THE tragic loss of Brianna Ghey has deeply affected us, sparking a thoughtful examination of the complex issues surrounding online safety and the role social media plays in the lives of young people.

Her mother’s plea for restrictions on children’s access to these platforms, especially via smartphones, initiates a crucial conversation, particularly resonates with those of us who are parents, care for or work with children.

At just 16, Brianna was brutally stabbed by two teenagers after being lured to a park in Cheshire. Last week, her killers received life sentences. Both 15 at the time, they meticulously planned the heinous act for weeks using a messaging app, influenced by videos of extreme violence seen on the dark web – something that no-one, especially children, should be exposed to.

In the aftermath of the trial, Esther Ghey, Brianna’s mother, called on the Government to step in and limit children’s access to social media. This isn’t just a theoretical debate; it serves as a stark reminder of the consequences when the digital world becomes a breeding ground for malevolence.

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As we grapple with the challenges of parenting in the digital era, Brianna Ghey’s story serves as a stark reminder of the perils that lurk online. Navigating the digital landscape often feels like stumbling through a new Wild West.

Reflecting on our own teenage years, we recall the awkward explorations of self, seeking solace in online havens like blogs and forums. Hindsight provides a clearer understanding of the dangers we might have unknowingly encountered.

Today, the digital frontier is expanding exponentially, with platforms morphing at a pace that can be challenging to understand. Facebook fades into the background, replaced by ephemeral stories on Instagram and endless scrolling of videos on TikTok.

As parents, we struggle to keep pace, holding onto outdated memories of our own online experiences. The constant, rapid evolution of the digital landscape adds an additional layer of complexity to the already challenging task of navigating parenthood in the modern age.

My heart breaks when I think of Esther Ghey’s loss, and I so admire her for articulating a concrete proposal to safeguard children from the harms of social media while dealing with grief. Her dignified approach, and willingness to engage with the mothers of her daughter’s killers, are truly admirable.

The National: Brianna Ghey

Learning about Brianna’s experiences on TikTok and the enduring online abuse she faced for being trans is deeply distressing.

Her teenage years, tragically curtailed, were marked by relentless cyberbullying.

Social media comes with its share of challenges, like dealing with bullying, sorting through misinformation, and worrying about exposure to inappropriate content. Cyberbullying, starting from school and creeping into homes, sadly can become a matter of life and death.

Thinking about my own kid’s future, my gut reaction is to shield them from the whole cyberbullying threatcyberbullying by curtailing their online life. But at the same time, it is important to recognise that teenagers often lean on their social media pals for support which they might not find elsewhere.

While trying to protect children and young people is a good intention, we might accidentally make it hard for them to ask for help. For many teens, especially those from marginalised groups, social media is like a virtual lifeline – a place to connect with like-minded folks, get support, and figure out who they are in a safe space.

Ignoring the good side of social media would do a disservice to those who find comfort and connection online. So, it is all about navigating this tricky world, knowing the risks, but also recognising the chances for personal growth and support that social media can offer young people.

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Finding the right balance as a parent is a real struggle. In the tangible world, dangers are there, but the online space amplifies them with its easy accessibility. Smartphones effortlessly connect to the internet, making content sharing a breeze.

Despite my attempts to stay in the loop, the speedy changes in social media leave me feeling a bit out of touch. Checking out my younger sibling’s tech choices, who is a good decade younger than me, hammers home the point: the era of Facebook is over, and most interactions happen on places like Discord and TikTok.

Esther Ghey’s suggestion of age-appropriate phones for those under 16 piques my interest. This is an idea I could actually get behind. It hits me that by the time my kid gets their first phone – which is still more than a decade away ­– the social media scene will probably have gone through some major shifts.

Looking back at my own social media habits a decade ago, the change is clear: Facebook’s gathering dust, Twitter gets a casual visit. Instagram and TikTok are running the show in my online world.

Back in my teenage years, the social media scene was much less diverse than today. I was more into blogs, forums, and the iconic MySpace. Those platforms were my haven, giving me a space for self-discovery and experimentation that the real world, governed by my parents’ strict rules, didn’t quite offer.

The National: Social media

This is why I like to think that we can take a different approach – one that puts trust and understanding at the forefront, rather than locking doors. It is a world where ignorance is replaced by education.

By teaching our kids digital literacy skills, we equip them to assess online content critically, handle privacy settings, and spot red flags. The goal? To nurture responsible citizens in both the virtual and physical world.

But here is the difficulty: keeping this approach going demands open communication. As parents, I feel it is important to embrace transparency, creating safe zones for talks where our kids – and ourselves – can comfortably tell the truth about their online experiences, be they good or bad.

These open conversations empower them to reach out for help when they need it, building a foundation of trust and understanding.

Yet the responsibility can’t rest solely on parents. A thriving online experience is a collective responsibility. Social media platforms themselves must be held accountable, implementing stricter content moderation, robust reporting mechanisms, and age-appropriate safeguards.

It is crucial to recognise that banning something teenagers crave often sparks a rebellious desire to break the rules. Pushing them onto unregulated platforms or into secretive online spaces might expose them to even greater dangers.

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I strongly believe that knowledge is power, and arming young people with the tools to navigate online challenges responsibly is far more effective than having a banning policychoosing to ban something.

Brianna Ghey’s death is a stark reminder of the risks in the online world. However, we have the power to create an environment where education, communication, and accountability work together to safeguard our children.

Instead of shutting them out, let’s empower them to navigate the digital landscape with knowledge and courage. It is a joint effort, a collective push to shape a digital world that aligns with young people’s needs.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer or perfect solution, and I don’t know if we will ever be able to say that we have cracked the code. But acknowledging the complexities and fostering open dialogue while demanding accountability can lead to the safer, more enriching online experience that we all deserve.