Keeping Young People Safe from Radicalisation and Extremism
Advice for parents, carers and homestay hosts.
Young people can be vulnerable to risks both inside and outside the home and you will have taken steps to protect them so they can grow, learn and develop to their fullest potential.
Protecting young people from radicalisation and extremism is similar to protecting them from the other harms you may be more familiar with, such as drugs, gangs and sexual exploitation.
Messages of hate can take many forms. Extremist groups use them to recruit young people. Here you will find information to help you understand the issues and know where to turn for support to protect those in your care.
According to the Home Office the current threat level for international terrorism in the UK is SEVERE. This means a terrorist attack is HIGHLY LIKELY. Link: www.mi5.gov.uk/threat-levels
“The greatest current challenge comes from the global rise of Islamist extremism. We see this in the violence of Al Qa’ida (AQ) and Daesh (also referred to as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL], Islamic State or IS). The appalling attack in Tunisia in June 2015 took the lives of 38 people, 30 of them British. More than 750 UK linked individuals have travelled to take part in the Syrian conflict. Worryingly we have seen examples of women, children and families buying into Daesh’s extremist narrative and travelling to live under their brutal regime. Islamist extremists have also inspired the overwhelming majority of over 40 terrorist plots which have been disrupted since the London bombings of 2005.” (Source: Home Office 2016)
“Islamist extremism is not the only threat, as seen by the vicious actions of a number of extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi groups. In 2013 Mohammed Saleem, an 82-year-old British Muslim from Birmingham, was murdered by Pavlo Lapshyn, an extreme right-wing fanatic, who went on to bomb mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton. In January 2015, Zack Davies attempted to murder Dr Sarandev Bhambra in a racially-motivated attack in a supermarket in North Wales, and was sentenced to life in prison. He had claimed the attack was “revenge for Lee Rigby”, and extreme right-wing publications were found at his home. The government is determined that such violence, and the Islamophobia that underpins it, will be defeated and the perpetrators brought to justice.” (Source: Home Office 2016)
What is extremism?
- Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist. (Source: Counter Extremism Strategy – October 2015)
What is terrorism?
- Terrorism is defined as action designed to influence the government, intimidate the public, and done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, that endangers or causes serious violence or harm to people, property, or seriously disrupts or interferes with an electronic system. (Source: Terrorism Act – 2000)
Who or what is Daesh?
- Daesh was preceded by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an Al Qa’ida affiliated group established in 2006. Following the group’s expansion into Syria and its consistent disobeying of orders from Al Qa’ida’s leadership, Al Qa’ida issued a statement disowning Daesh in early 2014. In June 2014, Daesh spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani declared it had established an Islamic caliphate with its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim.
- Daesh inherited much of its ideology from Al Qa’ida, focussing on the formation and consolidation of an Islamic caliphate. It is noted for its brutality and indiscriminate killing of other Muslims. Daesh rejects the legitimacy of all other jihadi organisations and considers itself exclusive in its representation as the only legitimate religious authority.
- Daesh’s activity in the region and its professional media output have led to an unprecedented number of attacks carried out in its name, exporting the threat to countries with little or no history of terrorism, and inspiring groups to break former allegiances.
What are the origins of extreme right-wing activity in the UK?
- Oswald Mosley’s interwar British Union of Fascists (BUF) was the first significant extreme right movement in the UK. Influenced by Mussolini, the group held that Britain was in terminal decline and could only be saved by the regenerative force of fascism. After 1934, antisemitism became a core element of the BUF’s ideology, with the group regularly marching in Jewish areas of London, which notably prompted the battle of Cable Street in 1936.
- After World War II, extreme-right movements such as Colin Jordan’s British Movement and the National Front focused on opposition to non-White immigration. The movements were largely street based and had little electoral success. During the 1970s and 1980s marches by the National Front frequently resulted in serious public disorder.
- Today in the UK, there are numerous active extreme right-wing groups, sharing an ideology centring on an intense hostility to minorities and a belief that violence between ethnic and religious groups is inevitable. Alongside antisemitism and racism, hostility to Islam has now become a common element of extreme right ideology.
As young people grow and become more independent, it is not unusual for them to take risks, explore new things and push boundaries. Teenage years are often a time when young people search for answers to questions about identity, faith and belonging, and look for adventure and excitement.
This can mean that they are particularly vulnerable to extremist groups, who may claim to offer answers, as well as identity and a strong social network. Because they know young people are vulnerable, extremist groups often target them, frequently using the internet and social media. There have been a number of tragic examples where young people have been influenced online by extremist groups and have travelled to Syria, or have become involved with ‘far-right’ groups.
As parents, carers or homestay hosts, you are the first line of protection for those in your care, whatever their age. You play an important role in helping to keep those in your care safe from the risks posed by extremist groups. You can do this by helping your children or those in your care understand the risks even from a young age. As they get older, you can protect them by being aware of the signs of radicalisation and knowing what action to take if you are concerned.
Although the radicalisation process is unique for each individual, in general terms, four key elements are usually present.
(1) A vulnerable person will be introduced to an (2) extremist ideology by a (3) radicalising influencer who, in the (4) absence of protective factors, such as a supportive network of family and friends, or a fulfilling job, draws the individual ever closer to extremism.
Path to radicalisation
Vulnerabitilities or local factors - these are the personal factors that make an individual more susceptible to radical messages. These factors can be extremely diverse and could include issues such as behavioural or family problems, lack of belonging, and involvement in criminality
Radicaliser - an individual who encourages others to develop or adopt beliefs. The internet is increasingly being used as a mechanism by which to radicalise and purvey extremist messages without the need for individuals to meet in person.
Ideology - underpinning the radicalisation process is that an individual has been exposed to an idea or ideology or a set of beliefs that appears credible and appeals to the person in question. Ideology in itself is not a negative thing, but it can be exploited/misconstrued and used to a negative effect.
Absence of protective factors and/or obstacles - this means a positive influence in a young person’s life that is able to intervene in the radicalisation process is absent. This could include factors such as a parent or teacher who spots a child is displaying warning signs or behavioural problems and intervenes to help. Or it could be a more formal Prevent process such as Channel which aims to address the individual needs of the particular person for example through a mentoring scheme.
To be in the best position to protect your child or those in your care, you should be aware of the factors that may make them more vulnerable to radicalisation. You should bear in mind that these factors are a guide only, and you should also use your instincts as a parent, carer or host to decide whether your child/person in your care might be vulnerable.
- Struggling with their sense of identity
- Feelings of distance from their cultural or religious heritage and questions about their place in the society around them
- Searching for answers to questions about identity, faith and belonging
- Isolation and alienation from UK values and culture
- Family tensions
- Experience of a traumatic event
- Low self-esteem or unmet aspirations, including perceptions of injustice and a feeling of failure
- Having a sense of grievance that is triggered by personal experience of racism or discrimination
- Lack of strong role models
- Contact with individuals who hold extremist views
- Special educational needs – difficulties with social interaction, empathy with others and understanding the consequences of their actions
- Local community tensions
- Events affecting their country or region of origin
- Having family or friends who have travelled abroad to join extremist groups, for example Daesh
- Exposure to a learning environment which does not present balanced arguments and diverse points of view
- Experiences of young offender institutions or imprisonment
- Poor reintegration into society following a period of imprisonment
- Previous involvement with criminal groups
There is no single route to radicalisation. It can occur quickly, or over a longer period of time. Sometimes there are clear warning signs, and in other cases the changes in personality or behaviour are less obvious.
The list of warning signs below is intended as a guide. We all know that teenage years are an exciting but challenging time in which young people develop their identities, judgment and critical thinking skills and form important relationships. As a parent/carer/homestay host you will be best placed to recognise changes in behaviour that feel out of character. You should have confidence in your instincts if something feels wrong.
Attitudes and opinions
- Argumentativeness or aggression, and an unwillingness to listen to/consider points of view which contradict their own
- Refusal to engage with, or being abusive to, peers who are different to themselves. This could include differences in race, religion, gender or sexuality
- Susceptibility to conspiracy theories and a feeling of persecution
Changes in behaviour and peer group
- Distancing themselves from friends and peer groups, both online and offline
- Recent and rapid conversion to a new religion, perhaps with an insistence on a strict set of rules governing everyday life
- A significant change of appearance/clothing and/or behaviour
- Rejection of activities they used to enjoy
- Excessive time spent online or on mobile phones, and secretiveness or reluctance to discuss what they are doing
- Changes in online identity, including social media profile image or name. Some will even have two parallel online profiles, one their ‘normal’ or old self, the other an extremist identity, often in another name
Support for extremist ideologies and groups
- Expressions of sympathy with the ideology of extremist groups or justification of their action
- Expressions of sympathy or understanding for other young people who have joined or attempted to join these groups
- Accessing extremist material online, including violent extremist websites, especially those with a social networking element (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)
- Possessing or accessing other forms of extremist literature
- Being in contact with extremist recruiters
- Joining or seeking to join extremist organisations
As a parent, carer or homestay host, keeping those in your care out of harm’s way is always your first priority. Keeping young and impressionable minds safe from the risk of extremism, is no different. Of course, you know your own child, but this guidance may help you.
Talking to your child or those in your care, openly and regularly, is the best way to help keep them safe. You might find it helpful to start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what’s appropriate. Or you might need a more specific conversation about something you’re worried about.
Ensuring that young people are safe when they’re online is also an important element of protecting them. Young people spend a lot of time online – it can be a great way for them to socialise, explore and have fun. But young people do also face risks from extremist organisations who use the internet and social media to spread their messages and radicalise. You don’t need to be an expert on the internet but understanding what young people do online and the risks they face will help you to keep them safe. There are a number of organisations that can provide free expert advice on how to keep children safe on the internet.
You might find it difficult to talk to your child or young person about extremism, especially if you’re concerned about them.
But, whatever the subject, and however old the child or young person is, there are lots of ways to make it less daunting for you both.
Ultimately, it’s always going to be a case of your judgment on the best way to tackle something with your child/young person, but what you’ll read here could give you a few pointers. This advice is based on NSPCC advice on how to talk to your child/young person about any difficult issue.
Creating the right situation
It’s important to think about where and how to talk about extremism so that your child/young person will listen. You might want to have the conversation in a relaxed and neutral place and you might want to consider having it at a time when brothers and sisters aren’t around to interrupt.
Starting the conversation
It’s never easy to start a serious conversation with a young person. Do it too forcefully and they may well clam up. But if you take a more subtle approach you can find the chat gets derailed and you’re soon talking about something entirely different. It can be a good idea to try to make the conversation relevant in some way. For example, if you’re watching TV together and the on-screen action has something to do with extremism, you could kick things off by asking your child/young person what they’d do in the same situation. Another good way to get your child/young person’s interest could be to say that a friend of yours needs some advice about a particular issue and to ask if they have any ideas. It’s a really nice way to show that you value their opinions while also finding out how much they know about a subject.
Listening is important too
When you want to have a serious conversation with a young person it can be easy to forget that if should be a two-way thing. Start by asking questions that don’t just have “yes” and “no” answers. This is going to give your child/young person the chance to tell you what they really think. Then give them as long as they need to answer without interrupting. They may be nervous or still working out what they really think and that could take a little time. Don’t be afraid to let your child/young person ask you questions too. Be honest with them about how you feel about extremism and talk about your own experiences of it, if you have any. It’s also really important to let them know that they can trust you to keep their confidence and that you want them to always feel they can talk to you, other people they trust or organisations like ChildLine, when anything is worrying them.
The past 18 months have seen a remarkable shift in the way extremists such as Daesh, use the internet to spread their ideology and radicalise.
Daesh use the internet and social media extensively to communicate and spread propaganda messages. Daesh propaganda includes images and videos that present their vision as an exciting alternative to life in the West. This media presents Daesh as the powerful creators of a new state to which all Muslims have a duty to travel. This propaganda ignores the fact that Daesh is a terrorist organisation engaged in killing innocent men, women and children. When their official media group release material online the group encourages supporters on social media to share the material – this is what gives Daesh its large reach, particularly to young people.
Neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups have also proved adept at using the internet and social media to spread their ideology and seek recruits. For example, Stormfront is often described as the first website dedicated to racial hatred, providing an online forum for the discussion of white nationalism and white supremacy.
If you’re ever worried about your child’s safety online and want to talk to someone, you can always call the NSPCC’s online safety helpline on 0808 800 5002.
The principles of keeping young people safe from extremists online are no different from keeping them safe from other online threats. The following advice has been produced by the NSPCC to help keep young people safe while using the internet and social networks.
Talking to your child or young person is one of the best ways to keep them safe. You can also use parental controls on social networks, online games and browsers and on both hardware and software that can filter or monitor what a young person can see. Preventing young people from using the internet or mobile phones won’t keep them safe in the long run, so it’s important to have conversations that help your child/young person understand how to stay safe and what to do if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable
Have the conversation early and often.
Children and young people spend an average of 12 hours a week online, so it’s very much part of their routine early on in life. That’s why it’s important to start talking to your child/young person about keeping safe online at an early age.
It’s easier to have conversations about online safety little and often, rather than trying to cover everything at once. As young people get older, and technology changes, make sure you keep talking about what they’re doing online and how to stay safe.
Explore online together.
Ask your child or young person to show you their favourite things to do online, and show an interest in what they do – just like you would offline. This will give you a much better idea of what they’re getting up to. And it gives you a way to support and encourage them while learning what they know.
Know who your child is talking to online.
Some young people don’t think of people they’ve met online through social networking and online games as strangers. They’re just online friends. So it’s important to keep track of who your child/young person’s talking to. Ask them questions like:
- Who do they know that has the most online friends?
- How can they know so many people?
- How do they choose who to become friends with online?
Explain to your child/young person that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves online because you have never met them. You could also become ‘friends’ with your child/young person so you can see their profile and posts.
Set ground rules and boundaries.
- It’s useful to agree on some ground rules together. These will depend on your child/young person’s age and what you feel is right for them, but you might want to consider:
- The amount of time they can spend online
- When they can go online
- The websites they can visit or activities they can take part in
Use parental controls to filter, restrict, monitor or report content
You can set up parental controls to stop young people seeing unsuitable or harmful content online:
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Sky or BT, provide controls to help you filter or restrict content.
- Laptops, phones, tablets, game consoles and other devices that connect to the internet have settings to activate parental controls.
- Software packages are available – some for free – that can help you filter, restrict or monitor what young people can see online.
Check they know how to use privacy settings and reporting tools
Check the privacy settings on any online accounts your child or young person has, like Facebook or games sites, and remind them to keep their personal information private. And talk to your child or young person about what to do if they see content or are contacted by someone that worries or upsets them. Make sure they know how to use tools to report abuse.
What should I do if I think my child or person in my care has been exposed to extremism or radicalisation?
If you are worried and would like some advice and support contact one of the College Safeguarding Designates on:
Call: 0115 914 6414 and ask to speak to a safeguarding officer.
As well as talking to your child or young person, you could raise the issue with a friend or family member who know them well. Explain your worries, and find out if they have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Hearing another perspective may help you decide if something is wrong.
Your local police force or local authority can also provide advice and support. If your child or young person has not committed a criminal offence you should not be worried that you will get your child into trouble by speaking to the police or local authority. They will discuss your concerns with you and suggest how they can best protect your child/young person.
Some local authorities have dedicated officers who work on preventing extremism and they will be able to provide you and your child/young person with specialist support and advice. They might suggest referral to the ‘Channel programme’. Channel is a voluntary government funded programme which aims to safeguard children and adults from being drawn into terrorist activity.
If you think a child is in immediate danger or see or hear something that may be terrorist related, trust your instincts and call 999/101 or the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.
Further sources of support: Useful website
- Report terrorism online via: http://www.gov.uk/report-terrorismwww.educateagainsthate.com
- – provides further information with regard to understanding radicalisation and extremism.
- www.internetmatters.org has lots of information, advice and resources which can be used to help children stay safe online
- www.ceop.gov.uk CEOP works with child protection partners across the UK and overseas to identify the main threats to children and coordinates activity against these threats to bring offenders to account, protecting children from harm online and offline
- www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/0 Information and support for safe use of the internet.
For more advice on cyber safety visit:
- How Social Media Is Used To Encourage Travel To Syria And Iraq
(pdf 673.71 KB)
- Introduction To Radicalisation
(pdf 47.92 KB)