When Jackson* felt like he'd had enough of online bullying late one night, when he was supposed to be sleeping, he just wanted the pain to stop. He had thought regularly about how he might take his own life, but on this occasion, he took it a step further, creating a live video in which he shared on social media that he was planning on committing suicide.
Jackson cried himself to sleep that night, but when he woke up in the morning, he felt a little bit better. He got dressed for school and headed off for the day, never mentioning to his mum Jane* the events of the previous evening.
Luckily, one of the teens that saw Jackson's video showed his own mother, who informed Jackson's school. From there, Jackson's family was contacted and Jackson found the help he needed to deal with the difficult emotions he was feeling, and the bullying coming from fellow students at his school.
"It was a horrible time," says Jane now, nearly a year later. "He's doing a lot better, but the lasting damage has been that video that has never gone away.
"Jackson deleted the original post but copies of it exist all over the place. Going through something like that is awful and nothing to be embarrassed about, but of course he's mortified."
Jackson has a distinctive surname. When you enter his full name into a search engine, the suicide video comes up several times on the first page of results.
"Jackson is trying so hard to move on from that awful time, but I know he finds it hard," says Jane. "People still bring it up – some of them mean well and just want to check how he's doing, but others see it as a weakness to be poked and prodded like a bruise for their own amusement. Either way, he just wants to move on, and I know he regrets sharing that moment of desperation so publicly."
A new study has found Jackson isn't alone. Nearly a quarter of 10 to 16 year olds regret, or have a friend who regrets, posting live videos on social media apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, as well as sites like YouTube, Musical.ly and Live.ly.
The research, conducted by YouGov for UK children's charity Barnardo's, was based on conversations with over 1000 children. It found that as children got older, the rate of regret became higher, with 30 per cent of 13-year-olds posting something they later regretted, compared with 38 per cent of 16-year-olds.
Common regrets include sharing deeply personal information, sharing divisive views on emotional topics, being overtly sexual, and engaging inappropriately with strangers.
Barnado's concluded that many sites and apps provide "inadequate safety controls and settings".
"Livestreaming is being used by predators to groom children online," said Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan. "We know from our specialist services across the UK that children are at risk of 'live grooming' on online platforms. Tech companies are simply not doing enough to keep children safe."
Robyn Treynaud, head of education at Wangle Family Insites, says it's important for parents to be patient and to remember that teens often don't have the understanding and perspective they need to control their behaviour.
"The skill of self-regulation is learned and developed over time," she says. "The unfortunate fact for modern teens is that the digital world creates a sense of permanence to what they share online, which wasn't a notion that existed when we were young."
Ms Treynaud says it can be helpful for parents to speak "with", not "at" their children when talking about digital issues.
She also suggests parents talk about the digital world with their kids before it becomes an issue, teaching them to:
- think critically and evaluate online resources.
- protect themselves from online threats, including bullies and scams.
- be smart about sharing – including what, when, and with whom.
- be kind and respectful of other people and their privacy.
- ask for help from a parent or another adult if they find themselves in a tricky situation.
If something does go wrong for your child online, Ms Treynaud says it's important to address your child's concerns first, before worrying about the behaviour that caused them to find themselves in that situation.
"When teens fear punishment without a resolution it creates the impression that telling a parent or trusted adult will only make things worse," she says.
"Reassure them that you have their back and you will work together to resolve the issue. This may include you having to speak to other people (for example, a teacher, principal, or counsellor, and/or other industry experts such as Facebook, the Office of eSafety Commissioner)."
Ms Treynaud says although it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand or resist the culture of social media, it's important to understand and embrace the way our children now share their lives online.
"The culture of sharing, which is characteristic of all popular social media platforms, is something young people wilfully embrace," she says. "It can be hard for some parents – whose childhoods were internet-free – to understand or accept this, but it's hugely important for them to try.
"Rather than rejecting social sharing, parents need to accept that the concepts of privacy and friendship have changed, and they need to teach young people to be mindful and think critically about what they post online and who they communicate with.
"Parents who are educated about online risks are in the best position to help their children navigate them, which is why we encourage active and honest communication."