For tweens and teens, group chats have become the modern equivalent of cliques, extending from iMessage and WhatsApp to social media messaging. If you’ve ever watched your offspring huddled over their device, typing furiously, or heard the rapid-fire ding of alerts, you know what I’m talking about. But are group chats safe for kids?
Just like cliques that cluster next to lockers and gossip that spreads through whispers, group chats come with their own set of issues. Because of the important role group chats play in kids’ social spheres, it’s crucial for parents to understand this digital landscape so they can support and guide their kids through the ups and downs.
Kids are gonna be kids, and for many, that includes a decent dollop of drama. But group-text drama has its own particular flavor.
Without things like vocal inflection, facial expressions, and body language, it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur. And because multiple people are involved, a minor dustup can quickly snowball.
Here’s what to keep an eye out for:
From not inviting someone to a chat in the first place, to removing them, to using the thread to make secret plans, group chats are a prime place for exclusion.
Excessive complaining about people not on the thread, passive-aggressive barbs lobed at each other, and even downright aggression are a few of the ways toxic chats can adversely impact the mood and wellbeing of the participants.
Cyberbullying is a significant issue facing today’s kids, and this behavior often shows up in group chats. Whether your child is being bullied or participating in the bullying, parents need to watch out for this behavior in group chats.
Even if your kiddo is a passive observer to the toxicity, drama, or cyberbullying in their group chat, because their name is on the thread, they may be associated with it anyway.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) can make it hard for kids to put down the phone and get the shut-eye they need. They may feel afraid that something big will happen in the group thread while they’re asleep, so they stay up into the night.
Even if your child puts the phone down at a reasonable hour, they might wake up to dozens — or even hundreds — of messages. This bombardment first thing in the morning can be overwhelming as they try to catch up.
Your child may be added to a group chat with people they don’t know. At worst, this situation can expose them to predators, especially if the stranger begins talking to them one-on-one. Tell your child they shouldn’t engage in group chats with people they don’t know.
At BrightCanary, we’re big proponents of staying involved in your child’s digital life. That includes setting boundaries around device usage and regularly monitoring their text threads and social media inboxes.
It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open. Ask your kid who they’re messaging, and let them know they can come to you when problems arise. You can also use a text monitoring service like BrightCanary to keep tabs on their messages and step in when they encounter anything concerning.
So, are group chats safe for kids? Although group chats can be treacherous, they do have an upside. For many kids, they provide a sense of community and acceptance, are useful for forging and maintaining friendships, and can strengthen social connections.
But the downside of group chat dynamics is serious, too. That’s why it’s important to talk to your kid about the pitfalls and help them develop skills for participating in positive ways.
Here are some tips to get the conversation started:
A quick note on that last point — skipping out on a chat with no explanation can cause social problems, so your child may need some coaching on exiting gracefully. Their approach will depend on the situation, their personality, and the group dynamics.
Here are some ideas around what they can say:
Group chats are a major component of kids’ social lives today, but they can often be fraught spaces. Parents need to learn the dynamics of group chats so they can guide their children toward a positive messaging experience.