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Group Chats: The Hidden Bullying Epidemic

9 August 2023 | Posted in Student Protection

Group Chats: The Hidden Bullying Epidemic

Krystal Stevens

By Krystal Stevens

Student Protection Officer

Townsville Catholic Education

The significance of social media in the lives of children continues to grow as does their complete dependence on that constant online connection. As a result, there are now real concerns about the number of young people (as young as eight in most cases) that sleep with devices in their room and under their pillow. They are responding to messages at all hours of the night and early in the morning from “friends” all over the world that they are connected to. 

Group chats occupy a large chunk of the time that people spend online.  Whilst they can be an excellent way for many people to participate in an online conversation together, they can also be a place where drama, nasty behaviours, exclusion, and bullying can thrive. There are instances where young people have engaged in nasty behaviour about another person in a group chat and then deliberately invited that person into the chat to see those comments. The deliberate nature of this abuse makes it cyber bullying. Re-adding someone once they have left a chat can also be bullying or harassment in some cases. 

The most commonly used group chat apps are WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Discord, Messenger, and Facebook Messenger, although all online games also have built in chat functions.

Schools have a duty of care to minimise the risk of bullying and other dangers to a child, but this is so challenging to do when the behaviour is occurring on a device at home, usually being used with no supervision or monitoring in children’s bedrooms.

So, what can you do to support your children and their mental health in relation to social media? 

Implementing Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries surrounding technology should be implemented from a young age- including phones and devices being kept out of the bedroom. Young people need good uninterrupted sleep. They need a break from their 24/7 connection to technology and from communication in group chats which can get toxic. Phones and devices should always be kept out of the bedroom to enable this disconnect.

Young people also need to be supported to develop the skills to put boundaries around their friendships. We don’t have to be accessible all of the time just because technology allows that. Young people need to know that their friends will understand that their refusal to engage at every moment of the day and night has nothing to do with the state of their relationship, but rather the management of their time, their devices and their life priorities. 

Knowing when to leave  

Young people also need to be supported to develop the skills to know how to leave a group chat that is not helpful, or which is harmful in any way, including being taught the actual words they could use should they need to leave. Being in charge of their online interactions and knowing how to leave a conversation that makes them uncomfortable online or off is a vital life skill. 

Younger children should be taught to come up with statements that may help like “sorry guys, this is getting pretty nasty, I’m outta here”. Not only does this remove them from the chat, but it also points out to the other people in the chat that the behaviours may be getting out of hand.

Young people need to realise that they may be “guilty by association”, even if they aren’t saying the nasty stuff; they may be considered a bystander if they do not report it and speak up about what is happening in a group chat. 

If your child is getting constantly re-added to a group chat that they have left, that can be considered harassment. If your child is re-adding people that have left the group chat remind them that they need consent. They need to ask the permission of the person first “do you want to be re-added to the group chat” for example. 

Parenting in this space is very difficult at times, we understand that. But please set boundaries and rules from a very young age. Schools have a duty of care to minimise the risk of bullying and other dangers to a child, but it is challenging for them to do this when the device is at home, under your roof and often in your child’s bedroom. Let’s work together to make our young people’s online experiences as positive as they can be.  

You can find more information about online safety and sleep recommendations here:


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