Tackling radicalisation – Q&A with psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos

By Internet Matters Team on

Radicalisation can be a difficult subject to tackle if you’re worried that your child may be at risk of being groomed online and radicalised. In this article, Dr Linda Papadopoulos shares her insight to help parents support their children.

What signs should I look out for?

If your child is starting to isolate themselves from family or friends. Examples might be if there are people they always enjoyed hanging out with and now they don’t want to spend time with them, or if you and your child are spending less time together, or if they’re going straight to their room instead of perhaps watching TV as they always have done with the rest of the family. Look out for any form of isolation.

Another key sign of radicalisation is if they’re starting to speak, and it’s not their words; they’re saying things that just don’t sit right and it feels scripted. If they become ancy or agitated discussing their views or if there’s particular ‘no go’ areas where your child refuses to discuss certain things and they are trying to hide how they’re feeling. If they’re becoming more anxious.

What signs are different to other types of grooming?

The signs are similar to other types of grooming but what’s slightly different is the script talking.

Within other types of grooming it is less likely to see the same sense of political judgment or entitlement, the same anger or resentment towards a particular group. That’s something that is fairly unique to radicalisation.

How easy is it for my child to be radicalised? What leads a child to extremism?

It depends on the child’s levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and other mitigating factors like social isolation, family support and previous experiences.  It’s the same as asking ‘how easy is it for a child to go on a pro-ana site and become an anorexic’? There’s a multitude of variables, for example children of high risk tend to have poor body image or self-esteem. In radicalisation, they may have had some experience of bullying or discrimination, because of that the extremism connects with them and they feel slightly special and leads them to be more open to radicalisation.

How do you approach the subject with your child?

I think what’s really important is to have discussions on how grooming actually works, children who are being groomed don’t realise they’re being groomed; whether it be by a far-right group, a paedophile, a child just thinks ‘I’m special’.

Having discussions about current affairs, radicalisation is really important. Talk about these young people who are connected to Parson’s Green and ask your child ‘how do you think that happens? Do you think they wanted it to happen? Do you think somebody put them up to it? Can someone else make you do something like that? Talk about extreme things and ask your child what do you think would make him do this? Get them to think critically beyond ‘he’s just an idiot’. When they’re around 15 or 16 is important to find out what their views are and how they are being influenced.

At what age are they most susceptible to radicalisation?

When you’re a teenager, you’re trying to establish an identity outside of your family. One of the most important milestones is autonomy, what better way to be autonomous than to have a political view of your own.

For example, my dad’s a tory so I’m voting labour, my mum’s a vegan, I love steak.  These are basic things. From a brain plasticity point of view, teenagers tend to be much more impulsive. The limbic system that has to do with risk-taking and impulsivity is in overdrive while the more socially conscious frontal lobe is suppressed and therefore from a biological point of view, they’re more susceptible at this stage too.

How do I prevent my child from being radicalised?

Talk – there’s different types of extremism – we talk about religious or far-right groups but they can be radicalised with self-harm websites, pro-mia or pro-ana websites. Make sure you’re monitoring your kids’ behaviour and their self-esteem making sure they’re mentally healthy

Discuss content – it comes down to the source of their information. Talk about how someone’s view is because of what they’ve experienced, get them to think critically. Evaluate what an internet site is saying and why they may be saying it, get them to challenge the ideology, the stories they’re being told. They’re going to develop opinions and if they’re engaging with Islamic ideology, get them to ask questions, what’s in their interest? Don’t patronise them, have sensible conversations.

Practically – look at privacy settings – Facebook and Twitter, look at what’s making them vulnerable there and what they’re being exposed to. Visit internetmatters.org for help with their privacy settings or growing online trends.

Speak to them regularly about what you value as a family, remind them about that part of their identity, what we value such as tolerance, equality and honesty reminding them who they are and about the need for mutual respect.

more info

If you are concerned that your child may be at risks of being radicalised online, visit our radicalisation information page for organisations that can support you and your child.

Visit information page

More to explore

Learn more about radicalisation and how to support your child

Need to help face-to-face? See organisations you can contact for more support

Encourage your child to contact Childline if they want to talk in confidence

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