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Parenting

I Didn’t Want My Son in Group Chats Until I Realized How Important They Are to Me, Too

Group chats are a hot spot for spreading inappropriate content. Here's how we handle them in our family.

I Didn’t Want My Son in Group Chats Until I Realized How Important They Are to Me, Too

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Since getting a phone last year, my 12-year-old has been included in multiple group chats. As a mother, the content that often bounces around within them leaves me feeling anxious. From dangerous TikTok challenges to questionable YouTube videos, I worry my son will be persuaded by peer pressure.

Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter, considers group chats the modern equivalent of cliques. On the positive side, they can provide greater perceptions of social support and belonging compared to less intimate social media feeds. Being included in a group chat also helps teens express their identity and feel closer to friends.

But they also pose risks. Group chats often keep kids glued to their phones out of fear of missing something important. There’s the possibility of being excluded, removed, or bullied in this type of virtual socialization. And there’s the risk that I worry about most: Being added to a group chat with strangers, possibly exposing a child to predators.

Group chats were one reason I hesitated to purchase my son’s first phone before middle school. The distraction of having one and constant access to the World Wide Web was also on my list of worries. But he was getting older and part of maturing these days means access to technology—and, therefore, constant communication with others.

Recently, as he showed me a YouTube video, a text appeared across his screen. It took my breath away. A friend was persuading the group to take fentanyl. “It will make you feel better,” the boy insisted to everyone in the chat. My son—reacting to what he considered to be my overreaction—stood firm that this friend was only joking.

And maybe he was. But a joke about a drug that could kill him was no laughing matter in my book. We then had a long discussion about drugs and peer pressure—another conversation piled on top of all the others. He seemed to really understand the graveness of that text, and I felt a little better when some of his friends responded by saying, "It’s not funny"— because it wasn’t.

At that moment, I despised group chats. I wanted him removed from all of them. But I knew denying him access wouldn’t protect him, and I trusted him, knowing he has the knowledge to make good choices.

woman looking at her phone looking concerned iStock

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Why it's important to talk about the content being shared

According to The Bark Blog, group chats are a hot spot for spreading inappropriate content. When kids come across something interesting on the internet, their impulse is to send it to friends. “Sadly, it’s not uncommon for kids to think it’s funny to send something inappropriate and get a reaction from the group.” That’s likely what happened in my son’s group text that afternoon.

The best thing parents can do to prepare children for these situations is communicate. When topics arise in our home, we discuss them honestly. My children know alcohol and drugs can kill and that unwrapped candy should never be ingested. We’ve talked about never hesitating to be picked up if they feel uncomfortable in a situation for any reason. We talk frequently and openly because that’s the only way to prepare them for life.

The most we can do as parents is provide our children with the information needed to make safe choices. It’s hard to accept that we can’t do more. But I realize preventing him from being a part of teenhood in 2024—which includes group texting—would only make him resent me. It wouldn’t dissolve my fears or protect him from the dangers of today’s technology.

Why group chats have been a lifeline for me

Then it hit me: I have group texts of my own. A group chat with my two closest friends from childhood—one seven hours away and the other across the Atlantic Ocean—often feels like my lifeline. This thread allows us to remain connected despite the miles between us. Through memes, we share a daily laugh, and they know when I’m in need of a boost of confidence. When I simply have to get something off my chest, I find myself in our group chat—almost as if we were congregating in the hallway of our high school 23 years ago. It’s the closest thing to being together when we can’t be.

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Another group chat with my husband and a couple that are good friends of ours also keeps me grounded. We use this thread to make upcoming plans and to make light of the stressors so common in adulthood. From checking in when someone’s sick to playfully mocking our spouses, the days feel lighter and happier when we share laughter with friends.

Katie Davis, author and professor, said in an interview that being part of group chats is on par with where middle schoolers are developmentally. They’re learning to negotiate friendship dynamics and develop their social relationships. Author Devorah Heitner recommends parents refrain from snooping while empowering their kids to self-monitor. Encouraging open communication is always beneficial.

I’ve prepared my son as best I can, and he enjoys being a member of group chats right now. And I get it. I may not love every conversation that unravels, but he’s joking, sharing, and venting with friends. Group texts enable him to be part of a community, and I’d never want to take that away.

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