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Parents get tough on children’s smartphones in wake of Brianna Ghey murder: Thousands join WhatsApp group calling for devices to be taken off youngsters – but Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen says they are essential for ‘vulnerable’ teens


A WhatsApp calling for children to be stopped from using smartphones has gained thousands of members in the wake of the murder of Brianna Ghey

Meanwhile, Dame Esther Rantzen has come out in support of children owning smart phones saying they are essential for ‘vulnerable’ teenagers. The Childline founder points out that 75 per cent of children who reach out to the charity do so through the website.  

Friends Clare Fennyhough and Daisy Greenwell, united in their concern around children’s smartphone use, came together to create the WhatsApp group Smartphone Free Childhood. 

The group which was intended to be used by a handful of like minded friends gained 1,000 members within the first 24 hours of its launch on February 3. Now, just over a week after it was launched, the group has 4,500 members and over 30 local groups have also been created indicating how widespread concern is amongst parents. 

Ms Fernyhough, speaking to The Guardian, said: ‘We thought we had an extreme view and that’s why we wanted to have solidarity with each other. 

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenage Brianna Ghey. Ms Ghey shares the concerns of the thousands of people who have joined the WhatsApp group Smartphone Free Childhood and had called for a ban on social media access for the under-16s

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenage Brianna Ghey. Ms Ghey shares the concerns of the thousands of people who have joined the WhatsApp group Smartphone Free Childhood and had called for a ban on social media access for the under-16s 

Dame Esther Rantzen. , Dame Esther has come out in support of children owning smartphones saying they are essential for 'vulnerable' teenagers. The Childline founder points out 75 per cent of children who reach out to the charity do so through the website

Dame Esther Rantzen. , Dame Esther has come out in support of children owning smartphones saying they are essential for ‘vulnerable’ teenagers. The Childline founder points out 75 per cent of children who reach out to the charity do so through the website

Brianna Ghey(pictured) was murder by teenagers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe in February last year. Brianna was found to have accessed pro-anorexia content on her phone

Brianna Ghey(pictured) was murder by teenagers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe in February last year. Brianna was found to have accessed pro-anorexia content on her phone

‘But what we’ve realised is that, actually, it’s like we’ve lifted the lid on something here by mistake and people really need to talk about this and a lot of people have been feeling like us but not feeling they could talk about it.’

Ms Fernyhough says that smartphone use by children risks exposing children to pornography and content on self-harm and even suicide which can have a harmful impact on their mental health. 

She said: ‘It struck me that they just don’t need one. They don’t need a smartphone at that age. A brick phone can do everything that they need.’ 

The goal of the group is intended to delay children getting smartphones until at least 14. Ms Fennyhough hopes that if collectively no children own smartphones it will reduce peer pressure on children to own one. 

Ms Fennyhouch and ms Greenwell are not alone in their concern as Brianna Ghey’s mother, Esther, has come out in support of a ban on social media access for the under-16s. 

Ms Ghey’s daughter Brianna was murdered by teenagers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe on February 11 last year and since then it has been revealed Jenkinson used the Dark Web to watch torture videos. 

Meanwhile, Brianna was found to have accessed pro-anorexia content on her phone. 

Speaking to the BBC, Ms Ghey said: ‘We’d like a law introduced so that there are mobile phones that are only suitable for under-16s.’ 

This week, Ms Ghey joined forces with Molly Russell’s father, Ian Russell, to call for better protection for young people online. Molly Russell took her own life in November 2017 when she was just 14-years-old. It was later found that Molly had viewed content related to suicide and depression online. 

Mr Russell, speaking live on the BBC, said big tech firms were ‘heading in the wrong direction’, adding that he thought it was their bosses who were ‘resistant to change’.

Ms Ghey said: ‘Social media companies and mobile phone companies have both got a moral responsibility to not think about profit so much and actually think about how their product is impacting the people who are using it.’ 

Scarlett Jenkinson,16, (left) and Eddie Ratcliffe, also 16, (right) murdered Brianna Ghey in a park in Warrington in February last year. It has been revealed Jenkinson used the Dark Web to watch torture videos

Scarlett Jenkinson,16, (left) and Eddie Ratcliffe, also 16, (right) murdered Brianna Ghey in a park in Warrington in February last year. It has been revealed Jenkinson used the Dark Web to watch torture videos

Ian Russell, the father of Molly Russell. Mr Russell has joined forces with Brianna's mother to call for better protection for young people online

Ian Russell, the father of Molly Russell. Mr Russell has joined forces with Brianna’s mother to call for better protection for young people online 

Molly Russell (pictured) who  took her own life in November 2017 when she was just 14-years-old. It was later found that Molly had viewed content related to suicide and depression online

Molly Russell (pictured) who  took her own life in November 2017 when she was just 14-years-old. It was later found that Molly had viewed content related to suicide and depression online

However, smartphone use amongst children is less of a concern for others including Dame Esther Rantzen who instead believes they are ‘essential’ for children. 

In a letter wrirten to The Telegraph, Dame Esther, has oppsoed calls by the actress Sophie Winkleman for children to be given ‘brick’ phones. 

The Childline founder cited that teenages wanting to access the charity’s services overwhelmingly used the internet. 

Dame Esther wrote: ‘I myself have seen how two suicidal children – one abused at home, the other seriously bullied for being gay – contacted Childline via the internet, and were both given the comfort and protection they desperately needed by counsellors using our live chat service.

‘I asked a group of young people visiting Childline whether they would prefer to phone or use the internet if they were suffering, and they all said they would find it easier to write.

‘That is where children are these days, where Childline needs to be to help them, and for that they need a smartphone.’

Rather than banning children from using phones, Dame Esther has called for a law to make social media sites responsible for removing and preventing access to harmful content. 

In October the Government passed the Online Safety Bill which was designed to make social media companies keep the internet safe for children and give adults more choice over what they see online giving Ofcom more power to  tackle illegal content. 

However, Ms Ghey has criticised the bill saying ‘Ofcom need to be far bolder.’



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