A WhatsApp group seems to have become an integral part of parenting. Not a party, extramural or class fart goes by without having to engage with at least 20 other parents and our thumb-picked emojis. I'm all up for a sense of community, support, a laugh, ease and efficiency on this parenting journey, but something seems to have gone amiss in our communications skills, when we enter the great abyss of "The parent-centred WhatsApp group".
Let it be said from the outset, I am no WhatsApp angel and have probably contributed to a few too many unnecessary pings in my time. As we are still kicking off the school year and many new WhatsApp groups spring up, it may be a good time to take stock of our parent-group etiquette, because if 2018 has fewer pings, I think we may be in for a good one.
It may seem arb to be thinking about what we are doing in our WhatsApp groups, but here's why I think we should be thinking about this.
Life is busy! Whether a stay-at-home, working, single, or solo parent, there is always so much to hold in mind. There's the work, the partners, the family, the friendships, the kids, the me-time, the pets, plus demands and connections that come in all shapes and sizes.
And then within the kid department come the often-met parental conundrums such as: "If Child A finishes her extramural at X time and Child B finishes the match at Y time in two separate places that couldn't be further from each other if they tried, and the meeting ends at Z time, how will all parties meet at point H?"
The juggle is real! So adding to the mind clutter through an onslaught of messages is counterproductive and while seemingly small, they do not help us achieve that elusive balance most of us are seeking.
We reap what we sow! How we conduct ourselves on our phones, in general, is seen by our children. Children are (unfortunately) acquiring smartphones younger and younger, and setting up WhatsApp groups of their own without much thought. We hold an important role-modelling opportunity in how we manage ourselves on our phones, with our children as beady-eyed witnesses.
Stick to the purpose of the group.
There can be legal ramifications! Let's not kid, it's not all smiley faces and thumbs-ups. As social media law expert Emma Sadleir emphasises in her talks and writing, what we say on WhatsApp can have legal implications – if you post something (or do not disassociate from a post) that is obscene, controversial or illegal.
Nastiness and bullying can lurk in WhatsApp groups! Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can puncture way deeper.
So here are a few things I think it would be helpful to think about:
When done properly, I think the group admin is worthy of CV status! The person who sets up the parent group sets the vibe of the group and also has to reel in unruly participants. It is no easy task, and one I admittedly avoid. At the risk of going all schoolmarmy on this, I think these are vital vibe setters that can be put out there in the beginning...
Stick to the purpose of the group.
If you don't actually know the answer to a question posed, rather don't answer (as in, "Also not sure but I think maybe... + insert thinking emoji). When a question is asked and answered, we don't all need to give corroborating messages that we too think that is the answer.
We don't all need to thank the information givers separately on the group, even if we really appreciate the information given. PMs (private messages) are just as quick to write as group ones – we can always PM the information giver. We have to be cognisant of the fact that there are a lot of people in the group.
When we send a message to a group we can take it as read – and not worthy of a thumbs-up response to show that each person has received the message. Reading the thread of messages before sending a question is helpful. Sometimes a simple scroll will reveal the answer we are looking for.
As we continue to carefully pick our emojis and gifs, perhaps we should be giving a go at a more conscious approach to the WhatsApp parent group.
Be kind and respectful!
Think before you text, and question if this is a necessary communication to a large group – or could it possibly be sent to someone in particular.
Beware the WhatsApp Group faux pas as best one can. We have all been the recipients of the text that was sooooo not meant for the group, and many of us have had the heart-stopping moment of sending that text to the wrong group. I know I am incredibly thankful for the new "Delete for everyone" function on WhatsApp.
It's not just about the ping. We know we can mute the group messages now, but the barrage of thumbs-ups remain and we still have to weed through threads.
We can always exit a group, but we are often a bit betwixt and between on making the big exit, as we may just miss out on some key information, so we stay. A friend has raised the issue that it would be great to have a "just slipping out of the group" function without the big declare: Laura has left the group.
Some groups properly feed our soul, provide friendship, support and a damn fine laugh worthy of a laughing emoji crying buckets. But some groups are there with lots of people in them to provide information. It may feel counterintuitive to not respond to a group, unless necessary, in terms of our perceived social norms, but we need to think bigger-picture.
So, as we continue to carefully pick our emojis and gifs, perhaps we should be giving a go at a more conscious approach to the WhatsApp parent group. Let's see how it all pings out.