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While group chats and video calls have helped children stay connected during the lockdown, they can also make some kids feel left out.
This is an issue which has been alive in our house for the last couple of weeks.
My 8 year old daughter uses my mobile phone and has been texting her friends in group chats since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. I was perfectly fine with the arrangement and also kept a tab on her messages and the time spent on the mobile with her friends. She was comfortable with the time limits, due to other digital screen time that she was getting in any case!
The boon of these digital conversations was that she was able to connect with many of her cousins and friends at school and also with many across the world. They could exchange thoughts and ideas at each one’s pace and they consumed it based on their time zone.
However, some of the messages (or rather one-line or one-word) chats that came from her 9-11 year old building friends, sometimes irritated me as well as my daughter. The group has random phone conferences at any time of the day and group video game times! Video games are something we have not allowed for anyone in our house and my daughter is perfectly fine with that as well. Any new virtual games or ideas suggested by my daughter didn’t interest any of the other children in the group chats.
So, the group does not like my daughter primarily because she is not attending any of their group activities and hence removed her (after sending a few hate messages about her) from their whatsapp chat group. This triggered lot of emotional outbursts and #FOBLO #FOMO* in my daughter.
It was hard for me as a parent to not feel angry with the other children whose immature one-liners in the group upset my highly sensitive child. As parents, we even deleted a few hate messages to avoid further outbursts from our daughter.
In the meantime, I remembered having had a conversation with a mother of an 18 year old girl who had moved to a different city to do her under-grad and mentioned that she felt #FOMO #FOBLO with her peers or room-mates as their interests didn’t match hers and she was the odd one out in the batch! I was beginning to feel that when even a teenager was struggling to handle these, exposing younger children to the idea of groups in social chat applications was not a good idea, as they are not emotionally mature enough to handle the same!
Both my spouse and I wanted to protect our daughter and wanted to persuade her to be out of these group conversations. It was hard for us to talk to our child about these suggestions. She imagined that the group would not let her join their in-person games once the lockdown was lifted and that triggered a lot of crying. We were at least glad that we knew about the content in their group conversations and we knew the cause of my daughter’s emotional outbursts! This helped us to acknowledge her feelings.
I did try to read about such digital friendships (by means of text chat and virtual gaming) that have become an accepted norm in many households across the world. I could not find much to help either parents or my daughter. I thought of writing about this and sensitise other parents about the same.
As an educator, I wanted to explore the intention behind the hate messages between the children. As I was reading the conversation threads of the children, it became clear that it was sheer boredom and the inability to find suitable activities during their long days that drag on in the lockdown. The children had unlimited access to their digital devices, gaming applications and they felt the need to somehow persuade their peers to play the virtual games, due to their need for connection.
Once I got the bigger picture and moved away from being only the parent of my child, I was beginning to empathize with the other children and also their parents who are completely unaware of the implications of the digital medium.
I was beginning to realize that incidents like this are best dealt with when the children share their phones and laptops with the parents before they graduate to having their own gadgets! It would be an opportunity for parents to discuss with the children about the impact of their digital medium interactions. What makes someone a child’s friend and helps a group to bond? How can child be part of a social group without compromising on their values, self-esteem and interests? These are some of the topics we can have conversations around to help our child deal with conflicts with their peers.
I also felt we can help children in this digital world by talking about chat etiquette and the words used in their messaging. It might be important to mention about the hidden security settings of chat applications and the legal implications as well. Regular interactions with children to understand their digital conversations with their friends will be helpful for the child as well as the parents.
*Fear Of Being Left Out & Fear Of Missing Out, for the uninitiated
Image via Canva
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A freelance story educator since 2015 under the banner of “Kadhai Kadhaiyaam”.
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