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On thin ice

Toxic WhatsApp chats and chalet chauvinism

Hot House

This article is taken from the May 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Major e-safety saga at Lyra’s school. It all began innocently enough. One girl started a WhatsApp group for all pupils not going on the Easter ski trip — this having been a massive bone of contention. Lyra was included in this group, because I was too tight to send her, having just spent a small ISA on picture framing.

Side note — surely I’m not alone in apparently spending the majority of my income on picture framing? Why is it so insanely expensive? These were, like, tiny prints. From sodding Etsy. I know. Tough times.

The WhatsApp group for ski-deprived children was rumbling on as usual

Anyway, the WhatsApp group for ski-deprived children was apparently rumbling on in the usual fashion, full of tween rage at the unfairness of life and the “arrogance” of the skiing cohort. Then it turned distinctly toxic.

I do have a vague recollection of Lyra telling me the group chat had “got a bit heated”. But the chance of me listening to anything either of the girls say about their phones is nil to minus one. I know, this makes me a terrible mother. I well remember my conviction, when they were toddlers, that I would set “boundaries around screen time”. And even, I think, that I wouldn’t let them have phones until they were 16. LOL.

But since 99 per cent of their conversation now relates to their phones, how am I supposed to know what to tune out and what to “act on”, as they say in parenting parlance?

Anyway, mid-April we suddenly get an email from the head — not head of year — actual head of school, summoning all parents to an urgent meeting. Apparently the chat on the ski-deprived WhatsApp group was so objectionable she was considering cancelling a visit from some singer-songwriter (not Ed Sheeran but same idea) as punishment. Not a major deterrent, in my opinion, but hey.

Immediately the parents’ WhatsApp group blew up. Of course most of the noise was from all the parents whose kids did go on the ski trip. “This has literally nothing to do with my child!” “It’s utterly unacceptable that Allegra is being punished for a week in Meribel.” “I’m sorry, WHAT? Cassius doesn’t even have a phone.” “Noooooo! Atlas has literally been looking forward to the concert for months!”

Even fathers were required to attend the meeting (unheard of). The mood in the room was tense to say the least. We were shown screen grabs, on a giant projector, of shockingly unpleasant messages the 12-year-olds had sent each other. Profile names were obscured, so that we were all then in the deeply tween situation of trying to guess which 12-year-old had said what, and what this revealed about their parents.

Even fathers were required to attend the meeting (unheard of)

Felt initial relief that Lyra had not written anything incriminating — anything much at all, in fact. Though the head then went on a rant about how not speaking up was tantamount to contributing. Cue me staying awake for hours that night wondering why my children have so little integrity. And Will huffing that we should have sent her to Meribel.

End result — five temporary exclusions, but the show (with Ed Sheeran-lite) will go on. TBH I think they only excluded so many because there’s an Independent Schools Inspection looming and they want to make the classes look extra tiny. Anyway, Lyra will now be in a class of four. WTF? With three girls she hates — cue another toxic WhatsApp group.

Of course Hector is now hard-campaigning for a phone, having witnessed the drama. Told him he could have one if he learned his tables. No chance.

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