There has been a lot of talk lately about social media safety but most posts and articles overlook the hidden social media – group chats.
We often don’t even consider group chats as being social media and think of them as private chats with friends and family. For the most part, that is exactly what they are and even people who aren’t Facebook fans often use its messenger app or something similar like Whatsapp, Instagram Messenger, and Discord.
Group chats are a terrific way for our children to chat with their friends about a group project or just to catch up with each other. However, like any tool that can be used for good or bad, group chats can easily turn into a nasty form of social media.
Safe on Social is a cyber safety training company that specialises in delivering training to teachers, students, parents and school communities. When they deliver these training sessions in-person to students from Year 3 to Year 12 they ask the following questions of the students and receive the following answers:
1. Who uses group chats to communicate with their friends?
Response: The majority of the room raises their hand.
2. Who sleeps with their device in their room?
Response: At least 80% of the room will raise their hand.
3. Who has received messages in a group chat after 9pm?
Response: Almost the whole room raises their hand.
4. Who has woken up to more than 200 messages in the group chat?
Response: All of them raise their hands and talk about it amongst themselves, nodding in agreement. There is also the occasional “more like 1000” comment.
5. Who has attempted to read all of the messages?
Response: The resounding response is constantly “checking to see if I was mentioned.”
6. Who has seen bullying or any other kind of inappropriate behaviour in the group chats?
Response: All of them raise their hands. Who reported it? 99% of the hands go down.
7. Who has been readded to a group chat after they have left?
Response: Most raise their hands and eye-roll and comment on how annoying it is.
8. Who gets a little anxious if their friends don’t respond to a message within a couple of minutes?
Response: Again, the majority raises their hands.
Group chats are a little like an iceberg. Parents can see the little tip poking out of the water but unless parameters are put in place and healthy relationships fostered, your child could be headed for their own Titanic disaster.
Group chats can easily become nasty, put unhealthy pressure on participants and quickly become an avenue for bullying or worse. Participants feel that what they say is safe but it only takes a screenshot for a private conversation to become public.
Group chats are here for the foreseeable future and can be a valuable way for people to connect with each other so it’s not a matter of banning them but navigating them safely.
Here are my ten seven tips for safely navigating the hidden social media danger – group chats.
1. Foster healthy relationships with your child.
You can have all the tech knowledge and parental safeguards available but without a healthy relationship, their worth is almost negligible. A healthy relationship is one that encourages conversation and discourages judgement, scorn or reactionary responses. Your child needs to know they can talk to you about anything.
2. Primary school children should only use Facebook Messenger for Kids
This provides parents with some control over what is going on in the group chat but still needs close monitoring. A healthy relationship will show your child that you are monitoring the chats to keep them safe.
3. Do not allow children or teens of any age to have a device in their bedroom
Safe on Social reports that children as young as eight will sleep with devices in their room and even under their pillow. Some primary-age children are responding to messages at midnight and into the early hours of the morning. Teens need more sleep than adults and children which is all the more reason to ban them from taking their phones or laptops into their bedroom from an early age. Removing the devices from their bedroom removes the temptation of responding to those ever-alluring ping notifications and will enforce healthy sleep patterns.
4. Help your child develop the skills to leave a group chat that is not helpful
It is the same skill as walking away from a group of kids who may be acting badly in person. Go over suggestions with them of what to say. For example, “sorry guys, this is getting nasty so I’m out of here” or “I’m uncomfortable with where this is headed, see you later.” This is a vital skill that children need to learn at an early age.
5. Remind your children and teens that if they are in a chat group that turns nasty, they may end up being guilty by association
Even if they aren’t the ones saying bad things, they could be in trouble for not reporting something or speaking up about what is happening. Cyberbullying can literally have life and death consequences and bystanders, as well as perpetrators, are being held accountable.
6. Encourage your teen not to check their phones for blocks of time
Make a challenge out of it. Their friends aren’t going to think less of them if they don’t respond in 30 minutes. They may even conclude that your teen has a full life outside of the small glass screen on the phone and be encouraged to try it for themselves.
7. Role model healthy ‘chat’ habits
Prioritise talking to your children who are physically with you rather than friends who might be in a chat. You have time to chat with friends when your children are in bed or out playing with friends. Actions are always louder than words and your children are very smart at ‘reading the room’.
Later in the year, we have scheduled one of Australia’s eminent experts on the topic of cyber safety Mrs Melinda Tankard-Reist to speak to students and parents about the best way to navigate this difficult area.
I’m sure you have your own tips that have worked in your family and I enjoyed reading Adrian Ford’s article a few weeks ago, where he encouraged emphasising fun things to do that were not technology related.
I hope you enjoy a lovely weekend with lots of unplugged family time.
Mike Curtis, Principal