Technology is touching and transforming nearly every area of our lives, especially our relationships. The group chat, for instance, is replacing face-to-face conversations. With that digital shift, comes unspoken etiquette, safety considerations, and a level of responsibility that can easily get lost in the chatter.
Group chats are efficient and fun. But whether you use SMS or group chat apps such as What’s App, GroupMe, Messenger, or others, chances are you (or your kids) have had at least one texting mishap along the way.
Who among us hasn’t messaged the wrong person, responded impulsively or been misunderstood via text? In a group chat, that blunder is multiplied. So here’s a quick primer on how to navigate the dos and don’ts of the all-powerful group chat. Use them yourself and share them with your kids.
10 Ways to Tame the Digital Chatter in Your Life
- Be discerning. It’s easy to believe that a group text will be kept private between members. However, anything shared in a digital space can be made public at any time. Share appropriate content. If wouldn’t want the information shared publically, don’t share it in a group chat.
- Input = interest. If you’ve been added to a group text, be sure to chime in from time to time. Staying silent can be taken as disinterest or ignoring others. If you don’t have time to keep up with the flow of information but value the relationships, check in once in a while with a text saying, “I haven’t had time to keep up, but here’s my input . . . ” Likewise, answering with one-word texts can also be considered rude in a group chat. Rather than a curt “k” or “yup,” take the time to add a few more words such as “sounds like a good idea,” or “yes, I’ll be there. I can’t wait.” Because so much emotion gets lost in the digital banter, by taking the time to add a few extra words or even sentences, you immediately can help clarify communication and strengthen relationships.
- Review before sending. This is a biggie. A group chat can feel comfortable quickly. However, don’t become hasty or too casual with your comments. Be sure to read — and review — your replies before hitting send. An ambiguous sentence can easily be misconstrued or offend several people at once if you don’t stop and take time to properly communicate.
- Mute rather than leave. If a group chat is interrupting your work or becomes bothersome, rather than leave the group, which could be considered rude, mute the conversation. If you don’t think you belong in the group or were mistakenly added, privately text the person who originated the group and ask him or her to remove you.
- Stay relevant. A group chat assumes all parties will be responsible to the purpose of the group. If the group was established as confidential, maintain that bond. If the chat originated around a school event or business-related topic, make sure the content you share stays relevant to that group. Uploading random memes, inside jokes, or starting arbitrary conversations between individual members is disrespectful to the group. Direct message individuals if you have a separate question, topic, or concern you’d like to discuss outside of the group chat.
- No text bombing. Think before you text in a group message. Condense and organize your thoughts rather than sending multiple texts consecutively, otherwise known as text bombing. No one likes ten consecutive text alerts on their phone when just one would suffice.
- Minimize conflict. It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise in a group chat. A casual comment can be misread (and confusion multiplied) as texts fly back and forth between members. The best way to minimize conflict is to 1) Carefully read, correct, and clarify comments before posting. 2) If you suspect friction, address it immediately with the group or individually in a direct message if it’s with one person. 3) Check in with quiet members. Feelings of exclusion or paranoia can perpetuate in a group chat among friends. Take the time to check in with a personal text or a phone call if you suspect a fracture in the group.
- Keep up with context. If you don’t understand a comment or a question, don’t randomly ask the group for a recap or add a “what?” or “huh?” Instead, take the time to scroll up to get the details and context you need to comment.
- Be smart, stay safe. If you are put in a group text and don’t personally know all the people in the group, be sure to never give out personal or confidential information such as your full name, home address, phone number, social security number, passwords, names of family members, or credit card numbers. Dishonest individuals can show up anywhere and exploit any digital relationship.
- Show respect, compassion, and kindness. Sometimes a social, cultural, or political climate can spill over into a group chat. Conversations can go from fun to emotionally charged instantly. While you can’t control the crowd, you can control yourself. Take a step back and carefully weigh comments. Even in the midst of disagreeing, show respect, compassion, and kindness.
Remember, balance is everything. If multiple group chats are taking up too much of your energy, emotion, and time, it may be time for a group chat detox. Digital relationships may seem more efficient, but in reality, they can be emotionally draining you. Texting will never equal the value of face-to-face time with friends. Using technology wisely and teaching your children to do the same is essential to living a healthy, balanced digital life.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).