Whether you have a very young son who is part of a play group or an older son in Boy Scouts or Little League, dealing with some kind of group is an inevitable part of raising your son. While engaging in group dynamics has always been a part of parenting, in the day of texting and emailing, some important cues as to message and motivation have been lost. When moms converse in a group face-to-face, the group has a chance to get to know each other, including becoming privy to the specific mannerisms and speech patterns of each member of the group. For example, one mom may say just about everything in a facetious tone simply to convey her point, while another mom takes everything completely literally. Being able to hear the tone of voice and to see the facial expressions on each person’s countenance allows all group members to get a good sense of the whole personality of each member.
As lives get busier and more moms spend at least some time at work, though, the lengthy face-to-face interactions of past times are giving way to more interaction accomplished via text and email. When a group of moms only meets occasionally, and with more of even that face-time spent perusing one’s phone or tablet computer, though, the opportunity for gaining a more complete understanding of other group members is compromised. Instead, moms get to know each other by their email addresses and phone numbers for texting.
The increased use of electronic media for communications certainly has great benefits that need not be detailed here. There are drawbacks, though, and one major one is the increased opportunity for misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and group infighting. Compare the model of years past when Mom A (who everyone in the group has had a chance to interact with personally for an extended period of time over the course of the group’s life) says, “Oh I just love it when…” In an email or a text it is not clear whether she actually loves something or whether the statement is accompanied by an eye roll and an exaggerated emphasis on the word “love,” which instantly conveys sarcasm.
Coupling these incomplete social cues with the amount of time a typical mom spends on a given email or text (not much when many people get hundreds of such messages per day) can lead to the kinds of problems outlined above. Even more problematically, because it is so easy via email and text to talk to many people at one time, what could have been contained as a conflict between two people can very easily become a conflagration overwhelming an entire group. Many moms have experienced this kind of group breakdown personally.
Is there any way to address this potential issue? The most important thing is to always be aware of the immediacy and permanence of text and email. Once you put it out there, it is almost impossible to recall it. With this in mind, always give yourself a breathing period before you respond to something a group member says over email or text. If it hits you the wrong way, ask yourself if you are interpreting the comment or question in the best possible light. Ask yourself if you know this person well enough accurately to interpret the tone of the message. Finally, always give the sender the benefit of the doubt. Precisely because of the immediacy of email and text, many people respond to all kinds of situations in knee jerk manner, completely unaware of the chain reaction they could be setting off.
Why is this phenomenon such a problem as it relates to your son’s groups? Because when the mom dynamic fails, the group is severely, sometimes fatally, compromised. If you value the group your son is a part of, whether because he loves the activity or the boys in it, you owe it him to conduct yourself in the most blameless manner possible. Acknowledge that not all moms care as much about preserving the overall positive tone of the group as you do, and continue to rise above any temptations to respond to pot-stirrers and grenade throwers (those people who either deliberately or ignorantly create trouble in a group) in kind. You will feel better personally, and your son will thank you, even if only unconsciously.