Extremism is one of the greatest threats to UK security, according to the government, which has said that a worrying number of young people are being radicalised to adopt extremist beliefs, usually through contact with extremists and exposure to propaganda online.  

In this article, we’ll explain the threats, the warning signs to look out for, and how to prevent your child being radicalised.

Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to keeping children safe online, has lots of useful information about Radicalisation aimed at parents, including how to talk about it with your child and how to deal with it.

What is radicalisation?

Radicalisation is when someone adopts radical views, often after being influenced by someone they’ve met or being exposed to propaganda. Some young people going through adolescence are vulnerable to being radicalised as they deal with issues like belonging and faith.

Why does radicalisation occur?

It happens because those of a radical bent often seek to convert more people to their cause or way of thinking. They do this in order to use them to either spread their hateful message or even carry out harmful acts against those who don’t share their views.

In order to convince people to think like them, they might provide a sense of family or a support network that young people can feel is lacking in their lives.

[Read more: 12 tips to stop over-sharing online]

What is the role of the internet in radicalisation?

Online tools like websites, social media and messaging apps have made it easier than ever for those with extremist beliefs to spread their views.

The anonymity of the internet makes people more likely to share beliefs they wouldn’t dare utter in public.

But it also dehumanises those on the receiving end of the hateful message, making it seem like it’s not really hurting anyone. When in reality, spreading hateful messages online can have devastating consequences.

Children could be talking with people who they don’t really know - although your child might be encouraged to foster radical opinions by someone they’ve met in real life, with the internet being used to maintain that contact.

There is extremist content online, including videos and articles inciting hate and violence.

How to spot radicalisation

There are a number of signs to look out for, according to Internet Matters, but be warned, some of them can be quite common among teenagers who haven’t been radicalised

  • Your teenager might hold a strong conviction that their religion, culture or beliefs are under threat and are being treated unjustly.
  • They might start believing conspiracy theories and distrusting mainstream media.
  • They might develop a need for identity and belonging, which can cause them to join a group in which they have previously shown no interest.
  • They might also be secretive about who they’ve been talking to online and which websites they visit.
  • They may switch screens whenever you come near the phone, tablet or computer they’re using. Your suspicions should definitely be raised if they possess electronic devices like phones which you haven’t given them.
  • They could also become volatile emotionally.

What can I do to prevent radicalisation?

The most important thing is to talk to your child. Have a conversation about online radicalisation and extremism – talk about it early and often.  It’s important that children know the very real dangers that lurk online. 

You can also use the internet together. Get them to show you which websites they like and why. You can make sure they know how to use privacy settings and reporting tools – these let them report extremist behaviour, block someone from contacting them, and let them keep their personal information safe on social media services like Facebook and Twitter.

Explain the dangers of meeting someone in person they’ve met online and that a parent should be present.

You should also tell them to think before they post something. Ask them, “Would you say that to someone face-to-face?” If not, don’t post it. They might not really understand what they are posting, so encourage them to talk about it to you.

Child  using laptop

Following them on social media is a good way of monitoring what they’re doing too, and who they’re mixing with online. Make clear that they shouldn’t engage anyone in conversation unless they know who they are – get them used to researching people before accepting friend requests.

Setting rules and boundaries – for example, no internet after 8pm. You should familiarise yourself with Parental Control. BT’s let you set filters to block specific content when your children are online, such as 'Hate and Self-harm' and block specific websites. Find out more.

Be approachable, so your child knows they are there to help them if something happens. Try and be calm as well, so your child is open with you.

If you have concerns about radicalisation, treat your child and their opinions with sensitively, they might not realise they’ve been radicalised and might have a rapport with the person who has helped shape their opinions.

Talk to teachers:  If your child is at school or collage don't be afraid to share your concerns with them. They may have spotted signs and are there to help.

What do I do if I think my child is radicalised?

If you think your child is in danger, or a threat to others, make sure their passport is hidden or somewhere they can’t find it. Then contact the police.

For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, check out Internet Matters.