Every day, children and young people receive gifts such as phones, tablets, gaming devices and laptops for birthdays, special occasions, Christmas and other major milestones.

With plenty of time to play on them over weekends and during school holidays, young people can leave themselves open to harmful content. This could include:

  • graphic images and videos
  • extremist material which may be discriminatory
  • material which may encourage violence
  • material designed to spread untrue and malicious claims to create tensions

This kind of content, and long periods of time online, could potentially lead children and young people into becoming 'radicalised'.

  • Radicalisation is the process by which an individual or group adopts harmful extreme political, social or religious views.

    People can ‘self-radicalise’ by reading or listening to extremist literature or speakers. More commonly, there may be an individual or group actively seeking to persuade others to adopt their views. This process of persuasion or coercion is known as radicalisation.

    Our Countering Extremism Team at West Sussex County Council is always working hard to reduce the risk of extremism and radicalisation within West Sussex and supports ‘Prevent’, a Government strategy which aims to identify and protect people who may be at risk of becoming radicalised.

  • Watch out for algorithms

    The clever marketing tools used by businesses are also used by those seeking to radicalise. These tools include things like algorithms, where a child may watch one problematic video and then be directed to more and more, creating something known as an ‘echo chamber’.

    Algorithms can create an online environment where children and adults can be easily exploited.

    For example, young people studying World War II in secondary school may do research online. Factoring in the algorithm telling the computer that the user wants to see more of this type of content, a lot of searching may bring up content which relates to strong opinions and beliefs in favour of far-right organisations.

    For vulnerable individuals, this can sometimes lead into developing a significant interest in what they see, and may be the start of a path to radicalisation.

    Check parental controls on your child’s devices

    When we think of online safety, we often assume it’s about children accessing porn or spending money shopping or gambling, but safety measures are just as important in preventing radicalisation through extremist content.

    If you're not sure where to start, Internet Matters has some simple step-by-step guides for many devices, including:

    • Windows 10
    • Amazon Fire
    • Steam
    • Apple
    • Android
    • Xbox
    • PlayStation
    • Nintendo Switch.

    Look for signs of desensitisation

    Studies tell us that children who repeatedly witness acts of aggression and violence become desensitised. You may notice your young person is less shocked when they hear or see disturbing things, or they may find it difficult to empathise with others.

    When supporting younger children, you can:

    • welcome emotion - If a young child falls over and cries; instead of saying “you’re fine”, validate what happened and offer comfort. Sometimes this is known as ‘promoting regulation’
    • read stories about feelings. Your local library can help you find something suitable and they also have a list of recommended books to cover behaviour and manners.

    If you are supporting older children and teenagers, you can:

    • validate their feelings through listening and responding, for example, if they are in an argument with a friend, you can offer support by saying something like “when they said that it must have been upsetting”, whilst also offering an alternative perspective
    • talk about your own feelings after being treated poorly by someone, so they can practice empathy with you and understand that these types of behaviours can happen to anyone.
  • Parents are busy people and sometimes it is easy to forget how long a child or young person has been online. With school holidays spanning between a week and six weeks, it is unreasonable to think that most of their time won’t be taken up in front of a screen.

    To support your child to stay safe online when you’re not around, there are some things you can do to help:

    • Encourage critical thinking in children and be open to having conversations about anything distressing that they may find online.

      In these conversations you can ask them questions, such as what they think of it, how it makes them feel, the motives of the poster or influencer - “why do you think someone would post something so graphic?”. Where appropriate you can also offer an alternative viewpoint.
    • Research shows it is more effective to warn someone about what they may find before they find it. This way, they can identify non-factual content when they come across it and disregard its validity. This is a method called 'Pre-Bunking'. For instance, you may say “apparently there’s an increase in videos being shared online where people pretend to be professional journalists and then lie about what happened during 9/11, they seem so convincing!”
    • There are games online that have been designed to help us to recognise and build our resilience against misinformation and disinformation. We’d recommend Get Bad News and Cranky Uncle.

      You can also tell children about the psychology of the online world - the algorithms, the echo chambers, the desensitisation, phone addiction. Outsmarting powerful influences can give us a sense of knowledge and control.
    • Recognise your own vulnerabilities online and tell your children about your own experiences. Online safety applies to everyone and it's important young people know there are no age limits. This may reduce the risk of them becoming defensive when you talk about it.

      In practice you could talk about a time you were scammed online, duped by someone, or saw something which disturbed you. You could also develop a ‘Family Agreement’ together around phone boundaries, for example, agreeing not to take phones to bed at night, or not using phones at dinner or on days out.
  • Disinformation is where false information is put out purposefully to mislead the people who read or hear about it. Indeed, some disinformation can appear harmless at first glance, but when looked at more closely, it can actually have a darker back-story.

    This can also happen with some influential figures we see on social media, who may encourage us to believe they are qualified scientists, psychologists, journalists, even nutritionists, when in fact they aren’t, this tactic is referred to as using ‘fake experts’.

    There are many more ways individuals or groups can use disinformation to begin the radicalisation process, and understanding them can help us to resist it.

  • If you’re still concerned that someone you know is being radicalised, you need to seek professional help. You can do this by calling the ACT Early support line for advice and guidance if you are worried that your child is at risk of radicalisation online.

    If you are worried about extremist or terrorist content online, please contact Report Terrorism in addition to reporting to the social media company so they can urgently remove it.