We speak to psychologist Dr Vanessa Moulton about the warning signs and how to safeguard your children from extremism.
By Dr Vanessa Moulton
Radicalisation is a daunting concept; especially if you think it might be happening to your child or someone you know. But what exactly is it, what are the warning signs and how should you respond if you think someone close to you is being radicalised?
Chartered psychologist Dr Vanessa Moulton explains how to safeguard your children:
What is radicalisation?
Radicalisation is when someone starts to believe and support extreme aspirations around terrorism, political, social or religious ideals.
Radicalisation is when someone starts to believe and support extreme aspirations.
This can lead to participation in extremist groups, vocally or actively.
Because of the potential increase in radicalisation, there has understandably been a more direct focus on how we safeguard our children against it, just as we safeguard children against other risk factors.
Why does radicalisation occur?
Research shows that children have a robust bias to trust and therefore with the huge daily influence and ease of access to the internet and social media, children are easily exposed to extremism ideologies and views which can end up being normalised. Children and young people can of course also be exposed to the influence of extremism by family and friends.
Radicalisation can also be more prevalent with children who are more vulnerable to being influenced. There are certain indicators that would make a child or young person more vulnerable which include:
✔️ Struggling with a sense of identity, low self-esteem, being bullied, feeling isolated and lonely and struggling to interact socially.
✔️ Lacking a sense of belonging; feeling judged about their culture, gender, race or religion and therefore questioning their place in society or British culture.
✔️ Feeling confused about a complex world and how to interpret their thought processes. Exposure to traumatic events will also exacerbate this.
Radicalisation warning signs
There are several general indicators to look out for. But it is also really important to point out that each of these in their own right would not necessarily suggest radicalisation; it could be normal child or teenage behaviour. These can include the following:
➡️ Isolating themselves: cutting themselves off from others. This can be the family and friends they normally hang out with, as well as hanging out with new friends. This could be because they are being secretive with how they are spending their time, but also potentially because the radicalisation is making them feel like they ‘belong’ to something which may be really important to them right now.
➡️ Getting defensive: becoming protective of the views they have and therefore becoming anxious or angry easily. This is because they are seeing you and others as a ‘threat’ to the beliefs they are harbouring.
➡️ Sounding different: you might recognise that the words they are using don’t sound like theirs and they belong to someone else or demonstrate extremist views.
➡️ Mood changes: they may be getting stressed or anxious, or advocating violent actions.
➡️ Narrow-mindedness: they have rigid extremist views and refuse to be flexible in their attitudes.
Protecting your child from radicalisation
Helping your child feel heard is one of the most important steps to prevent your child from being radicalised. You can do this through providing a safe environment for your children to express their views to you.
Also make sure they are aware of support services such as Childline where they talk about their opinions and feelings.
Helping your child feel heard is one of the most important steps to prevent radicalisation.
Talk to your child about online safety, making sure they understand the dangers or ‘grooming’ and extreme views online, and ensure you have parental controls of their online usage and check their privacy settings.
Take an interest in their online usage and make sure you talk to them regularly about the sites they are using.
How to talk about radicalisation
First of all, it is important to talk to your child about your concerns. You can also talk to their teachers to see if they have noticed any changes in their behaviour or are concerned at all.
Schools will have a safeguarding lead due to the government’s ‘Prevent’ duty so set up a meeting with them as they will be able to provide some really good advice.
There are organisations who are really supportive of helping parents work through concerns that they have, such as the NSPCC, which is confidential and anonymous.
❗️If you have genuine concerns about the safety of your child or others, contact your local authority or police force for additional support.
Help and support
For additional support, try one of the following resources:
- NSPCC: a children’s charity, preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover.
- Childline: helping children and young people with any issue they might be facing.
- Educate Against Hate: practical advice and information on protecting children from extremism and radicalisation.
- The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.