WhatsApp ‘mum’s groups’ are stifling children’s development, say experts

whatsappMothers’ groups on WhatsApp are harming their children’s development, according to psychologists.

A growing trend has seen mothers of pupils in the same class setting up chat groups on the messenger service to discuss their children’s progress and school-related problems – a great idea in practice, say child mental health experts, since parents are encouraged to become actively involved in their kids’ education.

But it is going too far, psychologists say.

Messages such as, “Can someone send me the English worksheet?” “What else have they got for homework?” and “Can someone send me a photo of page X in their textbook, because my son/daughter has lost his/hers,” are commonplace and, as psychologist Carmen Bermejo Romero says, lead to ‘nannying’ children and not teaching them to cope with day-to-day life.

If parents ‘take over’, pupils do not need to remember what homework they have to do or which lessons they need to take books to, and these ‘management skills’ are never learnt, she says.

And if children are not taught to think for themselves, they do not trust their own judgment when they eventually have to as older teenagers and adults.

“We’re dealing with things that our children have to do for themselves, and are able and actually willing to do for themselves,” warns psychologist Silvia Álava.

“As well as stifling them, it sends out the message, ‘don’t worry, mummy will do it all for you’ – which means the child does not acquire self-confidence and self-trust.

“This has negative consequences for the child’s self-esteem, both in childhood and adulthood.”

The psychologists say the groups are an excellent idea, as long as they are used properly.

“It allows you to find out about problems at school – especially as we can’t be like our own mothers were with us; we can’t be at the school gates every day and find out what’s been happening,” admits Raquel, mum of two primary-school-aged daughters who works full-time.

“These groups keep you posted – they replace the chatting at the school gates waiting for the kids which we can’t have these days as our own parents did, because we work,” says Encarna.

“There are groups and groups, but a lot depends upon common sense.”

“Sometimes there’s conflict, because messages are misinterpreted, and yes, sometimes they do turn into a battleground between divorced parents. But the peace of mind it gives me to know that our children are going to grow up together and that their mums are my friends makes up for it all,” adds María.

Some mums say it helps them to discuss and resolve fall-outs between their children, but psychologists strongly advise against this.

“Children’s problems should remain in children’s domain. Mothers should not resolve, question or compare,” stresses Silvia Álava.

“Problems which arise between children and which need to be resolved on a child-like level, but if mothers interfere, bringing adult logic into them, it stops the children learning how to solve problems and confrontation between them on their own and creates unhealthy dependency,” Carmen Bermejo adds.

The best thing parents can do in these situations is build a relationship with their children where they will talk about troubles with their classmates, advise them and discuss these issues with them to help them reach a solution, the experts say.

Parental intervention should only be resorted to where a child is being bullied or the conflict is extreme and affects the pupil’s mental or physical health or performance in class.

Teachers agree with the psychologists’ views and say face-to-face chats with tutors themselves are the way to get involved in their children’s education, not via a ‘cold and impersonal’ phone-message forum.

They also criticise how mothers’ WhatsApp groups can end up undermining their own work.

“It’s impossible for a teacher to completely satisfy over 30 sets of parents,” said a PTA leader in Madrid.

“But now, if a parent has a poor relationship with a teacher, it is too easy for him or her to spread it around and start rumours on social networks, leading to a breakdown in this relationship among lots of other parents, too.”

Forensic psychologist and former Children’s Ombudsman in Madrid, Javier Urra, says the groups themselves are not a negative idea, but the way they are used can be as parents try to ‘educate’ children instead of letting the teachers do it, or are unable to see the boundaries between what should be parents’, children’s and teachers’ responsibilities.

And the ‘bad mother complex’ is partly to blame, with mums overcompensating out of fear they may be failing at their role.

“The truth is that parenting has never been done so well as it is today,” Urra admits, “but that doesn’t take away the fact that children must be given their own space.

“It’s fine for parents to talk to each other but, close personal friendship aside, this should be the bare minimum and only where necessary. Children are all very different individuals and have very different behaviour.

“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not work. Communication should be one-on-one, and always between child and parent, and pupil and teacher – outside interference adds nothing.”

Published Think Spain 21 May 2016

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