In the past number of years, there has been increased discussion around conspiracy theories and extreme ideologies.
However, before diving into online conspiracy theories, parents need to know how someone could convince their children to believe in these theories and how to protect them from online radicalisation.
What is radicalisation?
Teenagers are known for rebelling against their parents’/carers’ beliefs as they grow up but radicalisation is more than that.
Radicalisation is a process by which individuals, often young people, move from supporting moderate mainstream views to supporting extreme ideological views.
These extreme views can encompass anything from radical fringe groups in racist conspiracy theories to a sudden conviction that their religious or cultural beliefs are being treated unjustly. Radicalisation can make those at risk more likely to support violent acts of extremism.
Who is most at risk?
Young people can be particularly vulnerable to radicalisation as they go through adolescence while trying to figure out their own identity.
They can find themselves angry and confused with the world, finding it easier to believe simple solutions, such as conspiracy theories, than to address the complexities of the modern world.
An example of this would be the Great Replacement Theory; a racist and unfounded theory propagated by white supremacists that people of colour are trying to “replace” the white population of countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland.
This extremist position can be attractive to vulnerable people who might be frustrated with a lack of housing or health services in their area.
It can then be reinforced by the internet – a worldwide 24/7 medium that allows you to find and meet people who share and will validate your opinions.
Signs to look out for
It can be difficult for parents to identify radicalisation in their children because it can just manifest as normal teenage anger or angst. However, there are some warning signs to look out for:
- Feeling alienated or isolated or demonstrating a desperate need to find acceptance within a group.
- Being secretive about what sites they visit and who they talk to online.
- A move to following and expressing more extreme views.
- Displaying intolerant views to people of other races, religions or political beliefs.
- A sudden belief that their religion, culture or political beliefs are under threat and treated unjustly.
- A strong belief that the only solution to this threat is violence or war.
How do I tackle radicalisation?
If your child has displayed some of these warning signs, there are things you can do:
Seek support from teachers, friends and family and ask if they have noticed any behavioural changes in your child.
Get angry or become confrontational.
Research what your child is saying so you can understand it and counter it with legitimate facts.
Threaten to report them to the Gardaí.
Remember that what you dealt with growing up is very different from what your children may be dealing with, specifically online.
Take away their devices as this will encourage them to become even more secretive.
Engage with them as much as possible without legitimising the extremist views.
Remember that support is available. An Garda Síochána encourages the public to report suspected illegal content (including racist or extremist content) encountered on the Internet to www.hotline.ie so that Industry and Law Enforcement may know about it and act swiftly against it.
The ISPCC Support Line is also available to provide support and information to parents and carers in relation to children’s welfare. The service can be contacted Monday – Friday 9am – 1pm by calling 01 522 4300, or by emailing [email protected].
Points to Consider
- Radicalisation is a process by which individuals, often young people, move from supporting moderate mainstream views to supporting extreme ideological views.
- Young people can be vulnerable as they seek to form their own identity and are drawn in misinformation and disinformation online.
- Warning signs include:
a) Being secretive about what sites they visit and who they talk to online.
b) A move to following and expressing more extreme views.
c) Displaying intolerant views to people of other races, religions or political beliefs.
d) A sudden belief that their religion, culture or political beliefs are under threat and treated unjustly.