Tragic teen, Sophie Parkinson, was just 13 when she died at her family home in March 2014 and her mum believes more needs to be done to protect young people online.
The heartbroken mum of a young teen who took her own life after looking up suicide websites has told of her anger after a parliamentary debate on a new bill to improve online safety was postponed.
Sophie Parkinson was just 13 when she died at her family home in Liff, Dundee, in March 2014. Her mum Ruth Moss had taken steps to stop her vulnerable daughter accessing inappropriate websites after discovering the youngster had online relationships with older men and looked at violent pornography.
After her daughter’s death, Ruth discovered she had visited websites that gave tips on how to kill yourself. She said more needs to be done to protect young people from internet-related harm and abuse report the Record.
Nurse Ruth, 50, who lives in Edinburgh, said: “Sophie was a beautiful child in every way but she had some deep-seated mental health issues and, while I have no doubt she would have come through these with the right help, sadly she never got the chance.
“There are things on the internet that would never be allowed to be printed in any newspaper or you would never see on the BBC or any other TV station because it could do such harm – so why is it easily accessible online?
“To an extent, all children are vulnerable and, as your children get older, it is impossible as a parent to control what they see online. The onus should be on the companies who make billions out of social media and other platforms to control what is on them in regards to removing harm.”
Ruth has joined child protection charity the NSPCC in calling on the UK Government to ensure a new Online Safety Bill remains a parliamentary priority after a report stage debate scheduled to begin last week was postponed.
Ruth said: “I thought I was quite an internet-savvy parent. I had conversations about the dangers of the internet and I told both my children I’d check their internet history and would look at their phones from time to time, to be sure I was doing everything I thought I could do to keep them safe.
“But children are naturally curious and find a way of seeing what they want to see. On one occasion Sophie was being defensive about letting me see her phone and we had a row before she let me look. I found she’d viewed some really violent material.
“Even worse, I found older men had been in contact with her – some had sent her semi-nude pictures. She was 12 or 13 at the time and one of the men was 31.”
Ruth alerted the police and took away her daughter’s mobile, replacing it with just the most basic phone-only model.
But Sophie still had access to the internet through a tablet device she needed for school. She took her own life after accessing suicide and self-harm sites.
Ruth and the NSPCC are asking the public to email their MP to support amendments to the landmark legislation that aim to improve its response to child sexual abuse. These include giving the communications regulator, Ofcom, powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging, making social media platforms work together to stop grooming and creating a statutory watchdog to promote children’s interests.
Andy Burrows, of the NSPCC, said: “The Online Safety Bill is a crucial piece of legislation that is fundamentally about protecting children from harm and abuse that is taking place on an industrial scale on social media.
“Any delay will mean families continue to pay the price for the failure and inaction of tech firms, which have allowed harm to fester rather than get their house in order.”
Figures obtained by the NSPCC revealed Police Scotland recorded almost 3000 online grooming offences in the last
five years, with crimes against under-13s rising by more than 60%.
Ruth is supporting the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign that gives advice on everything from setting up parental controls to help keep your child safe online to talking to your child about online safety.
She said: “Had Sophie been alive, she would be 22 now. She had friends and I was friends with their mums.
“I’ve stayed in contact with them and I’ve watched their children grow up and learn to drive, go to university and become beautiful, successful men and women.
“I don’t just grieve Sophie’s loss but I wonder what she would be doing now.
“Sometimes I just crave her company – she was really good fun.
“If speaking about what happened to our family means even one child is protected, then I’m happy to tell our story.”