Whatsapp groups are causing untold stress. And that's just the parents' groups.
By Kate Hilpern
What a great idea, I thought, when a mum in the playground suggested we start up a class Whatsapp group. Messages such as ‘Don’t forget it’s mufti day today’ and ‘Anyone have any size 2 football boots they’re getting rid of?’ would surely be much more conducive to instant smartphone messaging with real time alerts than group emails that inevitably clog up your inbox and get lost in the system. And, when my son yet again forgot his spellings, I could simply whiz over a request for the first person to see the message to send a photo of them.
So imagine my surprise when, on day one, our class rep entered the ‘chat’ to say the headteacher disapproved of class Whatsapp groups, after which we were all removed (except for the girls’ mums who decided to stay in under the premise of making it easier to organise birthday parties – but that’s another story). I was livid. Who were these people to tell grown adults how to communicate?
But then I did some digging. Most parents told me I was bonkers to go anywhere near class Whatsapp groups. ‘They can be full of vicious gossip about teachers’, ‘The parents are worse than the kids when it comes to nastiness’, ‘Get ready for the barrage of never-ending messages about any old rubbish’ were just a few of the (almost all) negative comments.
On Mumsnet, there are pages of rants about these groups. On one thread, class Whatsapp group users are broken down into types, including the ‘alright hon’ brigade ‘who share any old s***’ and for whom everything is ‘amazing babe’; the ‘informer’ who likes to be able to be the first to break all school news to everyone even though it’s been emailed; and the ‘school can do no wrong’ crowd who – if anyone questions the logic of anything the school is doing – are ready to pounce and accuse people of being unsupportive.
Other categories apparently include the ‘on it all day’ set who comment on everything; the ‘wind up merchants’ who comment just to poke at the ‘alright hon’ lot; and the ‘what’s for lunch’ set every day at 8.55am – ‘read the bloody menu’. If only it could be reduced to genuinely useful information like, ‘school is shut, it’s snowing,’ pleaded one mum.
‘No class whatsapp here,’ said another. ‘There was/is a Facebook group but I left when some parents got nasty and the head started threatening legal action.’
Don’t forget the ‘health scare mum’, says another parent – these ones send messages such as, ‘does this rash look like scarlet fever? The Dr says it is but I'm not sure so I've sent KellyAnn to school anyway but now I am not sure????’ And the ‘they've misspelt Wedsday’ in the school letter ‘and they're teaching our kids to reeeeeaad’ group.
So it goes on. To say it’s a complex world to navigate sounds like the understatement of the year, although it’s the mean mums that worry me the most. ‘Yes the power bitches are now coming at you digitally and what gets me is they are often the ones that make out so meek and mild face to face,’ says one mum. Not dissimilar to the women who hurl vitriol at the end of Daily Mail articles, then.
The truth is, I could do with a few informer mums in my life – I seem to miss at least one school email a week. And if the ‘alright hon’ set feel a greater sense of community for typing messages to their heart’s content, that’s also fine(ish). Even the ‘what’s for lunch?’ don’t really bother me – it’s probably no less annoying than my regular request for spellings would be. But the rest sound frankly petrifying.
At secondary school, class Whatsapp groups are even more common. ‘Without the opportunity to chat in the school playground, a social media group can be a godsend,’ a mum in my daughter’s year 7 class reassured me. Fair point, thought me, albeit shaking in my boots as I passed over my contact details. So far, so good, though – we’re one term in and there have only been two messages and they were about lost property items. And that’s it. Maybe we’re all petrified. And maybe, just maybe, the headteacher at our primary school was right.