Radicalisation is a frightening reality in today’s world. Unfortunately, children and young people are not immune to being drawn into the ideologies and extreme beliefs that are used to justify terrorism.
While young people are most at risk of being targeted by recruiters, there have been instances of younger children being ‘groomed’ so it’s important not to ignore any concerns.
All children and young people have the right to be protected from harm and to have their well-being promoted. The radicalisation of a child or young person is a safeguarding issue and anyone who suspects radicalisation should raise their concerns immediately.
Even when the young person has no intention on acting on their views, forming extreme views that are based on lies and misinformation can be very damaging to their mental health.
What is radicalisation?
Radicalisation occurs when someone begins to adopt extreme political, religious or social views, which might lead them to them acting – or intending to act – in a way that could harm themselves or others.
These views will often be formed through misinformation, misunderstanding, jealousy, anger, a sense of injustice, resentment or fear.
We often think about radicalisation in terms of Islamic extremism. However, vulnerable people can also be radicalised to hold extreme views of other kinds, such as far-right extremism.
Children and young people should be free to form and embrace their own identity and beliefs, and having a different view from their parents, family or friends does not mean they are radical or being radicalised.
Who is at risk?
There is no typical profile of a young person likely to become radicalised and the process of radicalisation can be very different for everyone.
Some young people may have low self-esteem, or be victims of bullying. Others may have experienced racism or discrimination firsthand and be angry about it, or feel a sense of injustice. Some may struggle with their sense of identity, making them vulnerable to extremist influence.
Tensions in the family or community – perhaps about culture or religion – can increase a young person’s vulnerability and provide recruiters with a way in.
Sometimes, a young person may have friends or family members, e.g. an older sibling, who has already joined an extremist group.
What are the signs of radicalisation?
It can be very hard to spot radicalisation, especially as many of its signs reflect the normal signs of growing up, e.g. spending lots of time alone or on their computer.
The NSPCC lists the following as potential warning signs:
- isolating themselves from family and friends
- talking as if from a scripted speech
- unwillingness or inability to discuss their views
- a sudden disrespectful attitude towards others
- increased levels of anger
- increased secretiveness, especially around internet use.
What to do if you have concerns?
If you are concerned a young person is being radicalised – even if you’re not 100% sure – it’s always best to speak to someone who can look into the situation.
Ring the police on 101 or contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team.
You can also report online terrorism-related content to the police’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit.
The NSPCC has a free 24/7 helpline if you wish to discuss your concerns.
If your concerns are about a child of school age, ask to speak to the school’s designated child protection teacher.
If anyone is in immediate danger, always ring 999.
Families Against Stress and Trauma (FAST) supports those whose lives have been affected by the trauma of losing loved ones to extremist ideologies and groups.