In Volgograd, one man beat another to death because of the conversation in a class-chat room. This terrible story made everyone, who laughed at and mocked class-chat rooms and what occurs in them, shudder. It turns out that a carelessly spoken word recorded in the messenger history may be fatal. It was initially thought that such a chat is the most convenient tool of our time that allows us quickly and jointly solve school issues, convey important information to everyone, discuss problems, and participate in school life, in general.
The conversation in the Volgograd parent chat room on when children should do their homework turned first into an argument between the mother of one of the students and Roman Grebenyuk, the single father of a 12-year-old schoolgirl. The woman thought that she was insulted and included her husband in the conversation. The husband threatened the man with violence.
On October 23, in a bank facility, the brother of the offended participant of the quarrel hit the offender’s head with a brass knuckles several times. Without regaining consciousness, Roman Grebenyuk died in intensive care on November 1.
Why do people fight in parent chats?
It has long been noticed that platforms where people discuss parental issues is a much more aggressive environment than any other “interest clubs”. No analysis of a football match, no reducing diet discussion would ever even come close to parent forums in terms of the emotion degree of the discussion.
Unfortunately, school chats are the places where the specific human trait to be sensitive to everything related to children is most pronounced. You do not even need a conflict for chat participants to attack each other: the most peaceful discussion of general issues by people who are connected to each other solely on having children in the same class can suddenly result in a mutual exchange of accusations and insults.
In Volgograd, the fatal quarrel began with a stormy conversation about the time when children should take the Russian language test. Yet, absolutely any topic can flare up like gunpowder. To offend someone, you do not even have to personally say something unpleasant to them.
Here is a classic situation. There is a conversation about the class budget or some joint expenses for gifts, excursions, or new curtains: as soon as someone notes that the amount of money is quite large, someone else definitely writes something like “I do not save money on my children”. And that is it. A scandal starts right off the bat because it is such phrases that seem innocent but hurt the most and wake up angry tigresses in peaceful housewives and furious buffaloes in office workers.
And, frankly, sometimes the content is not so important. In such chats, where the environment is so often tense, anything could be a trigger: spelling errors, excessive emotionality of interlocutors, communication style, cheerful emojis, greeting images and videos, long message threads, flood, jokes, and so on. God forbid if there is actually a reason!… A conflict between children becomes the conflict between parents on the same day and it can also result in an offline conflict.
In communities where very different people are associated by a rather random factor that their children are in the same class or kindergarten group, it cannot be otherwise.
There is a good analogy with your apartment building: you and many of your neighbors live in the building. On the one hand, you are linked to them by common issues: the building maintenance, remodeling, leaking roof, and you have to spend a lot of time side by side. On the other hand, no one is making you become close friends with them and visit each other’s apartments (you certainly will not be able to establish such relationship with all your neighbors). Therefore, it is highly desirable to maintain good neighborly relationship and not to say or do anything that will make you stop greeting each other when you meet. Although, as we all perfectly understand, there is a million of potential conflict and irritation sources in one apartment building: someone smokes on the stairs out of habit, someone improperly parks the car in the yard, someone plays the piano all day, and someone uses too smelly perfume in the morning.
The same can be said about a school chat. You will spend some time together, but this does not mean that you will become best friends. Yet, it would be good if you retain the possibility to constructively discuss the leaky roof, that is, new curtains with other parents and do not become enemies for many years.
The school chat in the Volgograd tragedy is the place where a quarrel occurred, but ultimately any conversation could have ended in the same way: in a bus, hospital, restaurant, or, at least, in the same bank facility. Everywhere where people, who have little in common and belong to different social groups, interact with each other. If we open a report of incidents, we will see that almost every day something like this happens somewhere: someone said something and was beaten for it.
The chat, perhaps, only fueled the quarrel with the effect that is peculiar to the Internet communication: we speak with our interlocutors much more crudely than we would allow ourselves to do in offline communication. It creates a false sense of anonymity and interposition. And, alas, in this story, the classic stereotype about Internet communication fell apart: the stereotype that no one would ever implement their threats made on the Internet.
Humanity got the Internet and all those incredible opportunities it offers too early, long before people developed a sensible approach to it and began to take responsibility for what they do there. However, a combination of unlimited opportunities and a lack of rules has never led to anything good, and school chats are a vivid example of this.
Problems and, as we now know, tragedies start where a chat is a community of people united, by default, with good intensions towards their own children, where it is a priori assumed that adults will somehow figure out how to behave in a chat.
Is it possible to communicate calmly?
The most calm, conflict-free, business-like, and sensible chat is, alas, the one, where strict rules are set, where there are responsibilities for their violation and a person who administers and monitors the chat.
I know one such school chat. However, it is not a parent chat. This is a chat for elementary school students who have discovered the wonderful world of messengers when they started school. Realizing that the communication of children in chats is inevitable, the form teacher took the lead, created a chat for her class, and took over the role of the administrator. Then she invited children to discuss for themselves what the chat rules should be.
And you know what, the kids did great. Better than some adults.
They decided that they should not flood on irrelevant topics as it is a school chat: they should discuss only school-related issues.
No spam, surveys, greeting cards and videos, or messages that need to be sent to a hundred other recipients.
No arguments and rudeness.
They write strictly from 1 pm (they have classes before this time) till 8 pm (it is time to go to bed).
In a school chat, they discuss only things that may be interesting to everyone. Everything that concerns a small group of people is discussed in private chats.
In fact, it was enough for the chat rooms to become a platform for business, respectful and productive communication. Rule violators receive warnings. The second warning is followed by an exception from the chat for two days. In prospect, repeated violations can result in a ban, but the chat exists for several years and there has not been a single case when someone was banned.
I believe that if adults also create a set of rules before they organize a group chat on a virtual platform, it would significantly change the nature of chat communication and ultimately contribute to these chats no longer being a foci of tension and a chronic source of irritation.
And although there are people who do not care about any rules, in the case of school children, the presence of such boundaries allows people to keep even well-known hooligans in check. If not, the chat administrator can always ban a violator and restore peace in the chat (although, as it turns out, actions in a school chat are not safe). It is important that there is such a responsible and reasonable person who is ready to take on this responsibility (it is often one of the active mothers, a representative of the parent committee, or sometimes a teacher if they are in the chat, but, of course, this is an additional burden on their already overloaded shoulders).
When should you not cross boundaries?
Children, however, do not face with at least two situations that should be noted separately in the rules for parents: a conflict between children and the participation of parents in school affairs.
When a child comes home with a black eye, there is a huge temptation to immediately nail the abuser’s parents to the pillory and call all other 20, 30, 40 moms and dads to witness. However, it is extremely dangerous to do this, because, of course, for most parents, their children are always right. Perhaps, in an ideal school chat, such discussions are forbidden.
And the second situation is an attempt to solve intra-school problems that do not require parents’ attention. For example, a lesson disruption is a case that needs to be addressed by the teacher and students, perhaps, with the involvement of other school forces, perhaps, with selective participation of parents (by the school’s decision). Yet, if parents assume the school functions and try to resolve the situation, and in a chat at that, it would almost certainly provoke a conflict.
The situation when parents try to take over the school functions is very typical for out time. For the lines have almost blurred for us, as schools interfere in the family territory without noticing it, when schools require parents to participate in children’s schooling by giving them such an amount of tasks that the child does not have time for family life and so on. And so do parents when they go to school without hesitation to intervene in its workflow and try to organize it as they see fit.
Therefore, situations that should be solved internally with the involvement of a psychologist, social pedagogue, principal and so on, according to the algorithm developed over the years, suddenly pop up in the parent chat and become the subject of heated discussions, after which parents go to a teacher, principal, headmaster, the Ministry of Education, Putin, and upset all the cards.
Another violation of boundaries is when online and offline environments in our time smoothly flow into each other, and virtual threats and showdowns, as we now know, easily become non-virtual. This was the case before, but to a lesser extent: insults and gossip from chats were brought to teacher and other parents’ attention, and they caused quarrels, resentment, and mutual hostility.
Now we know that they can also cause a very real, non-virtual death.
We are in such chat rooms for our children
We have so often said that we live in difficult times that now we have nothing to say. Although today is objectively different from November 3 of any previous year, and perhaps, parents, whose children are either on online learning or can get transferred to it at any moment, feel this especially acutely. For many of us, the current situation is very stressful, tense, and emotionally difficult to comprehend.
This is the time of much more sharp reactions and severe consequences that in previous years might have passed almost unnoticed. It is the time when people subconsciously look for the guilty and easily lose their temper. It is the time when we lack communication and very sensitively perceive what does not coincide with our opinion. It is the time when the state of high anxiety makes a time bomb out of many of us, and it is unknown when and for what reason it will go off.
So, let’s make sure that we all feel calm if not good in those places, where we definitely should not be in any danger, either emotionally or physically.
After all, we are in these chat rooms for our children. They look at us. They hear what words we use to call other parents. They see everything, even when we think that they do not. They will go to school tomorrow and find out what we have said and written in the messenger from other children. One day, they will repeat what we do, say the words we say, feel the emotions we project.
Do we really want this?
Translated by Julia Frolova