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Terrorism / Radicalisation

Prevent – Safeguarding Children from Radicalisation

What is Prevent?

Prevent is one of the key elements of CONTEST, the Government’s counter- terrorism strategy and it aims to stop people from being drawn into terrorist-related activity.

While it remains rare for children and young people to become involved in terrorist activity, they can be exposed to terrorist & extremist influences or prejudiced views from a young age. This can include through the influence of family members or friends and/or direct contact with extremist groups and organisations or, increasingly, through the internet. This can put a young person at risk of being drawn into illegal activity and has the potential to cause significant harm.

Along with agencies working with children and young people, families and communities play a key role in ensuring young people and their communities are safe from the threat of radicalisation and terrorism. 

  • Radicalisation: the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and extremism leading to terrorism.
  • Extremism: Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. Also included in the definition of extremism are calls for the death of members of our armed forces.
  • Terrorism: The use of violence in order to accomplish political, religious or social objectives. Terrorism is a criminal act that influences an audience beyond the immediate victim. Its effectiveness is not in the act itself but the impact on Government and the public.

What do I need to know?

Extremism in the UK today can take many different forms, for example right wing extremism, or an animal rights groups that supports violent and criminal action to achieve its aims.

At present a significant extremist threat is posed by ISIL / ISIS (Islamic State). They are a terrorist group who are currently attempting to recruit people around the world to either move to Iraq and Syria to join their movement or carry out acts of terrorism in their own countries. It is estimated that, since 2011, over 500 young British Muslims have travelled to Syria, including 70 girls. This is not an issue of faith but one of radicalisation.

Extremists target impressionable young people through social media and the internet to influence their minds using the same tactics as sexual predators. Their message can have a powerful impact on someone who is young, possibly unsure of their path in life, and who may lack confidence. ISIS recruiters have offered cash to British girls as young as 14 to become brides. They tweet pictures of attractive potential future husbands, alongside stirring footage of victory in battle and the heroism of their fighters in an attempt to appeal to both young women and young men. The theme of adventure and freedom from parental control has appeal for some young people.

What do I need to look out for?

Whilst it is rare for children and young people to become involved in terrorist activity, there are several factors which may suggest a young person is more vulnerable to the threat of radicalisation:

  • 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

There are behaviour changes that a parent / carer is best placed to notice which may indicate a child has been exposed to extremist ideology:

  • Graffiti symbols, writing or art work promoting extremist messages or images
  • Accessing extremist material online, including through social networking sites
  • Distributing extremist literature and documentation
  • Significant changes in language, behaviour, actions. For example, have they become aggressive, argumentative and domineering?
  • Changes in friendship groups and suddenly no longer friends with previous friendship groups
  • Taking an unusual interest in current affairs, particularly the conflict in the Middle East
  • Isolating themselves for long periods of time and being secretive about what they have been looking at online or reading
  • Displaying a loss of interest in activities they used to previously enjoy doing
  • Use of extremist or ‘hate’ terms to exclude others or incite violence against others based on race, religion, culture, gender and sexual orientation
  • Attempts to impose extremist views or practices on siblings, other family members and friends. For example, are they quick to condemn or dismiss viewpoints that contradict their own?
  • Expressing anti-Western or anti-British views that conflict with the values of democracy, liberty, the rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance of diversity
  • Referring to ‘them and us’ when making references to religion
  • Expressing sympathy for extremist groups and condoning their actions and ideology
  • Expressing sympathy and understanding for those who have previously moved to Iraq and Syria to join ISIL/ISIS, or for those who have joined other extremist groups
  • Asking questions about traveling distances and times to countries like Turkey, Iraq and Syria
  • Requesting to keep their own passport and birth certificate in their bedroom

In addition, there is common extremist terminology that may indicate a young person is under the influence of extremist ideology, notably from ISIL/ISIS:

  • Dawlah’ – term used by ISIL to refer to the ‘Islamic state’
  • ‘Caliphate’ – ISIL supporters describe the territory they control in Iraq / Syria
  • Mujahid’ – someone who wants to fight as part of the ‘Jihad’ (Holy War)
  • Shahada’ – refers to someone considered to be a martyr
  • Kuffar’ – a term used by ISIL to describe non-Muslims
  • Ummah’ – the phrase is used by ISIL to refer to the ‘world community of Muslims’
  • Rafidha’ – word used by ISIL to refer to those who refuse to accept the Islamic state

Radicalisation and Social Media

Research has found that 90% of the radicalisation process happens online. There are a range of social media sites that are used by extremists to groom young people. Often social media accounts are easy to set up and sometimes allow the account holder to remain fairly anonymous. Material such as news stories, blogs, pictures, videos and other information can be shared quickly and very widely. On sites such as YouTube, where videos can be hosted, multiple dummy accounts may be set up so that even if a video is taken down, it can be reposted again very fast.

Private messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, Kik, SureSpot and Viber, are also commonly used by extremists to contact children they are grooming. They can be a way of providing very specific information, for example on travel arrangements or what to pack for a journey abroad.

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. There are simple steps you can take:

  • Have a discussion with your children about what they are doing online, what Apps and programs 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 with/follow your children.
  • Be aware of who your children are friends with on Facebook 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 don’t know 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 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.

Please visit our separate pages on staying safe and smart online for further advice on keeping children and young people safe online. 

What do I do if I think a child is being exposed to, or influenced by, extremist ideology?  

If you have concerns, talk to someone. It might help you to raise the issue with someone you trust first. If you are worried about your own child, then this could be a friend or family member who knows your child well.

If you are concerned, it is important that you do something about it. Please click here to find out how to report your concern.

It can also be helpful to talk to your child. It’s important to remember not to be confrontational. This is a sensitive subject and needs handling carefully as you don’t want to push them away or shut them out. If you can stay calm your child is more likely to open up to you. Encourage them to share their ideas and opinions and try to discuss these. Many young people who act on their support for extremist groups are not aware of the realities and consequences of this, or the arguments against it.

The NSPCC provides some helpful tips on talking to children about terrorism and extremist behaviour. 

Further information: