Help parents tackle risks of radicalisation

Matteo Bergamini, founder and chief executive of Shout Out UK (SOUK)
Thursday, April 20, 2023

Parents have a vital role to play in efforts to tackle radicalisation and extremism among young people being both a source of advice in navigating online risks and an early warning system when problems arise.

Matteo Bergamini: “Education can play a vital role in preparing parents and carers to be able to spot the warning signs”
Matteo Bergamini: “Education can play a vital role in preparing parents and carers to be able to spot the warning signs”

But to do this effectively, parents need to ensure their own knowledge of young people's behaviour and understanding of the risks is up to date. It is for that reason that we are calling for a national investment in training for parents about online extremism.

Latest Home Office figures indicate why we need action. They show that school-aged children, particularly boys, now make up the largest group of those deemed most at risk of radicalisation, and under-18s make up one in eight terrorism-related arrests in the UK.

A United Nations report highlighted how the pandemic fuelled terrorism and violent extremism. With younger people spending longer periods of unsupervised time online via their phones or gaming devices, groomers were able to prey on impressionable minds.

The post-pandemic landscape is equally alarming. Young people around the world are grappling to understand and accept a world of social, economic and political instability, leading them to turn to social media and the internet in search of a sense of identity, belonging and acceptance.

Easily searchable groups on apps such as Telegram, Discord, and Twitch – which proliferated during the pandemic – means more extreme networks are infiltrating vulnerable individuals and groups, finding new ways to appeal to young people all over the world.

The signs of radicalisation are not always obvious, and there's no way of knowing whether a child or young person is likely to be susceptible to an extremist ideology. Nevertheless, education can play a vital role in preparing parents and carers to be able to spot the warning signs because prevention is always safer, easier and cheaper than cure.

SOUK, which provides impartial political and media literacy, has been helping parents and carers, most recently in the Norfolk and Suffolk region, to navigate the online world via a free “combatting online radicalisation and extremism” course that provides practical tools and strategies to safeguard young people from today's threats.

The courses focus on how to identify fact from fiction, understand new and emerging social media sites and their role in spreading extremist ideologies and how to start a conversation with young people about what they see and engage with online.

When the parents and carers were asked to respond to the statement: “I know what steps to take to verify a source”, only 34 per cent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement prior to the programme. After participating in the programme this increased to 85 per cent.

When asked to respond to the statement: “I feel confident discussing controversial issues with my young person”, only 57 per cent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” prior to the programme. This increased to 71 per cent afterwards.

And when asked to respond to the statement: “I understand the relationship between media literacy and extremism”, only 46 per cent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement prior to the programme, but this increased to 95 per cent afterwards.

We believe it is of the utmost importance that parents and carers throughout the country are offered free training so we can prevent young vulnerable people from finding a sense of belonging in online extremist forums and protect them from dangerous ideologies.

As the world rapidly changes, there is no time to waste. We are calling on local authorities and safeguarding teams to work with us so that they can implement similar courses and encourage parents and carers across the country to learn how we can keep children safe online.

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