If you’ve ever had a conversation over email or text take a sudden nosedive due to miscommunication, then buckle up—you haven’t seen anything yet. Welcome to the world of group text where the possibility of a misunderstanding just multiplied—by ten.
Group texting is a popular tool used by tweens and teens (and adults) to have a conversation between a select group of people via text.
You can group text easily using a smart phone’s texting app or through popular third-party apps suchas groupme or WhatsApp. A group text is usually set up around an event, a homework assignment, or a trip. However, teens often use it simply to chat daily among their group of friends. In a group text, regardless of who starts the conversation, everyone on the chat can chime in instantaneously.
While group texts aren’t inherently dangerous, they can be the catalyst for social disaster, even bullying, if the group chat hits a communication snag that ignites a misunderstanding. Think about it: When you get half a dozen teen girls filling a single pipeline of chatter the sheer lack of context, verbal inflection, accountability, and body language can instantly take a laughter-lined chat into drama overdrive.
If you’ve ever seen a teen group text go south, as a parent, its enough to make you ban your child from her cell phone altogether, or at least delete every chat app on her phone. However, if you take a moment and use this culture of group texting for teaching conflict management, you could help your child grow some critical social chops. The latter, is where we are in our house (this week anyway).
The challenge with group texting—according to the teens gathered around my kitchen table on a recent snow day—is that when you want to get out of a group text, it’s difficult because A) you can’t just leave if you were not the originator of the chat B) if you want to leave, you must delete the app from your phone or you will keep getting chat notifications and C) there’s always the chance you will “look like a jerk” if you just leave a group text.
Here are some basic communication tactics with a bit of conflict management thrown into the mix that may help you guide your teen cope with the pressure and protocol of group texting.
7 Ways to Avoid Conflict in Group Texting
- Change the topic. If a group text becomes argumentative or uncomfortable, learn to simply change the topic. Ask whose going to the hockey game or about where you can purchase a certain pair of boots or shirt. It’s an old trick but it works!
- Encourage your child to clarify a troubling statement immediately with phrases such as “when you said xx . . . I heard xx . . . is that what you meant?” or “I’m not sure if you are serious or joking right now.”
- Create a code word. Establish ground rules with friends before the next group text. Agree on a code word or acronym such as #TMD (Too Much Drama). Use that acronym to mutually keep a group text steered in a positive direction.
- Group Text with Caution. Remember the screenshot. Remind your child that a group text (and anything shared online) can be captured and shared outside of that group. Be aware that a digital conversation is never “secret” or “private.”
- Be real. Be kind. Never say anything online that you would feel uncomfortable saying to that person or the group face-to-face. Because of its remote nature, texting (especially with an audience looking on) can spark overconfidence or arrogance and lead to overly brash exchanges. If something hurtful is said, teach your child to take a break and step away before responding.
- Use emoticons to express tone. Those little graphic faces may very well be the best mediator your child has. Emoticons can express instant laughter, joking and help bridge at least a few of the physical deficits of online communication.
- Use a snag as a springboard. This last point will require an extra dose of maturity for a tween or teen. Teach your child to use a group text conflict to improve the overall friendship and model good communication. Ask the friend/s to talk face-to-face and clarify the problem. Usually, all will agree, the blowup was made worse because intent was misinterpreted. Teach your child to use “I” statements such as “I feel hurt by some of the stuff you said. I want to talk about it face-to-face in a way we can both feel heard and understood.”
Finally, this may sound like a cop out but if conflict via group texting becomes a pattern in your child’s life—and even spills over into bullying—advise your child to use her parent card and tell friends: “my parents won’t allow me to group text anymore.”
Communication is tough in person for adults. Imagine the trouble tweens and teens must have with peers when a majority of their communication is a 24/7 digital stream. And while our tweens and teens do not need us to barge in and rescue them from every online conflict, don’t hesitate, parent, to offer wisdom and guidance as they navigate some very choppy digital waters.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family.