Are group chats the new digital cliques?

A few months ago, my son Garret, a high school freshman, got a new iPhone. He set it up right away and joined a few groups chats. By the next morning, he had 400 text messages. The teens in the groups he joined had been texting all night!

If your teen has a cell, chances are high that he or she participates in group chats. Group chats are where teens are dishing about everything happening in their teenage lives.  With group chats, regardless of who starts the conversation, everyone  in the group can chime in instantaneously. My son explained to me that weekend plans are made in group chats. Homework is discussed. The latest fashion trends or social events are talked about.

Lately I want to ban my son from group chats. One day last week, I looked over his shoulder and I noticed that some of the girls in one of his group chats were saying mean things about someone’s unibrow. “What’s that about?” I asked. “Oh, some of the girls are roasting on my friend,” my son explained.  That’s when I realized that sometimes group chats get downright mean. That chit chat in the hallway about the ugly dress some girl wore to school, or gossip about the way so and so was flirting with so and so now gets typed and disseminated among a group of kids with a touch of the enter key.  “Sometimes, even if you didn’t say something mean, you feel guilty just because you’re in the group,” my son admitted to me.

On top of that,  sometimes, someone is intentionally left out of a group chat —  or taken out of the group without their okay. It’s that exclusion we all endured in high school years ago, but today, it’s digital. Yes, cliques have gone electronic!

Even if you’re in a group and no longer want to be, the challenge for teens  is that when you want to get out of a group chat, it’s difficult because there’s always the chance you will “look like a jerk” if you leave.

I could spend all day and night trying to monitor what is being said  in group chats, but there is no way I could keep up. These teens are WAY too prolific and they are fickle about where they hold their group chats. My son recently showed me how the chats have moved from text messages to Instagram group messages.

On a rainy day last week, my son’s phone was pinging nonstop with incoming messages from group chats.  I nudged him to participate with caution.   I reminded him that a group text (and anything shared online) can be captured by a simple screenshot and shared outside of that group.  “A digital conversation is never “secret” or “private”,  I reminded him.  “And, a misinterpreted conversation easily can lead to hurt feelings.”  He nodded, and then went right back to looking at his phone screen.

I know banning my son from group chats is a losing proposition. But it sure is tough to parent when a majority of our teens’ communication is a 24/7 digital stream!




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