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Talking to teens and young adults about their online activities, favorite sites, or games, etc. can provide you with the opportunity to get to know them better and to discuss online risks. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider when starting a conversation with them.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider when starting a conversation with youth.


  • Approach the conversation with curiosity so that you can then assess emotions.

  • Pose a question and always wait for a response. Show them that you are listening.

  • Create a safe space to speak freely (even if you find their point of view or ideology offensive).

  • Educate yourself about their point of view or ideology so that you can then explore it further in future conversations.

  • Be honest about your views and thoughts about violent extremism.

  • Allow for multiple means of communication as an outlet of expression (speaking, ASL, writing and/or drawing).

  • Always reinforce that they belong, whether it’s in a family or other group.


  • Do not ask yes or no questions

  • Do not try to talk someone out of their belief – it does not work

  • Do not mock or ridicule a person for their beliefs.

  • Do not use a counter narrative to a person’s beliefs.

  • Do not give up if the person becomes upset or doesn’t open up. Try again later.

The following conversation starters may be helpful when approaching a teen or young adult about hate-based violence or violent extremism.

Starting the Conversation:

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I read an interesting book the other day (share the name of the book). I was wondering, what have you been reading lately? Why do you find this book interesting? (If they appear to be engaging with ideas that promote bigotry, engage in a discussion that allows them to think critically about the outcomes of those views).

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What online sites or apps do you like to visit and what is it about them that you enjoy? Can you show them to me?

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I recently read that YouTube and other online platforms are used as a news source. Where do you and your friends get your news from?

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I am curious, do you or your friends ever think that violence is justified? Can you give me some examples? When does violence become unacceptable?

Hate Online:

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I learned recently that sometimes people use online chat rooms to share hateful beliefs about other people. What do you think about this? Have you ever been in a chat room where someone was using hateful speech? If so, what were they saying? How did it make you feel?

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I saw a Pepe the Frog meme online and it had some weird symbols on it. I researched the symbols and found that they were used as hate symbols, and it surprised me.

a. Are there any memes that you enjoy looking at? Why do you like them?

b. Are you familiar with memes that have hate symbols used by extremists?

c. Can we both learn how to spot these hate symbols together?

d. If you have ever seen any of these symbols, how did it make you feel?

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What does the term violent extremism mean to you? What does the term radical mean to you? Where do you hear these terms, either online or in-person?

Digital Literacy:

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I’ve been learning how to tell if sources of information online are reliable and accurate. Can we look at a few sources together, and you help me to choose the reliable ones?

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Did you know that people on the Internet sometimes twist facts or data to sway your opinion? It can be hard to tell when someone is doing so. We should learn more together about how to spot when this happens online.

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I read that some groups are using online games and social media to spread false information. Have you experienced this online? If you have, do you have any questions? And can you tell me where online you may have seen this happen?

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Do you know what a bot is? Can you explain to me how bots operate online? If not, can we learn about this together?


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Has someone ever been mean to you or bullied you online, maybe on social media or through a video game? Have any of your friends ever had this happen to them? If so, would you be willing to talk about it, either with me, someone you trust, or with a professional?

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Have adults at school taught you what to do if you encounter a bully online? If not, could we talk to someone at school about making sure your peers and teachers have this information?

School Shootings:

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Do you ever feel anxious or afraid about a shooting happening at your school? Would you like to sit down and talk about how you feel? If you are not ready to talk now, would you be willing to speak with me about it later? Or would you feel more comfortable speaking with someone else (teacher, faith leader, community group leader, or a health professional)?

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If you don’t feel anxious or afraid about a shooting happening at your school, why is that? Do you think this would never happen at your school? If so, why?

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Do you know what to do if someone brings a gun to school? What about if you’re in a public place and someone starts shooting? While I hope this never happens, having a plan in place for emergencies can help keep you safe. Can we talk about what you would do in this type of scenario?

Mental Health:

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There have been a lot of scary and hard situations over the last several months/years. It’s normal if you have been feeling sad, lonely, or anxious. Thankfully, there are effective ways to get support and feel better. Would you be willing to tell me more about how you’ve been feeling lately? If you don’t want to talk to me about it, is there someone else you feel comfortable talking to? Would you want to talk to a professional who can help you feel your best?

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If you haven’t felt sad, lonely, or anxious over the last several months/years, can you tell me more about why? What strategies have you found help you to be strong, even when facing difficult situations?