There is no catch-all description, or foolproof signs that parents can look out for. However, there are factors which mean a young person may be more vulnerable to those seeking to radicalise them, including:
- A conviction that their religion or culture is under threat and treated unjustly.
- A tendency to look for conspiracy theories and distrust of mainstream media.
- The need for identity and belonging.
- The need for more excitement and adventure.
- Being susceptible to influence by their peers/friends.
- Mental health issues can exacerbate other vulnerabilities mentioned above
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 exploit children, as well as influencing their minds. The same tools should apply for safeguarding your child. There are simple steps you can take:
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.
Consider setting up your own social media profiles, for example on Twitter or Facebook and be friends on there with your children.
Be aware of who your children are friends with online 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 haven’t met 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, terrorist 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. There are some great websites for parents which can help you learn more about child online safety, such as Internet Matters, Safer Internet or Parental Controls.