If you asked me the best way to stay in touch with various mothers groups, school committees, parents from sports teams and Scouts, I’d say WhatsApp. If you asked what often causes the most stress in my life, the answer would be the same.
It’s not just that it buzzes constantly (I’m not even all that popular, I’d hate to see what a super social person deals with), it’s what those notifications can mean. Funny joke, or additional “would you mind” request? A cute piece of celeb gossip, or a new gathering to try and squeeze in the diary.
And yeah, you can turn off the notifications, I’ve tried it. But then you risk missing out on the important stuff and offending parents who take your deafening silence the wrong way.
The trouble with switching off
Yes, my story does ultimately end with how I silenced the notifications and checked in a few times a day when I had some spare time and life became hunky dory once more. But it’s not quite that simple, is it? Because the above is still true – you DO miss all kinds of fun news, you do start getting asked if everything is ok…and don’t get me started on scoring the jobs no one else wants to do in the school/ sports related groups.
The experts agree that using these apps isn’t all bad, which can make them harder to ignore. “These apps can keep you connected to friends or family, regardless of where anyone is in the world; they can make you feel part of a community that you may not be able to physically participate in very often due to location, or other commitments for example,” says Dr Lauren Rosewarne.
They also serve a practical purpose, providing a paper trail of discussions that can later be consulted to confirm details. But Dr Rosewarne notes these apps are supposed to help rather than hinder your life, so it's important to recognise whether they are working in your favour or against it.
Practicalities aside, it can also become a question of fighting a psychological need to constantly check the phone. Essentially, research has shown checking our phones give us a dopamine hit, which is why you sometimes find yourself frantically checking and rechecking your phone your brain gets into a cycle of seeking a reply and being satisfied by the “hit” said reply provides. The more you do it, the more you feed it. And let’s be honest, the curiosity factor can make it hard to resist checking to see what’s happening.
Keep calm and turn off read receipts
As well as running the risk of looking unprofessional at work (or walking into a street sign while staring at your screen!) if you’re using these apps around your kids, you’re setting a bad example that may set them up for “bad” tech behaviour in the future. While you might think “oh, but I’m doing for them, so it’s ok," all they are really seeing is it is normal and desirable to quickly respond to anything that comes through your phone, to the point of prioritising it over paying attention to the people you are with.
That’s why turning off the cues to our dopamine loop is so crucial, and useful. By switching off notifications and manually checking at pre-set times (for example, at the start of the hour, or every couple of hours – whatever is practical for you), we won’t be sitting there trying not to salivate and check every beep and ping. If you’re still hearing or seeing notifications flash up, it preoccupies us – “ooh, I wonder what it says, I wonder if it is important”- you’ll be once again focused on your phone, even if you’re not looking at it.
Dr Rosewarne points out nearly all the messages that come through on these apps are not that important in the scheme of things. Allowing messages to go unanswered conveys the message that not every ping needs to be leapt upon is an important lesson to give younger people about not letting technology hijack our lives. Bonus tip: turn off the read receipt function, and no one will know it’s taken you half a day respond.