HELLO!'s Parenting Editor salutes the royal couple for their stance on online child safety

I fear for my kids online – and thank Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for speaking up

I’m a busy mother trying to do the best for my children, who I love more than anything, like many other parents who are reading this at this time.

My girl is almost eleven years old, and my boy is thirteen. In addition to the typical ups and downs of parenthood, I’m now attempting to manage my kids’ use of technology: gaming consoles, tablets, laptops, and phones are just a few examples of the devices that are all around us and have become a part of our lives whether we like it or not.

 

Young people using mobile phones

 

91% of 11-year-olds own a smartphone, according to recent research commissioned by Samsung for Safer Internet Day. However, 35% of parents think their kids are more tech-savvy than they are, and 17% are worrisomely ignorant of how to set up parental controls on smartphones.

The truly startling statistic is that in the last three months, Google searches for “how to set up safety features” have increased by over 5,000%.

It’s evident that parents need assistance navigating this new online world.

As the first generation of parents attempting to navigate this, we’re not even sure if we’re doing a good job of keeping an eye on and safeguarding our children’s online lives, which is concerning and draining. The handbook is absent.

How much time should my child spend on YouTube? Do they play video games too much? Is it wise or foolish to message friends in a WhatsApp group? Every household establishes its own rules, and there are a ton of them.

 

Parents are worried about online safety
Photo: © Getty Images

 

Parents face the grand battle between wanting to give their child a little freedom and allowing them to fit in with their friends (come secondary school they pretty much all have a phone and are on the apps) and feeling concerned about permitting access to what is essentially a digital world of strangers.

Parents’ concerns include online grooming, pornographic viewing, and the negative effects of social media use on mental health.

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Our children will soon be better protected from online dangers thanks to the UK’s recently passed Online Safety Bill, which is a huge step forward. Age verification will soon be implemented, and harmful content will need to be removed from digital platforms or face hefty fines. Similar legislation is presently being debated in the United States.

In reaction to a historic hearing held by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Prince Harry and his spouse Meghan Markle released a statement that once again brought the topic of children’s online safety to the attention of the world.

 

Prince Harry and Meghan with their children Archie and Lilibet
Photo: © Netflix

 

Parents of children who have suffered, or in some sad cases lost their lives, as a result of harm they suffered online came together to listen to talks about online child safety.

Following information about how many young girls were exposed to nudity on his apps, Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, apologized to the parents in attendance during the hearing.

“It’s awful. He told them that no one should have to endure what your families have gone through. “And this is why we invest so much and are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the things your families have had to suffer.”

“We applaud the bravery and determination of the thousands of parents around the country whose advocacy resulted in this hearing,” Harry and Meghan stated on the Archewell Foundation website.

“We have spent time with many of these families over the past few years, hearing about their heartbreak and their aspirations for the urgent change that the online space so desperately needs.

“As the Senate hearing today demonstrated, this is a problem that cuts across party lines and divisions. Even the most skilled parents are unable to completely protect their kids from these platforms. “All of our children would still be here if love could have saved them,” one of the fathers told us.

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Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, speaks directly to victims and their family members during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing    Photo: © Getty Images

 

“Now is not the moment to abdicate accountability. Now is the moment to implement the essential changes at the source to safeguard our kids.”

The accounts of parents who have lost children to internet threats are devastating to hear. That ought not to occur.

Like us, Harry and Meghan are afraid that when Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet grow up, they will use the internet.

The Duchess of Cambridge had previously stated: “I feel fortunate that our children are at an age, again quite young, so this isn’t in our immediate future, but I also feel frightened by how it’s continuing to change and this will be in front of us.”

For my part, I’m appreciative that the royal couple has brought attention to the issues parents have with the internet world by using their platform. The more well-known figures who voice their opinions on this, the better.

At HELLO!, we are committed to educating parents about online safety and acknowledge the need for increased knowledge and instruction in this area. Although the Online Safety Bill is on its way to becoming law, there will always be risks associated with using the internet, especially for our children.

A major concern at the moment is possible end-to-end encryption in social media messaging: if their messages are unreadable or uninterceptable, how will I be able to tell if my child is speaking with a groomer? I understand the privacy argument, but how about our priceless children’s safety?

 

Meghan and Harry
Photo: © Mike Coppola

 

We take every precaution to ensure that our teen and tween’s devices are safe: we turn off location tracking, set up app restrictions, conduct surprise “spot-checks” on their messages and search history, make sure our youngest child doesn’t use social media, and make sure none of us use our phones in bed or at the dinner table.

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“Just don’t give them a phone,” some may advise, but will that really help? It’s the way that today’s youth relate to and converse with one another, as well as the way that parents stay in touch with their secondary school children. If they completely ban it, will they feel disconnected from their peers? Will that lead to additional issues?

Our generation doesn’t remember that when we were kids, we could talk to our friends over landlines. Since almost no one owns a landline these days, how can young people stay in touch with their friends if they don’t have a cell phone? Parenting has changed, and we’re doing our best to keep up.

The most important thing is to have ongoing conversations with our kids about internet safety, to learn as much as we can about the apps, and to ensure that they feel comfortable coming to us with any issues they may have.

 

Online gaming is growing in popularity
Photo: © mikkelwilliam

 

But as Harry and Meghan point out, protecting our kids online shouldn’t fall solely on us as parents; we hope that the tech companies will act quickly to implement the new rules outlined in the Online Safety Bill. There are other factors to consider, like whether or not messages are encrypted, whether social media apps are safer by design, and the algorithm settings.

The secretary of state for science, innovation, and technology, MP Michelle Donelan, told me the Online Safety Bill is “a massive leap forward in terms of where we’re coming from and where we’re going.” I spoke with her recently.

She went on to say: “But this bill doesn’t do everything that everybody would ever want when it comes to the Internet or app design, and there will be future bills in this space.”

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