If the pictures, videos or messages your child posts on social media could magically expire after 24 hours – does that change what they decide to share? The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes.
This is one of the questions we ask hundreds of teenagers every week in our workshops, and that’s because they’re only too familiar with the art of sharing content online that disappears after a set time. But from sexting to online bullying, expiring content introduces a whole new set of challenges for parents to get their heads around. But don’t worry – we’re here to guide you through it.
What is expiring content?
In a nutshell, expiring content is a fun and creative way of sharing messages and moments in your day with friends and followers. For example, Instagram lets users post multiple photos and videos, which appear as a ‘Story’ on their profiles and vanish after 24 hours. On Snapchat, you can exchange pictures and videos that disappear once they’ve been viewed.
Research from Childnet shows that 86% of teens use expiring content, with 40% using it every day. One of the main reasons it’s so popular is because users think they don’t have to worry so much about posting something they may live to regret. Also, many feel less social pressure and more freedom to express themselves in this way, as there is less emphasis on likes or comments.
So, what’s not to love? The main issue is that it offers young people a false sense of security, when it’s not uncommon for risky content to be screenshotted and shared more widely, possibly causing emotional or reputational harm. Childnet found 56% of young people use expiring content to send things they wouldn't normally share, “because it won't last.”
When it comes to sexting (sharing sexually explicit imagery), or sending offensive comments, doing so in a semi-permanent format can be seen as a risk-free option. But as the Metropolitan Police revealed recently, reports of sexting among six to thirteen year olds are on the rise. So while many young people are sharing pics and videos online in a safe and responsible way, it’s more important than ever parents are talking to their children about the risks involved in sharing content on the internet that expires.
What can you do to support your child?
As with all digital parenting challenges, balanced communication is key. So find that opportunity – whether it’s when you’re driving them to school, or chatting around the dinner table, remind them of our top four points.
Nothing truly disappears online
Whether it happens through a screenshot, screen record or security breach, it’s critical that we remind our children how easy it is for others to capture and share the expiring content they post on the internet.
Think before sharing
Remember that it’s better to pause for a minute and think about whether the things we share online could have an impact on our reputation, than regret it later.
Don’t forget the law
Whilst our government is keen not to criminalise children, it’s important they are aware that creating or sharing explicit images of someone under 18 is against the law, even if the imagery is of yourself.
Make chats less awkward and more regular
If you’re feeling uncomfortable opening a conversation about sexting, try ‘talking sideways’ – chatting whilst walking, driving or running, when you are both more relaxed. Remember, you don’t have to cover everything off in one go – talking little and often will make them more likely to seek you out for advice. And if your child shares a problem or worry, try not to be too judgemental or take over the conversation as in those moments it’s important that we are calm and listen.
This article was written by Digital Awareness UK - a leading digital wellbeing organisation working with schools and organisations in the UK and internationally.