What’s up with WhatsApp?

It’s been the saviour of group messaging. Send one thing to lots of people, no matter what device they have, and get all the responses in one place. For free! You can even check of someone’s actually read your message! What’s to hate about WhatsApp?

Well for a self respecting, self aware and self-controlled, emotionally intelligent adult, there’s not much to dislike about it. But for prepubescent, first phone owning 10 and 11 year olds, it’s potentially the stuff of nightmares.

Boy 1 got a phone for Christmas (it was actually my old phone) and it’s gone well so far. He hasn’t reached his limit on data or extras so it’s fine. My only issue has been his sudden need to call his best friend when he gets home from school. Every. Single. Day. I find myself sounding like my mother 20 years ago, “but you’ve been with him all day! What else do you have to talk about?!”

The one snag we’ve had has been when he wants to send GIFs or pictures to non-iphone mates, it either doesn’t work or costs money.

So we’d been toying with the idea of letting him use WhatsApp. And I’m glad we haven’t yet. You see, parents with children older than my own have all had their stories about the strange mentality that develops on the platform. I’ve been surprised by just how many other parents have witnessed or experienced issues with it. This is genuinely true for most people regardless of gender or school type. Up and down the country there seems to be a underworld of toxic behaviour bubbling, behind the guise of it not being ‘real social media’.

Granted, its not Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. It can truly limit who sees messages and its all now encrypted, but this advanced messaging service is causing a problem.

What starts as a group for a few close friends ends up growing and growing, partly because of novelty (these are first time phone owners remember), but because they also want to laugh and share things out of school. Great.

But what happens when someone uses bad language? Or implies they are up to no good? Or insults someone else? It gets messy. It gives others a free pass to do the same and can cause a whole lot of upset. Even the children who you wouldn’t expect such behaviour from, somehow think this virtual playground has given them permission to join in. And even those are somewhat innocent bystanders feel trapped.

If they saw someone being picked on, they’d step in or report it, yet somehow in this environment they feel powerless, unsure if it is really an issue if its in a ‘friendly group’. Do they report it, leave, ignore, or even join in? A whole new world of social etiquette to navigate is formed and I think most of them are just too young and emotionally immature to take the right path.

I’m not saying What’sApp is all bad – I’ve got a million conversations and groups. But my concerns about its use for young, impressionable pre-teens are growing.

How can we teach children about managing these groups? At what point do they, or should they, know how to read between the lines or take something as given?

It’s just something else for them to think about. Something else that lights up or pings with notifications. And once they have it, I imagine its bloody difficult to take away.

And it’s another thing for us parents to worry about.

Thankfully, school have recently reminded all parents that the minimum age for the platform is now 16, so that’s pretty much taken the decision out of our hands, for now. But it’s still made me think very carefully about how his phone is being used.

Another parenting issue to keep me up at night!


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