It is crucial for parents to understand that many young people under the influence of extremists do not exhibit any changes in behaviour and continue to be their usual bright, sociable selves. In fact, ISIS recruiters specifically instruct young people considering travel to Syria to act normally and avoid attracting suspicion. In one social media message, the teenager was told: “Only discuss normal things, hobbies, travelling, holiday stuff. Nothing to do with Turkey or Syria. Keep it casual.” Many families have spoken about their surprise upon finding out their children had travelled to Syria. One aunt said:
“She was bubbly and helpful. She was a girl who was watching the X-Factor. They’re on their phones and you think they are doing normal things…she was not the type of girl who would meet people outside.”
In light of this, it is important that parents are aware of how their children behave online.
ISIS is on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Ask.fm, Instagram, YouTube and many other platforms. Often these conversations begin on open social media sites and then move onto private messaging applications.
For some young people changes in their online profiles, including their profile image or name, can reflect the fact that they are beginning to associate with extremist ideas. Young people may even run two online identities, one their ‘normal’ or old self, the other an extremist identity, often in another name.
It’s not always easy to keep track of what your children are doing online. But every parent needs to be aware of the risks posed by the internet, which can be a platform for those seeking to sexually exploit children, as well as influencing their minds. The same tools should apply for safeguarding your child. There are simple steps you can take;
1. Have a discussion with your children about what they are doing online, what Apps and programmes they use. Emphasise the importance of caution in what they are sharing and who they are friends with. Help them understand the importance of applying critical thinking to news and opinions they see online; not everything they read will be true, and not everyone they talk to will be honest about their identity.
2: Consider setting up your own social media profiles, for example on Twitter or Facebook, and be friends with/follow your children.
- Be aware of who your children are friends with on Facebook and who they follow on Twitter. According to Ofcom, a worrying 1 in 3 12-15 year olds may be in contact with people they don’t know via their social networking sites.
- Keep up to date with what they post, and what others are posting on their walls. Use your instinct if something appears inappropriate or out of character.
- Many parents have voiced their concerns about the sheer amount of extremist and graphic content which is readily available online from a simple search. If you are worried that your child may have seen something troubling, you can check their internet history- it is fairly easy to see what pages they have visited using their desktop computer, laptop or tablet.
- You can also turn on the parental safety features that most online platforms offer, which can filter out or block harmful material. Find out how to do this here.
- If you see something that worries you-– talk to your child.