As the most popular global mobile messenger app, it is estimated that everyone with a smart phone/device will use WhatsApp daily or will have used it.
It can be set up on a one-to-one basis or as part of a WhatsApp group, which can be anything from a family, friends, or for a specific event such as a birthday party.
Schools may establish official school WhatsApp groups as a means of instant communication via text or pictorial.
It is all about people with something in common wanting to stay in constant communication.
WhatsApp is much less monitored or talked about negatively than other popular media apps such as Snapchat or Instagram. It’s very straight forward, easily accessible and free! Therefore, it is widely used at all different levels of social communication.
The app enables groups to be set up, and it can be the case that children will meet someone on another app such as Snapchat or Instagram and move to WhatsApp because they feel it is less public and less regulated by parents.
The group chatting facility is often where problems for children, young adults and adults alike may arise. You can often be added to a group without being asked first and, thereafter, people may feel pressured to stay. If you leave a group, it is publicly updated on the group chat that you have left the group.
WhatsApp is all about group texts and, therefore, if unkind comments or rumours are shared, then everyone on the group is prive to them immediately. Very quickly, keypad warriors can reply to texts. Consequently, unwelcome situations can escalate very quickly.
Privacy is key to any internet-based application. Whilst WhatsApp does encrypt conversations, anyone on the chat can take screenshots and share private conversations and photographs.
Information shared by members of groups on WhatsApp is inevitably not always true. Indeed, the app has a reputation for being the biggest purveyor of fake news. During the Covid panic, the sharing of incorrect rumours and untrue information via WhatsApp was vast!
The one thing about WhatsApp is that everyone seems to use it and be part of a group and, therefore, as parents and educators, we are in a position to model appropriate behaviour for our students and children. Personally, I have helped both students and parents alike deal with inappropriate etiquette on WhatsApp groups and the guidance that I give is always the same:
- WhatsApp groups should be positive at all times.
- Remember, once something is written, it cannot be easily retracted.
- If you don’t have anything kind or encouraging to say, please don’t say it.
- Ask people before inviting them to join the group.
- Don’t be offended if people leave a group. Be polite and excuse yourself before leaving a group.
- Take care not to create huge groups – they seldom stay on point.
- Only accept or make groups with friends/peers.
- Children and adolescents should not accept adults into groups and, conversely, adults should not be including minors in their groups.
- Do not post one-to-one conversation in a group chat.
- Be polite – only post during acceptable times.
- WhatsApp groups should be friendly exchanges and should most definitely not include arguments, obscene language, fear mongering, or hyped drama.
- Never EVER use a group to berate someone, someplace or to air grievances. If you have an issue, address it, one to one, with the relevant person or body.
- Only admit people to a group that you know personally.
Of all social media, WhatsApp would seem to be one of the safest. However, as adults, we have probably already recognised that it is important to be cautious. Texts can be unkind and knowing who a member of a group is is essential. It takes courage for a child, or adult for that matter, to leave a group as it is so visible.
As with anything else in life, as role models for our children, it is imperative that we exhibit good WhatsApp etiquette and ask ourselves: is what I am texting positive, kind, necessary and being sent at an appropriate time?
By Penelope Best, Head of School,
Eupheus International School, Loulé