Messenger apps like WhatsApp are among the “must haves” of most smartphone users – including children and young people. In school, class chats can be very handy. You can talk to each other about learning material, homework and organizational things. However, such chat groups can also become a burden.
Messenger apps are used to communicate either personally with individuals or in group chats with several people. There are family groups, chats among friends or the sports team, class chats and many more.
Anyone can create a chat group and, as an administrator, add members who use the same messenger and are saved in Contacts. Each person who is part of the group can send messages, photos or videos that will be seen by all members. Administration and write permissions can be assigned to members depending on the messenger service.
Many children from the age of about 10 have their own smartphone and use a messenger. That’s why many school classes have group chats, through which children share important and unimportant things with each other. Moreover, they can talk about it without adults at all.
Such a chat can strengthen the sense of community in a class. The only problem is when not everyone has a smartphone and the corresponding app. Individual students may feel left out and not get certain things. Peer pressure can also play a role here.
Lots of kids in a chat group often means lots of messages. There are different opinions about what is interesting or funny. Some want to share this with others, others are annoyed by the flood of news. Chain letters are also often spread via class chats and not everyone can handle them safely. Important news can quickly get lost in the shuffle. It can also lead to stress when your cell phone beeps constantly and you feel like you always have to respond.
Not only in personal communication, but also via chat, conflicts can arise among each other. In the worst case, individuals are bullied. In group chats, this can get out of hand, and those who insult others via their smartphone don’t notice how the person on the other side reacts and may continue to do so.
Another problem is data protection. Quickly, a photo or a cell phone number is shared with everyone via the group chat without thinking about who the message will reach. Such messages can be redistributed and saved by everyone. The messenger services themselves also treat their users’ data with varying degrees of sensitivity. From WhatsApp for example, a lot of data is stored and passed on unnoticed.
Some young people also use chat groups to send problematic content, such as child-pronographic material, through them or to influence members’ opinions. It happens that you regularly receive unwanted group invitations.
With all of these risks, first consider your child’s right and desire to be part of the class community. This does not have to mean disregarding hazards. Your child should also know these. Therefore, talk to him about it. The choice of messenger service, security settings and chat rules can limit the risks.
Exchange ideas with the parents of the other children and consider working together to use a data-saving messenger service like Signal or Threema can be agreed upon. Show your child what privacy settings and security features the smartphone and messenger app itself offers – such as blocking or reporting contacts. In addition, the question of how to inform those who do not have a smartphone or the respective messenger app should be clarified so that no social coercion is created.
It is at least as important to agree on rules about how you want to treat each other – this applies not only offline, but also online. This could include, for example, that only certain things may be written about, that there are times when writing is allowed, or that insults and sending personal pictures are prohibited. More tips on this can be found at Handysektor. When it comes to boundary violations, insults and cyberbullying, it is important not to look away, but to react actively. It should be determined in class who to turn to if you or someone else is treated unfairly in the chat. Selected confidants can be trusted adults or classmates who have been trained in advance.
In addition, you should act as a good role model by, for example, putting your cell phone away when talking to others, using a safe messenger, and not sharing pictures of your child in the family group without asking. Then your child will also be able to use chat groups safely and with fun.