Parents can help tackle online radicalisation by encouraging their children to appreciate the variety of identities and beliefs in the world today.

Stories of young people leaving Britain to join jihadist terrorist organisations fighting in Syria and Iraq keep on hitting the headlines: more than 1,000 Britons have now left this country to fight abroad. Many of them have been radicalised, at least partly, online. The government stops many jihadists travelling, but it would better to prevent them wanting to go in the first place. That’s where parents come in. Parents are best placed to notice if young people’s online habits suddenly change – for example, if they are spending more time in their rooms and refusing to discuss what they are doing in the digital space.

Preventing radicalisation involves:

  • Understanding the ideas underlying extremism, which are based on a black-and-white view of the world.
  • Appreciating why young people are sometimes drawn to these ideas.
  • Communicating what life with the reality of these ideas is actually like.
  • Persuading young people that our own values of equality and freedom are worthwhile.
  • Convincing young people that they don’t have to choose to be one thing or the other, for example, either a devout Muslim or a Londoner.

Young people spend a lot of time developing their identities online, and this is perfectly normal. Radicalisation happens when they build their identities around drastically simplified ideas. In reality, everyone’s identity is multifaceted, but jihadist ideologies promote the idea that there is only one truth. Parents can help to combact radicalisation by encouraging the view that it’s perfectly OK for their child to be many things: a Muslim, of Pakistani origin, a computer nerd, a rapper, a son, gay and a Manchester United fan, for example.

Radicalisation takes place over a period of time, and for much of that time the changes may not be visible. Parents are often best placed to spot the subtle signs that teenagers may be being groomed into radicalisation online.

The Quilliam Foundation’s top tips for tackling extremism

  1. The single most important thing you can do to prevent extremism is to explain to your child why equality matters and why it’s important to support people’s right to practise their own religion and to speak freely. Explain the significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that people are entitled to equality before the law and freedom from discrimination, regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
  2. Make sure that when you talk to your child, you don’t confuse the religion of Islam with the political extremism of Islamism. Then, when we challenge extremists, we won’t fuel prejudice and damage anyone’s freedom to practise their religion.
  3. Don’t ignore extremism if you see it. It’s vital to challenge it, in the same way it’s vital to challenge bullying, homophobia and racism. If you don’t, young people may assume adults think it’s acceptable.
  4. Be aware that you have a really important role to play. Stopping extremism is not just a job for the police and security services; it’s a job for all of us. Talk to your child about who they follow online and the kinds of issues they are discussing.
  5. Reassure young people who are struggling with their identity that it’s normal to be made up of many parts.
  6. Be sensitive. Young people may be drawn to extremism by personal circumstances, religion, politics or a combination of all three – but they are unquestionably vulnerable when it is happening. Be considerate of what they feel is going wrong with their lives.
  7. Encourage young people to understand how others might try to manipulate them with half-truths, so they can see propaganda for what it is. Engage them in conversations about how people may use the internet to spread untruths.
  8. Get support. If you notice a significant change in attitudes towards extremism or online behaviour that concerns you, get help. This could take the form of personal mentoring, new networks or programmes to lead them away from radicalisation. Quilliam can provide more information.

Quilliam supports Families Against Terrorism and Extremism (FATE), an organic network of organisations working in communities across Europe and North Africa to prevent radicalisation, counter violent extremism and fight back against terrorism. Find out more on the FATE website.

This article first appeared in Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine (2015).

Jonathan Russell

Jonathan Russell is Political Liaison Officer at the Quilliam Foundation.

Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity and belonging in a globalised world. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.