Anyone with, or working with, children and young people has probably heard about the Prevent strategy.
The Prevent strategy is a programme of training and awareness put in place by the government to raise the consciousness of those connected to children of the way in which children can be drawn into radicalisation, extremism or terrorism. (Further info here)
The idea that our children could be drawn into any of these activities is intensely alarming. But it is extremely rare and parents should not be disproportionately anxious or watching their youngsters’ every move.
However there are sensible guidelines given to teachers and professionals working with young people that give suggestions as to what we could look out for.
It’s suggested that youngsters who are most vulnerable are those who are disconnected from family members, withdrawn, spend all their time on their own in front of a screen, or have long unmonitored hours on the Internet. In fact this is the point at which young people are most at risk, when the things they discover or the interaction they have on the Net, by themselves, is not openly discussed.
Ironically, this more or less describes the common behaviour of most teenagers! And of course these general habits do not immediately indicate they are being radicalised.
The noticeable difference lies in sudden and marked changes in behaviour like, for example, suddenly isolating themselves from friends, changes in normal habits, becoming emotionally and physically withdrawn, citing strong political, moral or religious beliefs and opinions that would not be expected, and not sharing what they discover on the Net and from others.
Again, much of these behaviours describe the typical teenager. But those working to prevent radicalisation in young people say that it’s often connected with youngsters who may be going through vulnerable times, like during personal trauma or grief, victims of bullying, feelings of isolation or mental ill health, as it’s during these times when they are most susceptible to grooming, times when we could be more aware.
However, we should not panic that every time our youngster is going to their room to surf the net or spending long hours on their phones that they are being radicalised. These are normal behaviours for every young person and they need their freedom.
But our awareness, our ability to keep open dialogues with them, having general family discussions about beliefs, current events and ideas, grooming and extremism, and keeping as much connection with them as possible, will help educate them towards making sensible choices and decisions for themselves. And arm them against becoming too susceptible to these more unhealthy influences.