Recently there have been a number of alarming news stories about young people leaving their homes in the United States and throughout Europe to join radical organizations fighting in the Middle East. The media has highlighted the role of the Internet in this radicalization process, and have pointed to the risks of online grooming by religious and political extremists. Unfortunately, the risks are real, but instances of this kind of contact are thankfully rare. The issue of grooming can take many forms, and as part of general online safety education there are steps that parents can take to ensure their children’s safety on the Internet.
The process of radicalization is much more complex than a single blog can cover; the risk factors and contributing circumstances of each individual case are incredibly diverse and continue to be examined by researchers and experts around the world. Instead, this blog aims to provide parents with a little guidance on steps that can be taken to ensure their children’s safety, security and well-being.
It is vital that parents have open dialogue with their children. This may not seem groundbreaking, but it’s timeless advice for a reason. Parents cannot expect to have as much insight into their children’s online lives as they have offline if they do not maintain the same level of access and interest in those activities. The conversations must change according to the age, disposition and particular characteristics of the child, which is something only a parent can truly gauge, but keeping open, honest lines of conversation is vital to all aspects of online safety, including grooming and radicalization.
Parents mustn’t be afraid to talk about extremism and the issues that it presents with their kids. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject, and recent news stories can be used as a way to start those conversations. Discuss the ideology of others the same way you would discuss your own; a healthy conversation about why people believe certain things, and why youngsters from around the world are giving up their lives to go to Syria to fight, for example, can give kids a chance to explore the ideas in a supportive environment and ask questions.
Parents have also have the responsibility of oversight, to know which sites that their children are accessing and to talk to children about what they are reading and where they are going online. Educate yourself about what is online and the discussions that are happening around topics of concern so that you are prepared to give the answers you may be asked for. Importantly, children must be taught to question the reliability of content that they come across online, to recognize propaganda and consider the motivations of those who are creating certain content. In addition to radicalization and grooming, this is important for young children learning to decipher the difference between advertising and other promotional content.
Rules are necessary; you should set clear boundaries about what your children should be doing and whom they should be talking to. But at the same time, when your children are upset and worried they should know to come to you without fear of potential repercussions. An approach that would in any way discourage your child from coming to you or cause them to hide their activity online should be carefully reconsidered.
Ultimately, there are a number of resources for parents who are concerned about their children, and some are listed below. But please have a conversation with your kids, and if you have questions don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Here are two to look over:
Cover image courtesy of Flicker.