Advice if you are worried your teen is at risk of extremism or radicalisation

8min read

With concerns about home-grown terrorism or becoming drawn to an extreme group, it is not surprising that a growing number of families may be worried that their children or relatives might be drawn into extremism.

Key Points:

  • If you come across online material promoting terrorism, extremism or radicalisation, you can anonymously report this to the Home Office
  • There are many options to explore if you are concerned about a loved one, including from having an informal conversation to intervention from the authorities
  • Open up dialogue with your teen without being judgmental but trying to find out what is behind the worrying behaviour. Young people often want to explore issues and if they can do this with you then this is positive 

What are the warning signs?

The first thing to say is that there is no one set of signals that would be a cause for alarm. Behaviours – such as increased arguing, dressing in a particular way, being active on social media or becoming more religious or political - might be typical of any teenager. When it becomes worrisome is if there is a combination of some of the following: 

  • when a person cuts off ties with friends and family to keep company with a new circle
  • when they start to support violence
  • when they suddenly become disinterested in school or activities they previously liked to do
  • when they express hateful views or use derogatory terms towards other individuals or groups
  • if they are spending time on their computer researching extremist groups
  • if they are liking or retweeting posts made by fighters or extremist ideologues on their social media accounts 

Obviously, if a family member commits or plans violent acts, tries to acquire weapons or plans a trip to a conflict zone, then there is a legal obligation to report concerns to the police. 

What is extremism?

An extremist is someone who supports an idea, cause, or set of values so adamantly and without compromise that this person will use their views to justify anything they do or their behaviour

What is radicalisation?

Radicalisation is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals, especially with regard to support for or use of violence.

What is terrorism?

Terrorism is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear in order to advance a political, racial, religious or ideological cause; it uses terror and open violence against civilians to attempt to force people, authorities or governments to change their behaviour.

Recruitment and how might a child be at risk

Radicalisers have three main ways they work: face to face, on-line and through printed or other material. In face-to-face interactions, your child may be approached directly by someone who seems trustworthy – perhaps in a club, group or a religious setting. They would not straight away preach a violent ideology, but initially just show interest, praise them and make them feel important. Later they might stress your child’s significance to the movement, or duty to take part. They might tell of the rewards of belonging, or the excitement. Skilled radicalisers will find a point of vulnerability, even in children who are successful at school and who have a secure home life. Indirect radicalization can occur through peers, i.e. those who have already been conscripted and seek to draw others into their group. On-line radicalization can again be direct or indirect – direct in terms of a person who is able to contact your child and who gradually builds up an on-line relationship; and indirect through your child looking at extremist material and becoming convinced to take some sort of action. Physical material in terms of leaflets, books or videos may also be offered – perhaps handed out at demonstrations. It’s important to point out that there is no one defined route to radicalizing a person.  In some cases, people have self-radicalised via the internet. 

What is Channel? 

Channel is part of Prevent and is intended to act as an early intervention. It is a voluntary scheme meant to encourage and support those individuals considered at risk to make positive life choices, steering them away from violent extremism and terrorism. It is a multi-agency approach including the police and local authorities, which make up a Channel Panel. If a person referred is considered by the panel to be vulnerable, and the case accepted, the panel will put interventions into place, for example helping with education, health, housing or employment, or it might involve mentoring.

Can teachers refer children to Channel without telling parents?

Yes, this is because there have been cases where families have been radicalising and therefore influencing children. However, this is unusual, and professionals such as teachers are to take proportionate steps, starting with a conversation with colleagues, safeguarding leads and experts for advice, and involving families wherever possible.

What is the Government doing about it?

The Government has a national strategy – part of a broader programme - called Prevent, which aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.  It addresses all forms of extremisms. It is supported by legislation such as the Terrorism Act (2000/2006) and the Counter Terrorism Security Act (2015). 

What about online recruitment?

If you come across online material promoting terrorism, extremism or radicalisation, you can anonymously report this to the Home Office on You can report material such as:

  • articles, images, speeches or videos that promote terrorism or encourage violence
  • content encouraging people to commit acts of terrorism
  • websites made by terrorist or extremist organisations

What if my child joins an extremist group?

If a child does join a group, or travels to join a group overseas, report the situation and take advice from the police. Former violent extremists suggest that it is important to try to keep contact, and to stress that they will be welcome if they return, even if you do not agree with what they are doing. Being accusatory or angry at any stage may push them further. Radicalisers often use family tensions to draw young people further into a group. 

What should I do if I am worried?

There are many options to explore if you are concerned about a loved one, including from having an informal conversation to intervention from the authorities. Firstly, it is best to try to open up dialogue, not being judgmental but trying to find out what is behind the worrying behaviour. Young people often want to explore issues, for example talking about politics or religion – this is a positive thing. Former extremists often tell us that parents should try to keep the lines of talking open, try to listen, and tackle the tricky questions together. The idea is to help young people learn and grow, while building resilience to negative ideas and arguments. Talk to your child’s teachers, youth workers, community organisations and other parents – there are always people to get advice and support from. 

For those worried about a relative in prison who seems at risk of being radicalised, any dialogue may clearly be less possible. The main advice is similar to above – to keep lines of communication open, and for those in prison to know the family is there for them. There is the choice of contacting the prison pastoral team to see if they could talk to your relative. Religious conversion is common in prisons, but this is not the same as support for terrorism. There are a number of organisations that work with families affected by having family members in prison. You can contact the Prisoners Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003. You can speak to St Giles Trust who work with ex-offenders and their families on 0808 801 0600. 

As a parent - what are some of the practical things I can do?

The website Educate against Hate has an excellent section for parents who are worried about extremism, including suggestions on other agencies to contact for advice. It gives real life examples of successful interventions which have stopped young people being radicalised.   

Other organisations that may be useful  

If urgent concerns persist, you should ring:

  • the police, through the school (or prison authorities) or directly
  • 999 if there is an immediate threat to life, or ring the police on 101 who would put you in touch with your local officer who has a Prevent remit
  • the police anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321.  This number is available 24/7 for members of the public to report any suspicious activity. Calls are answered by specially trained counter terrorism officers who make some initial enquiries before passing on details to local counter terrorism officers for further investigation where appropriate
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 55511 who can be contacted anonymously with information about crime
  • If you are worried that a loved one is involved with a far right group or has that idealogy, please contact Exit Family Support for help and support

This article was written by Professor Lynn Davies & Zubeda Limbada of Connect Futures.