Family group chats

A fun way to stay in touch or a Pandora’s box?

Messenger services such as WhatsApp and Threema have created ways for families to keep in touch, even across long distances. But the way different generations use these services to communicate can create funny – or infuriating – results.

Mum is typing… mum is typing… mum is typing… And after an eternity: Ping! Mum has sent a thumbs up or a crab emoji to the entire family group chat.

Messenger services such as WhatsApp and Threema have created ways for families to keep in touch, even across long distances. But the way different generations use these services to communicate can create funny — or infuriating — results.

Family group chats can be a way to stay in touch with long-distance relatives you’d otherwise only encounter during the holidays or at Grandma’s 90th birthday. But others are annoyed by the constant pings from large group chats. Here are a few rules of thumb to ensure harmony in your family group chat:

Acknowledge the differences

The youngest generations, who have grown up with smartphones, are likely much faster at typing than the silver surfers who got their first phones at 50. Autocorrect can be a blessing and a curse – it’s best to take any smartphone message with a grain of salt.

There are also going to be generational differences between how emojis are interpreted. Your grandpa’s use of an eggplant emoji is likely much more literal than how your younger cousin uses it.

Pay attention to the pace

Some family group chats are super active, with everybody sharing photos of their vacations, their kids or even their meals. But if you find that you send more photos than anyone else, it might be time to tap the brakes a bit. And let’s proclaim the days of forwarding chain letters officially over. If you’d be annoyed to see something in your email, don’t put it in a group chat.

Fine-tune your notifications

Once a group chat reaches a certain size, you’re likely to get many notifications over the course of a day. Turning off sounds for the messaging service or muting notifications for a specific group is a good solution to avoid being overloaded with family messages.

Let the conversation continue IRL

Using a messaging service to keep in touch with family, especially with those you don’t see very often, is great. But it’s still no substitute for meeting in real life and sharing spaces together.

“It’s proven to be good to be in the same room with people and actually touch them,” says media psychologist Tobias Dienlin of the University of Hohenheim in Germany. “The body reacts much differently than to digital communication.” Difficult conversations are especially better offline: There’s a higher risk for misunderstanding when using messenger services, because you miss out on information from body language and tone.

What happens in the group chat doesn’t always stay in the group chat

Earlier this year, a court in Germany made it clear that family chats are not always a joke. A man filed a lawsuit against his mother-in-law arguing that she should not be allowed to claim in a family WhatsApp group that he had mistreated his son. The court did not agree. “Within close family circles, there is no protected space, which makes it possible to express oneself freely without having to fear legal proceedings.” In plain English: In family group chats, the fur can fly. – dpa

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