Meghan, Duchess Of Sussex: 'Don't Blame Parents'

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex invite you to join them for a conversation, you don’t say no. But I went to the Archewell Parents' Summit, "Mental Wellness in the Digital Age," with some trepidation. With the brutal attacks in Israel echoing in my head, I worried that somehow the state of youth mental health was somehow less relevant. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

(I was actually invited through an Archewell advisor who knew of my work fighting hate-for-profit media responsible for teen self-harm.)

The parents of Englyn Roberts, Toney and Brandy, began by sharing the story of their daughter who took her own life at just 14.

Toney wanted to be clear that they were parents who paid attention to their daughter’s digital life: “We knew her unlock code. We knew her passwords. We knew everything. But I just didn't know how to navigate through these platforms.”

It was only after her passing that they found a note on Englyn’s phone. Holding it in his hand, Toney read it aloud to the audience: “Behind the social media life, nobody knows the real me and how much I struggle.”

Here Toney was overcome with grief, and handed the phone to his wife Brandy, who continued to read: “How much I struggled to make sure everyone's good, even though I'm not. If it's not one thing, it's the other. And when things are going wrong for me, I just become so suicidal and I just need that emotional support.”

Eighteen days later, “there was a video on Instagram depicting what our daughter did,” Toney said.

The words hung in the room. Sitting in the front row, Meghan Markle wiped her eyes. She was hardly alone.

Then the parents of 16-year-old Mason, Dave and Jennie DeSerio, joined the conversation. Mason was going through teenage drama, struggling with a bad break-up on Halloween of 2020, when he found out his girlfriend cheated on him and then ghosted him. He went searching on TikTok. The first search was “my girlfriend broke up with me.”

Jennie explained what happened next: “And then the TikTok started getting darker and darker and darker, and the more he engaged with those,  the darker they got. And it got to the point where it was videos telling him how to kill himself and to kill himself.  And how to prove your love to her.

“These TikToks were normalizing suicide,” she added. “They were encouraging suicide. They were even romanticizing suicide.”

The Archewell Foundation, Markle and Prince Harry’s charitable foundation, has taken on a clear mission: to engage and empower parents to fight for their children.

“The burden can't solely be on the parents. And for these parents who have experienced this extreme grief to experience extreme guilt -- it's not their fault,” said Markle when she and her husband joined Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on stage.



Dr. Murthy, whose groundbreaking report on the impact of social media on teen mental health has helped galvanize action, was clear that this is a platform problem, not something parents should be facing alone.

“These platforms are designed by the best designers and product engineers in the world, and we put the entire burden of managing that on parents and kids," he said. "And I'll tell you that that pitting the best designers in the world against our kids and parents, that is the definition of an unfair fight.”

Dr. Murthy made his final point, and the mission was clear: “Parents shouldn't have to take this entire burden on their own. But I've seen firsthand that when parents use their voices -- when they come together to call for a change and to push for a change -- there are few voices that have the moral clarity and the strength that they do, and we need them more than ever."

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