Anyone can be radicalized into an extremist organization, like ISIS or the Proud Boys. But children and young people tend to be the most vulnerable. Right-wing extremists, including international terrorist groups and domestic alt-right groups, often recruit kids and young people by grooming them online. Many parents have only found out about their childrens’ radicalization after the fact, when their kids ran away to join ISIS.
You don’t want a similar nightmare to come true for your family. Of course, not every person who becomes radicalized also becomes a terrorist or even commits acts of violence. Many may just passively sympathize with extreme views. But you don’t want to take the risk that your child may be one of the ones who becomes violent – and you probably don’t want him or her to become sucked into a hateful belief system regardless. While you may not be able to watch your kids every minute, you can do a lot to protect them from radicalization. The key is to know when they’re vulnerable, give them lots of love and support, supervise their use of the internet, and talk to them about extremist views.
Know When Your Kids Are Vulnerable
While anyone can be groomed into espousing extremist beliefs, some people are more vulnerable, particularly children and young people who are still figuring out who they are, don’t have much life experience, and may be struggling with isolation, loneliness, and depression. You need to know what factors could make your kids more vulnerable to recruitment by a right-wing extremist group, so you can address those issues if they come up for your kids.
Kids who feel isolated and lonely, and who are longing for a friendship group, can be vulnerable. Kids with low self-esteem, are victimized by bullies, and are sensitive to what others think of them can be vulnerable. Kids who feel like they’re being judged by society and their peers for their culture, race, religion, or gender can be vulnerable. Vulnerable children tend to struggle with stress and depression, and may feel angry with the government or with other people, and fed up with being treated badly by bullies.
Give Them Lots of Love and Support
Kids and young people tend to be vulnerable to radicalization because these right-wing groups offer them a friendship, a sense of belonging, and sometimes even the promise of romantic love. One of the most powerful ways you can protect your children is to make sure they have a solid foundation of love and support at home. Kids who have good relationships with their parents are less vulnerable to radicalization.
You should also make sure your child has plenty of other supportive individuals in his or her life. Encourage your child to participate in after-school activities and make in-person friends. Encourage your child to spend time with other adult relatives or relatives his or her own age. A note of caution, however: having a relative or friend who espouses extremist views is a huge risk factor for a child to become radicalized. If you have a friend or family member who already has extremist views, minimize your child’s contact with that person.
Supervise Their Internet Use
Kids typically encounter extremists online, so you should closely supervise your kids’ internet use. Don’t let them talk to strangers online. Use parental controls to monitor what your child can see and block access to extremist videos and websites. If your child starts spending more time online or becomes secretive about his or her internet use, this could be a sign that he or she has made contact with extremists, especially if it’s accompanied by an unexplained increase in anger and hostility, an unwillingness or inability to discuss their political views, or a new expression of views that may sound rehearsed. If you think your child has already been influenced by extremism, there are counterterrorism organizations you can contact for help. They can help you access extremism intervention resources in your community. Interventions are very effective in saving kids from extremism.
Talk to Your Kids About Extremism
Of course, you can’t always be there to protect your kids from exposure to extremist beliefs. You need to teach them to protect themselves. Make sure you discuss with them the dangers of talking to strangers on the internet. Explain that you can’t always believe everything you see online – some websites may contact inaccurate or biased information. Talk to your child about what extremism and terrorism are and how they’re related. You can ask your child what they think about extremism so you can get an idea of whether they may have already been exposed to extremist ideas or not. If they espouse extremist views, stay calm and explain your own views. Keep the lines of communication with your child open, so you can continue to have an influence even if he or she has made contact with extremists online.
Right-wing extremists could be coming for your children, but you’re not powerless to stop them. Shield your child from extremist views, so they can have a good start in life, as every child deserves.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Signs that your child may be exposed to extremist views include changes in behavior, adopting extreme or intolerant beliefs, increased isolation, spending excessive time online in forums or chat rooms with radical views, or expressing admiration for extremist individuals or groups.
To protect your child from extremist views, maintain open communication, educate them about critical thinking and media literacy, encourage them to question information and seek diverse perspectives, monitor their online activities, and engage them in conversations about tolerance, empathy, and inclusiveness.
Teach your child to critically evaluate information they encounter online or in the media, discuss the tactics used by extremists to manipulate and influence others, and encourage them to seek out diverse sources of information and engage in respectful dialogue with people who hold different beliefs.
If you suspect your child is being influenced by extremists, approach them with empathy and understanding, avoid confrontational or accusatory language, and seek support from professionals such as school counselors, mental health professionals, or community organizations that offer resources to counter radicalization.
Get involved in your child's school or local community by advocating for inclusive education, supporting programs that promote cultural understanding and diversity, attending workshops or seminars on countering extremism, and collaborating with other parents, educators, and community leaders to create a safe and supportive environment for all children.