terrorist Hotline is where to report any suspicious activity that may be related to terrorism. 0800 789 321

If your child wants to talk to someone in confidence they can call Childline on 0800 1111 or Get Connected on 0808 808 4994 (text 80849)

The Home Office provides advice for parents concerned that their child may be involved in a gang

Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH) is a national award winning charity that provides free and confidential faith and culturally sensitive support services targeted at vulnerable young people in the UK. 0808 808 2008

Parents can call the NSPCC’s free 24/7 adult helpline on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or text 88858. You can also contact the Stop it Now! helpline on 0808 1000 900 where you can seek advice anonymously.