How can I help my child to think critically to protect them against extremist influences?

How can parents counter the narrative and encourage ‘critical thinking’ when it comes to protecting children against extremist influences (on and offline)? Our experts offer support and insight to get you started.

Sajda Mughal OBE

CEO of JAN Trust, Campaigner and Consultant
Expert Website

How do I know if my child is vulnerable?

There are a number of warning signs that can be used as a guide to identify your child’s vulnerability to radicalisation:

  • Previous or current propensity towards extremist opinions
  • Sense of isolation from social group
  • Recent experience of serious traumatic event
  • Events affecting country or region of origin
  • Personal experience of racism or discrimination
  • Previous involvement with criminal groups

It’s crucial to bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive; nor is it solely indicative of vulnerability to radicalisation: there could be other issues which need addressing. However, if you feel that one or more of these characteristics applies to your child it is worth addressing this as soon as possible, in an open and calm manner which reassures them that you are a figure to be trusted who can be turned to for help and support in a situation of risk.

How can I counter extremism with my child?

Talking to children about extremism may be difficult to approach, but it is increasingly important that we make our young people aware of what is happening in the world around them. We now live in a highly digitalised world, where young people have increasingly easy access to an array of information online, in addition to the information offline.

It is therefore vital that children are aware of the dangers and risks of material found on and offline. In order to safeguard our children, we must therefore have and maintain an open dialogue between ourselves and our children, that enables them to think critically of materials they come across on and offline.

If we can speak openly and honestly about varying views and opinions and the potential dangers that exist, as well as the varying techniques and methods that are used to radicalise people on and offline, then we increase the chances of our children being honest with us, and feeling comfortable to approach us if they feel that perhaps they are being preyed on. Educating our children and making them self-aware is key to prevention of extremism.

How do I start a conversation about extremism and radicalisation with my child?

Keeping your conversation calm and open will ensure your child feels supported. Making sure your emotions are kept in check will enable greater honesty, which is crucial to maintaining your child’s trust.

This topic of conversation can feel overwhelming but it’s important to make it clear that you are asking questions because you want to support them. Reassure your child that this is dialogue, rather than punishment. Many children don’t report concerns because they fear that their internet access will be cut off.

Ensure you are aware of what the different internet and social media platforms are and how these might be used before you speak to your child. Don’t give your child an excuse to dismiss your concerns as ‘out of touch!’ Engage with your child, be open to learning from them but gently highlight the ways in which young people can be at risk. Give a few examples of how online extremists can use clever methods to manipulate and recruit young people.

Jade Gayle

Education, Employability and Safeguarding Programme Manager, Kidscape
Expert Website

How can parents counter the narrative to protecting children against extremist influences (on and offline)?

Create a home atmosphere where dialogue around these issues is encouraged. Having open discussions with your child about world events and ways to positively deal with negative emotions, will help your child see you as someone they can turn to with their own concerns.

When it comes to discussing extremist groups or individuals, explore the consequences of their actions. For example, your child may feel that a group was justified in feeling angry about a cause, but the consequences of violent extremism include death, prison, loss of loved ones etc., so discuss with your child legal and safe opportunities for a group to gain attention for a cause.

Think about the language you use to describe other people in front of your child. Foster an atmosphere of positive speech, and try to avoid threatening or abusive language. Where you and your child encounter or overhear hateful speech or behaviour, try to challenge it, even if just by voicing to your child your dislike of such behaviour and language. Ensure your child also has support from other positive role models; this may be through access to sports clubs or youth groups.

Where your child appears to be making a big life change and you feel concerned about the factors causing this, discuss your child’s motivations with them and the impact of any decisions. Where you do not have the specialist knowledge to effectively discuss a subject with your child, seek help from suitably qualified professionals.

Adam Deen

Executive Director (UK), Quilliam International
Expert Website

What can I do to protect my child from extremist influences?

Parents and schools are on the frontlines of counter-extremism efforts. When we speak of counter-extremism, one of the key ways we protect vulnerable individuals from the sway of radicalisation is by building their resilience against extreme narratives and recruitment techniques. While equipping the individual with tools to build this resilience is a priority, the people surrounding the vulnerable individual are equally important.

Instill values from a young age

The closest members of an individual’s circle are usually their family and they can act as an extremely effective vaccination against radicalisation. These actors can help by inoculating their children from extremist views by instilling in them from a very young age, values like tolerance, democracy, and humanist principles. Parents should encourage children to think critically, to analyse, digest, and critique any information that they take in, so that they may be less inclined to fall for the simplified, reductionist worldview that radical recruiters employ to influence vulnerable individuals.

Focus on emotional literacy

Aside from critical thinking, parents should also focus on helping to develop their child’s emotional literacy, again from a young age, so that they are armed against extreme narratives that often prey on the individual’s feelings of loneliness, depression, or anger.