If you have a tween or teen, you've probably heard about Discord. The voice, video, and text chat app is wildly popular among kids. But for many parents, it remains a bit of a mystery. Is Discord a social media platform? Do kids play video games on it? What exactly is Discord—and most importantly, is it safe?
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Here's everything you need to know about Discord, from why kids seem to be glued to it to what they are using it for.
What Is Discord?
Discord is an app that debuted in 2015 with the goal of allowing people to communicate in real time, specifically while playing video games. Since then, it's been used for all sorts of activities, including conversing about entertainment, politics, and mental health. Some schools even use the app's features to have students work on class projects.
You can chat through texting, voice calls, or video calls on Discord. Most of the action on the site happens in servers, which are basically like chat rooms for people who have shared interests. Public servers have moderators who can remove users who are acting inappropriately. Users can also start private servers, made up of just their friends. Additionally, Discord allows for private messaging.
As for its educational applications, schools can use a Discord feature called "Student Hubs" to verify (and connect) children. This is done using one's school email address. Once verified, users can work with other students from their school to study and/or complete projects. However, it's important to note that these "hubs" are not official. They are not affiliated with or managed by the school.
How Old Do You Need To Be To Use Discord?
Discord allows people who are 13 and up to use the platform, but there is no formal verification process. It is based on the honor system. Still, Common Sense Media believes that only kids aged 13 and up should use the platform due to the fact that there are users of all ages on Discord, and it's possible that your child will come across inappropriate content.
Why Do Children Use Discord?
While many parents have a basic understanding of what Discord is—most children use the platform to do something related to video games, like Roblox, Fortnite, and PokemonGo—they may be unsure exactly what that is. Are kids playing these games in the app itself? Do they engage with friends and strangers? Who, really, are they playing with? And while these are all pertinent questions, it's important to take them one at a time.
When kids use Discord for gaming, they are playing the video game on that particular video game's platform while separately—and simultaneously—connecting with their friends on Discord. (It's like watching your favorite TV show virtually with a friend. You queue up and watch together and chat via text.) When kids use Discord for gaming, they can talk in main servers or private ones. They can also send private messages. This means that, depending on their account settings, they may be able to speak with strangers. And when kids use Discord for gaming, who they play with is determined by their gaming systems settings—not Discord. Check your child's Playstation, XBOX, Nintendo Switch, and/or Steam Deck for more information.
That said, it's important to note that kids don't just use Discord while playing video games. They also use it to chat about other common interests, like TV, entertainment, books, movies, and more. These conversations usually happen in Discord servers, which function as chat rooms that center around a particular theme. Sometimes, users join public servers related to the game they are playing or other topics, says Chris Grayson, social media expert and founder of DiscordTactics. "Other times, many kids create their own private server just to talk to friends they invite."
"Kids are attracted to Discord because it's a great way to stay connected with friends," he adds. "They can send messages, memes or just hang out in voice coms."
Is Discord Safe For Kids?
Roo Powell, founder of the nonprofit organization Safe from Online Sex Abuse (SOSA), says that, like other online platforms, Discord is a mixed bag when it comes to safety. "It's hard to give a binary 'this is safe and this is not safe' rating to social media and communications platforms," says Powell. "Any platform where there's a possibility to communicate with another person is one that can be used to harm children in some capacity."
That being said, Powell says that the platform does have some features that make it safer than other platforms. For example, there's a setting that allows only users who are "friends" with your child to direct message them. You can also restrict incoming friend requests, says Powell.
"Whether or not your child has a safe experience also comes down to which servers they join," says Grayson. "Many servers are 18 and up, where profanity, sexual content, and links to violent material are commonplace." But you can make sure your child joins servers aimed toward younger children.
In addition, Grayson says that kids should report any inappropriate conduct that happens in a public server to the server's moderators. Parents can also consider using some of the safety features that Discord offers. "Some features allow you to block and report users, as well as restrict access to certain channels," he explains.
How to Have The 'Internet Safety Talk' With Your Child
Still, no matter what you do, you have to be aware that if your child is using Discord, they may be opening themselves up to bullying, harassment, foul language, pornographic images, and online predators, says Powell. This is why it's important to have an open and honest dialogue with your child, particularly as they begin to explore apps like Discord.
Powell suggests looking through the app together. "Sit down with your kid and pull up the platform so you can talk through worrisome servers, harmful language, or DM requests," she suggests. "Walking through these features and issues together gives you the opportunity to talk through them in real time, rather than give abstract rules or warnings."
You don't have to just focus on the harmful or scary stuff, though, says Powell. While you explore the app with your child, you can help your child identify age-appropriate servers and help them find content they connect with and find exciting.
After this initial conversation, checking in with your child about Discord—and their online activity in general—should become a routine part of life. "The best way a parent can keep a child safe on Discord is to know exactly what servers their child has joined and to browse the channels regularly," says Grayson. "This will help you catch any problems early and prevent them from getting into difficult situations."