Text wars – surviving the kids’ feuds

Grumpyparent.com text tips

So, the kids have iPhones. We regret that.
The kids have WhatsApp. We REALLY regret that.
The kids have Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube. We desperately regret it all. 

Yet it’s here and this is the world they live in. The constant juggling act where they aren’t even proficient in face to face conversation, let alone digital. And in a world where most of their interaction seems digital. Where we over-protect and panic and pamper and where we are so conscious of bullying that we’re disempowering our children. We are inadvertently removing their ability to exert choice by inferring that a lack of any compliance is a bullying move. How will our kids ever learn resilience? How will they learn to say, “No” to anything? Fear of consequences are so great that the playground is a nightmare of conflicting options.

We need to teach our kids that alternatives are OK, that you don’t always have the play the same game and that the bossy kid doesn’t always have the play the boss. But how do they do that without causing huge rows, making people cry, or falling into the trap of a manipulator? Therein lies the problem. Only guidance from adults and parents, older siblings, TV, YouTube, vloggers, ah, we see the problem.

What a vlogger does for entertainment, to create views and increase advertising revenue is all about the clicks and the shares. It’s not remotely about doing the right thing. So while grunting a few words and rolling around laughing at a drunk squirrel, or pranking your little brother might seem funny, repeated watching may desensitise kids from  compassion and consideration for others.

It’s driving me insane and we need to stop it and help them navigate through. Or just take their tech away… and no-one wants that. Not even me. Honestly.

So what does this mean for kids – on devices & in the playground?

We are going to have to actively teach them an alternative reality. We must spend the time to understand what the problems really are and give them the tools to cope.

Not wanting to play horses with your pal at playtime is not bullying. Hiding your classmates’ plimsols is not bullying. It’s awful for your kid. And it’s downright mean. Taking a book and refusing to give it back, excluding someone from your racing game because today is not ‘racing game day’, it’s all just mean. And sometimes there are mean people in your life. Yes, repeated systematic meanness can be bullying, but let’s not get it fully out of perspective. And let’s teach them how to cope.

“Simon told me to go to hell” is not the same as a text saying, “See you in… hell? LOL JK” Neither are very pleasant, nor are they acceptable. Neither message should ever be sent, both would be hugely misjudged; but one is not the same as the other. One is not bullying. Phrases Such as “Go away I hate you” can be thrown about with reckless abandon by one child with little impact, yet crush another. And that’s not bullying either. Systematic rejection, exclusion, manipulation, that’s the serious stuff.

And this is before I get to the ‘squad goals’.

Please, what? What goals does a child’s squad need other than to win the tournament? Ah, The Squad: the cool club, the niche, the clique, we’re not talking sports anymore. It’s the new gang. It’s the WhatsApp group where your child can communicate from the safety of their bedroom without consequence. Where your child can pick a fight, be rude, be manipulative, be a bully and be bullied – all without you knowing.

Perhaps there’s a reason why WhatsApp and Facebook are for kids over 13 years old? Is it perhaps because they aren’t actually emotionally equipped to handle them? Even as adults, how many times do we read messages from friends and misunderstand them?

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Helping the kids

I believe it’s our responsibility as parents to read our kids’ WhatsApp and text messages – all of them. To check their browsing history and to ensure that downloads are safe. Because the last thing you want is an upset or traumatised child. And the very last thing you want is another parent with an upset child. Especially if that is at the hands of your child.

We need to equip our kids with the skills in the playground and on digital devices to help them understand the impact of their words.

How would you feel if your kid was the sarcastic one, who doesn’t help his pals in the class text group, but is brutal with his replies? He (or she) might think he’s just being funny or helpful, yet others may think that he comes across arrogant and rude. And let’s not even get started on the abbreviations. K? JK. LOL. IDK how they cope IRL. And when they D8? Argh, how will they speak to each other?

We need to bring back full sentences, good punctuation and remove ambiguity. We all know the ‘eats, shoots and leaves’ joke. (Here it is again for good measure.) But is there anything more annoying than the “K” text message? Yes, actually, it’s “KK”. You what?!

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But before we continue down the negative road for forever and a day, here are some top tips to help kids communicate more effectively with their friends.

We need to help them understand that saying no can make people feel rejected, but giving alternatives and explanations can help.

Avoiding exclusion in the playground – alternatives are the way forward

Q – Can I play horses with you?
A – No we’re not playing horses

*Kid goes off and tells the teacher they are being bullied/excluded etc
**Teacher tells kids off and makes them play together. Everyone is angry.

Q – Can I play horses with you?
Alternative 1: Well, we’re playing spacemen, but why don’t you join us and we can play together?

Q: I want to play horses
Alternative 2: We aren’t playing that now, but we could play that next if you want to join in with our spaceman game?

Q: I want to play horses
Alternative 3: We’ve given you lots of options to join us, but if it’s only horses you want to play, then I think you’ll need to find some more people to join in.

Q: I want to play horses
Alternative 4: Come and play spacemen with us and we’ll do horses in space!

* Where everyone feels like they’re involved in the outcome

The same goes for texting, where a little effort in the conversation can avoid a simply transactional exchange with no feeling.

Typical text conversation:

Q: Want 2 go 2 town?
A: Can’t
Q: Why not?
A: No money
Q: Get some
A: Can’t tho
Q: Just get some
A: No soz
Q: Fine go away
A: What? You go away
Q: Don’t be mean
A: You are being mean
Q: I hate you

*Escalates indefinitely

The alternative is for kids to talk to each other instead of texting. Or to just take the time to be polite in their texting.

Q: Want 2 go 2 town?
A: Oh, I can’t today, I’m really sorry.
Q: Why not?
A: I haven’t got any money. Wish I could.
Q: Get some
A: I can’t, I spent all my pocket money and mum won’t give me any more 😱
Q: Just get some
A: I would if I could, but she’s already said no.
Q: Fine go away
A: I’m really sorry I can’t come in with you. Want to do something else isntead? Park maybe?
Q: But I wanted to go into town.
A: Maybe we could do both if you need something? We could come with you then do the park after?
Q: I hate you – this is highly unlikely to be sent now. “OK yeah” is probably likely.

Kids need to learn that rejection is how they feel and may not be what the other person means. It’s a tough one and many of us are still learning as an adults. But this is one area where we can’t expect schools to teach this to our kids. Communication and language use is learned behaviour and we have to model it ourselves.

So, I got the kids to work together to write this tip list. I’ll be suggesting that they post it into their WhatsApp ‘squads’ as a team goal, or header image. A #squadpledge. And I’ll start on Facebook with mine. Will you join me?

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