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Parenting Questions

My 10 year old is on a chat group where the name of the group is unkind about another child. How do I handle this effectively?

My 10 year old has joined a chat group with some of her friends and the name of the group is made up of initials that stand for ‘hate group’, followed by another girl’s name. The conversations are not about this girl at all, but the title of the group makes me feel uncomfortable. There have been some friendship issues, where this girl has been difficult to many other girls, hence this feeling. However I feel the use of word ‘hate’ is too strong. How do I handle this with my daughter in an effective way?

The moment we put a phone in the hands of our children, we give them access to a landscape populated by others, full of challenges and risks, as well as opportunities. Half of the UK’s ten year olds own a smartphone and the situation that you describe is not uncommon. The heady mix of social media, puberty, immaturity and access to digital devices is one that has the potential to lead not only to children being put at risk, but to the edge of cyberbullying, in the way that you have described above. 

First and foremost, remember the power that you have as a parent to say no. It is within your rights and responsibility to remove anything from your child’s life that is causing them harm, affecting their mental health or interfering in their normal development. If you feel that your daughter has breached your family digital values, then this needs to be explained and you could consider removing the phone. After all, it is a luxury and a privilege to own one.  

Secondly, membership of a chat group can be a very challenging experience for a child. Are you absolutely sure that this is necessary? Participating in a digital group requires the skills to manage a range of social dynamics. With membership, comes the risk of being brusquely ousted (a rejection which can weigh heavily on young children). Moreover, as they are responsible for what they write and how they make others feel, participants need to have a strong sense of digital values and hygiene. Most social networking apps have minimum age requirements of 13+ (WhatsApp’s is actually 16+), and there are reasons for this. Perhaps, at 10 years old, she may be too young for such responsibility? This is something for you to consider and discuss.

An optimal (and my suggested) approach would be to enable more face-to-face contact; socialising that involves engaging, playing with one another, reading social and emotional cues and being sensitive to how others are feeling and doing. 

However, at this juncture, I would sit your daughter down for a big chat. How do you think that little girl might feel if she finds out her name is being used like that? Why is it unkind to create a group like that? What can we do about it to rectify it? How can we help our friends to be kinder to others? How can we stand up against unkind behaviour when we see it? Praise her for listening, for contributing ideas and for coming up with suggested solutions. 

There may also be merit in talking to other parents of children in the group and using your collective power to say no to peer-to-peer unkindness. This approach might spark positive and helpful conversations across many households. Our children will all make mistakes and we should be there to help them navigate through them. After all, we all want them to grow to be good friends and digital citizens. Good luck!