Counter-terrorism police are using the UK’s biggest parenting website, Netmums, to highlight the growing risks of online radicalisation among children, as the number of under-18s arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences more than doubled in the year to March 2021 compared with the previous year.
Children were also the only age group to show an increase in this period.
UK law enforcement are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of under-18s being groomed by extremists, particularly on the far right.
Of the 21 children arrested for terrorism offences up to March 2021, 15 - or 71% - were linked to extreme right-wing beliefs, and the proportion has been growing since 2015.
In that year less than 20% of under-24s were held for far right beliefs, rising to 60% in 2020.
Police want parents to treat the threat from online extremists in the same way that they would bullies or paedophiles.
Chief Superintendent Nik Adams from Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP) said: “The trends we are seeing in our data are incredibly concerning.
“Family and friends are best placed to spot the worrying behaviour changes which can indicate that a loved one is heading down a path towards terrorism, but currently just 2% of referrals into Prevent come from that group.
“That is why we have teamed up with Netmums, to provide their millions of users with clear, simple information about what to look out for, and where to go for help”.
Research among Netmums users found that 28% knew how to spot the signs of radicalisation.
Associate editor of the site Wendy Golledge said: “As parents, we are all too aware of the dangers the online world can pose to our children, and while we’re well versed in issues around social media and online bullying, as our survey demonstrated, we’re less aware of radicalisation and how to spot the signs".
The Netmums site says these are some of the "warning signs" to look out for if you're worried your child is being radicalised by extremists:
The child has become very secretive about what they are doing online.
Or you might be concerned about the extreme views they are sharing that go way beyond what most of us think are OK to hold.
More important than any one sign is just the sense that something isn’t quite right, and you don’t think it’s just a phase.
It also adds that common factors that could make someone more vulnerable include:
Struggling with a sense of identity or belonging
Social isolation or exclusion
Life change, for example going to college or parents splitting up
Mental health issues
Trauma, for example someone close to them dying.