Lucie Parker, who works on the Extreme Dialogue project, gives advice on how to spot the signs that your child could be vulnerable to far-right extremism and what to do to protect them.
For information and advice on dealing with Islamist extremism and online radicalisation, see our article, Preventing violent extremism: what parents can do
The success of far-right groups in winning the hearts and minds of young people has seen a 74% increase in far-right referrals to the government’s anti-radicalisation programme, ‘Channel’, in the past year. About 292 cases involved under-18s.
There has also been an increase in the number of reported racist incidents in schools in recent years, accompanying widespread misconceptions around immigration and minorities.
How young people are targeted by far-right groups online
Growing up on social media makes it hard for young people to distance themselves from the influence of radicalisation.
Far-right groups are taking advantage of 24-hour social media access to connect with young people.
A common tactic is to create content that merges their far-right cause with other popular issues, from defending the rights of military veterans to fighting violence towards animals.
By engaging young people in this way, the far-right political party Britain First now has almost 1.5m likes on Facebook.
Another method of online recruitment takes advantage of major news events, such as the murders of Jo Cox and Lee Rigby, as well as the EU referendum.
This creates an online culture that seeks to legitimise arguments pushed by the far-right - that British life is under threat from outside minorities, for example - attracting uncritical young people by presenting simple solutions to complex problems.
The warning signs that parents should look out for
Parents can play a proactive role in protecting their children against such risks. Although extremism is a complex subject, it can be treated in the same way that you would approach other issues, such as sexual abuse and bullying.
The key is to study your child’s behaviour and look at patterns rather than one-off ‘warning signs’. Just as keeping an eye out for signs of bullying is correctly seen as proactively guarding your child from harm, so too should safeguarding against radicalisation.
At-risk individuals usually exhibit significant yet subtle behavioural changes that effect their identity and how they engage with the world around them.
They may show an intolerance and a lack of respect towards the opinions of others, reflected through the imposition of views on siblings or questioning the human rights of others.
This behaviour is usually the product of a clear-cut way of thinking reflected in the language they use, perhaps a reference to ‘us and them’ when discussing society, such as ‘they are taking our jobs’.
Your child could also fixate on a subject like immigration in the UK, or talk about a ‘sense of injustice’. Their conversation may appear scripted, suggesting they have been told what to say or are repeating something they have seen or read.
There may also be more visible signs of radicalisation, including the use of certain materials and symbols supporting far-right or neo-Nazi organisations, distributing extremist literature, such as leaflets promoting far-right demonstrations, or distinct changes in appearance.
All of the patterns of behaviour above are not necessarily signs of vulnerability to far-right influences. A teenager’s increased political engagement might explain their newfound interest in immigration. A lack of education about the sources, meaning or intent of far-right material could be the reason why a young person is unwittingly interacting with it. Or they could simply be responding to unrelated problems, like difficulties with work or education.
What parents can do
The key is to identify behaviour that is out of the ordinary for your child. If you do become concerned, there are ways to respond without escalating the situation.
- Raise the issue with someone you trust, perhaps a family friend who knows your child well. Hearing another perspective could help you decide if something is wrong.
- Let your child know that they can come and talk to you about anything and share their ideas with you without being judged. Show that differing opinions are legitimate by talking to your child about their views, and don’t be confrontational as this can shut the debate down.
- Question their ideas in a non-threatening way, and try to find out where they are getting their information from.
- Emphasise the importance of applying critical thinking to news and opinions they see online.
Protecting and empowering your child against extremism of any sort is a challenge. They need support and they need to be equipped with the skills and know-how to challenge extremism for themselves.
For further information and support on how to build resilience against, and respond to concerns about, youth radicalisation, please see the following resources:
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.