The Mess in iMessage (and What Parents Can Do)

There are no two ways about it: iMessage is handy–and young people love it. iMessage, Apple’s instant message service, is a platform for texting with Wi-Fi. It’s free* for anyone texting over Wi-Fi using an iOS device or Mac.

The Mess in iMessage

As convenient as iMessage is, sometimes—particularly with immature users—it can be messy. Here are a few problems and scenarios to be aware of.

  • iMessage is a native app. That means it is built into the device, so there’s no way to delete it or disable it.
  • iMessage works wherever there is Wi-Fi, which includes school. Students have been clearly instructed that iMessage is not allowed at school, but for some the temptation is too strong. It’s the digital equivalent of passing notes. Kids who are home sick don’t have the same rules and might text students at school. Guess who gets in trouble?
  • Group messages are really useful for group work, but they tend to cause problems for immature users. More below.

Group Message Messes

In theory, group messages can be really useful for group work. Everyone in the group can easily connect to ask questions and share resources. Here’s how it works. One person creates a group by creating a list of recipients. He types a message and everyone in the group receives it. One group member replies and everyone in the group receives the reply. Handy for homework, but you can see the potential problems if it’s used socially.

Faulty System

For some strange reason, Apple did not include a way to remove oneself from a group message. Everyone in the group is at the mercy of the creator of the group. Until that person deletes the message and group, it goes on…and on.

A Messy Scenario

Kelly likes to share jokes, so she sets up an iMessage group with 50 of her closest friends. She sends out a joke to the group. Around the city’s north side, 50 iPads PING! and 50 students stop their homework to check the message. Maybe only Sallyanne responds with “LOL.” Again, 50 iPads (and maybe a few linked iPhones) PING! 50 students stop their homework again to check their messages and they see Sallyanne’s “LOL.” But if Sallyanne and 9 others respond with “LOL,” or “So lame,” or an emoticon, the iPads PING! 50 times—all because of one stupid joke.

It’s maddening, highly distracting, and hardly conducive to homework completion. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it (except Kelly, who created the group.)

If there’s someone in the group who takes their iPad to bed and thinks of a witty retort at 11:58 PM, guess what happens at 11:59 PM? 50 iPads around the city’s north side PING! At 12:00 AM, one hundred grumpy parents yell, “Turn that thing off!”

This is a common example of a group iMessage mess. But it can get messier.

Someone in the group, Markie, thinks Sallyanne’s sense of humour is off.

He texts: “You’re such a loser, SA.”

She replies: “Shut up, Markie, you dweeb.”

He replies: “You shut up, B***H. Nobody likes you. COW.”

Someone else in the group: “hehehe. So fat.”

It doesn’t take long for things to go sour. The cyber-fighting nastiness is witnessed by 48 others, some of whom are amused. Others are frustrated or upset. They’re all implicated.

Cleaning up iMessage Messes

We’re stuck with iMessage, so we have to teach kids how to manage themselves. The school has rules and consequences. Homes should also have rules and consequences. Of course, they have to match the age and maturity level. For students in middle school (where, due to immaturity, iMessage is messiest) consider these rules:

  1. When texting, use the language and manners expected of you. Rudeness, swearing, and cruelty are not acceptable.
  2. No texting after 8:30 PM or during school hours (even if you’re not at school.)
  3. Group chats are not allowed, even for homework. If you created a group chat, delete it now. If you have been included in a group, tell the originator to delete the message.

Maybe you think an outright ban of group messages is overkill. They’re useful after all. In that case, if your child is mature enough to manage him/herself, allow group messages with some rules: Keep the group small—no more than five members. All the recipients have to give their okay to be included.

Setting the rules is the first step. Enforcing them is the essential second. Let your kids know spot checks are part of your House Rules. Open up your child’s iMessage every week and make sure you agree with the content. Look for group messages and find out if your child created it. Only s/he can delete it. Working together we can minimise the iMessage mess!

Want to Know More?

*For a more detailed explanation of how iMessage works, check out this article.

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Blue image from iCreate: http://www.icreatemagazine.com/icreate-blog/ios-7-mac-icons-project-messages