Supporting families to safeguard loved ones from radicalisation

Image attribution: Andy Rennie under Creative Commons License

Approaching the issue of radicalisation with a child can be difficult and complex for any parent to do. In this article, Jonathan Russel of Quilliam gives some practical advice about how to start the conversation and ways that families can help.

Having a conversation about the issue

In many ways, important taboos have been broken. Dad’s ‘Awkward Conversation’ or Mum’s constant ‘reminders’ about issues around drugs, alcohol abuse or sexual education is now commonplace for teens—almost a rite of passage.

The same is not true of conversations about extremism and terrorism. There needs to be a change. Families often face a range of worries here. First, parents may not know what to say. Second, they may fear being stigmatised. Third, they may be unaware that their child is veering towards extremist views.

As the phenomenon of online radicalisation and recruitment of our young people from all sections of society is set to continue, it is vital that we invest in resilience-building measures now.

Important role of families to deter children from extremist ideas

Families are on the frontline in this battle for ideas. They can play a critical role in providing an emotional alternative to the exaggerated ideas of extremists. Research shows that families are a decisive factor in limiting the pull factor of extremism in communities. This is why it is crucial that families do more. And that is why providing them with confidence and support is essential.

You don’t need to be an imam or a counter-terrorism official to know that your child is in difficulty and taking dangerous pathways. It can be a matter of intuition and we should value a parent’s intuition. More importantly, you know your child better than anyone else—so trust your gut.

Steps to safeguarding children from radicalisation

But it is not just spotting the signs of radicalisation; there are steps that can be taken to safeguard your loved ones ahead of time. Educating your children and having an open and honest conversation about these dangers (radicalisation, extremism and terrorism) allows us to frame the issue before extremists do.

These things aren’t as hard as they might initially sound, and we know how to do them. Extremism and terrorism are somewhat similar to the issues mentioned earlier.

The profiles of known terrorists and extremists often reveal previous lives of emotional instability, drug taking, criminality and other mental challenging mental issues, which can be commonplace in young people.

Extremism is an exploitative process just like grooming and targets developmental issues that all young people face. And just as parents have become increasingly skilled at tackling these issues, and support networks have been formed to help them, so too must we work together to prevent radicalisation and counter extremism.

What families can do to protect children from radicalisation

Talk early

Many young people hang onto ideas which they feel empower them and give them purpose. This is often a great thing, but families should engage with them on the issues they find dear. Attempting to out think or counter them directly may not be the best approach, but taking a ‘I understand why you are interested in this’ method is a way of shaping the progression of their thought process, so show an interest in your child’s habits.

Reach out to networks – they are there

There are some fantastic resources and support networks in the UK and beyond at the moment. They can connect you with like-minded families and resources which can help you if you are concerned.

FATE – Families Against Terrorism and Extremism: A network hub of family organisations, counter-extremism practitioners, and those offering help who can share their experiences and toolkits with you.

FAST – Families Against Stress and Trauma: A group which gives you behaviour indicator training and support in your interventions.

Let’s Talk About it: Provides practical help and guidance to the public in order to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism

Educate Against Hate: A great resource for teachers, that is just as useful for parents to help safeguard young people against extremism of all kinds.

JAN Trust: Multi-award winning charity that offers a unique Web Guardians© programme, providing mothers and carers with the essential skills to tackle extremism so that they can protect their children.

Speak with the school/university/local council

Teachers are in an ideal place to notice the development of extremism in vulnerable children before the idea becomes firmly rooted in their minds. Teachers have to work to prevent children from being drawn into radicalisation now, and they’re there to work with you on safeguarding! If you have concerns that your children are headed down the path of radicalisation, you should reach out to your children’s teachers who can connect you with a specialist for help.

Don’t panic, but be vigilant

It is important that parents understand how the internet works and how extremists use the internet to communicate. You can do this by talking with children about who they communicate with online and the types of websites they visit. Parents can explain to their children how information on the internet can be manipulated so that children can separate truth from propaganda, and teach them about critical thinking.

In short, there are just three simple rules:

Be proactive!

Work with teachers!

The resources are available – use them!

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