Why don’t dads engage with school WhatsApp groups? This is something that has long bothered me. It’s also an issue that comes to light annually as each new academic year gets underway.
In September, new messaging groups, often alongside Facebook pages, are set up as children join new classes. As the main carer for my kids, I join these school-focused messaging groups. With a couple of very notable exceptions, however, every year I find I am the only dad to participate.
I struggle with this for a variety of reasons. On the one hand I feel deep frustration that guys don’t make a greater effort to engage with these groups. On the other, I feel more could be done to encourage dads to get involved with them.
It’s a very sad situation. Many men are missing out on a chance to engage with their child’s school and also miss out on what can be a very important source of informal support.
Firstly, we need to look at why these chat groups and social media pages exist. I think there’s a very unhelpful perception that they are places where parents, particularly mums, go to gossip (Note my language: I say this is an unhelpful perception). I was very wary of joining my first school WhatsApp group for this reason but once I did, I was very impressed at the level of discussion.
Yes, I have seen stupid remarks and ill-informed political debate from time to time. In my experience, it’s less than I was expecting and less than I see from other sources, probably because these groups have a reasonably well-defined aim.
So what is that aim? I say school messaging groups exist to do three things:
- Disseminate information about school life
- Provide support to other parents regardless of status or background (nuclear families, same sex, single parent, foster, adoptive, step etc.)
- Encourage participation in school life and the school community.
There is absolutely no reason why a father should not be interested in these three issues. It’s for this reason I think more dads should make the effort to engage with them and why they should be encouraged to do so.
“So why not set up a group for dads?” I hear you say. It’s a question I’ve been asked several times over the years in one form or another.
There is unquestionably a place for gendered support and there is definitely a place for providing support to dads (read about the wonderful work done by Dope Black Dads to support its community of fathers). While I’m all for providing more support for dads, I personally take quite a dim view of the idea that dads and mums should have separate communication channels if it’s focused around school life.
I posted something about this on Instagram recently and I got a very interesting response from one mum. She was all for having a non-gendered WhatsApp group, but other mums objected saying the dads would want to talk about “other things.” If dads are excluded from the very beginning, they will indeed talk about other things and it doesn’t take too much thought to figure out why.
The aim of these groups is to encourage engagement with the school community. To achieve that, you need the entire school community to feel welcomed. Encouraging dads to have their own communication channel is a bit like telling them to sit on the naughty step. It says to them “You’re not important enough to receive this information” and it also takes no account of atypical families like my own where I, dad, am the main carer for my kids while my wife works full time.
The level of support and information I require as the main carer for my kids is entirely different to a full-time working dad (or mum). I need to know the granular detail of school life. I need to know when the class assembly is and where the lost property box is and I often need this information quickly.
The harsh reality is that full time working dads rarely have to deal with this stuff (this may sound like I’m contradicting myself but I’m building up to a punchline!). Full time working dads tend to have a greater parenting role focused on leisure time. They probably know the weekend opening times of the local swimming pool, but they are unlikely to know which of the school office staff is best to speak to when you need to get an urgent message to your child at 1435hrs.
If I was shunted over to a group for dads simply because I am a man, I would lose access to the kind of information I need and want as the main carer for my kids. Likewise, by placing men in their own silo, they are being cut out from receiving this information. It may be information they rarely rely upon, but at least they would feel included and their level of knowledge about school life would improve.
I was once chatting to a dad about his school’s WhatsApp group for fathers. He explained that it offered little value and mostly seemed to involve swapping funny videos.
It’s hardly surprising that this happened. The guys were excluded from the chats and discussions relevant to school life. In response they started having a laugh instead.
Don’t misunderstand me. If guys want to set up their own chat group for fun and to be social, I’m all for it. If the aim is so support school life and encourage engagement with the school community, this approach will probably fail.
For those dads who don’t see it as their place to be involved with their school messaging groups and social media channels, I say think again. You definitely have a place and should contribute to the school community.
Likewise, some Parent Teacher Associations need to rethink their approach. PTAs are often responsible for messaging groups and social media channels, yet naming them “Mums of…blah blah school” (as I have seen done) will do nothing to encourage male participation.
I’ll finish this post with a challenge for you. Take a look at your school’s chat groups and social media channels. Who are the main contributors? How many dads are involved? Why aren’t they involved? Is enough being done to encourage them to engage? Do leave a comment with your thoughts, I have a feeling many people may have opinions on this subject!