Updated: Nov 19
Remember back to when we were able to schedule playdates for our kids? They were often challenges, but coordination happened and moms were busily chatting on a bench, coffee/tea in hand while kids used imagination and played on a nearby playground or even better, a McDonald‘s Playplace (you can tell what was popular for us).
But teens don’t take kindly to scheduled play dates, although there may be some eagerness to grab a tray and hit that slide at McD’s. Our kids connect so differently and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These kids are used to multitasking, after all they’ve grown up watching us do it, The difference is they’re much better at it. It’s why they insist that the Spotify playlist streaming from their phone, the notifications from DM’s, and the YouTube video streaming in the background are not a distraction.
They connect with their friends in the same way. I watched my kids as teens, play a video game, stream music, and chat on a voice server with their friends. Some nights they’d all be in sync, all of them on a voice server while one of them streamed a movie. Sometimes their webcams were on to enjoy each other’s reactions, other times an icon or avatar would replace their camera feed. Either way, this was their version of hanging out on the living room sofa.
The rise in use can be thanked in large part to 2020 and the “you know what” (CV19). Discord rose up among voice channel platforms and took things to another level so that teens were able to meet up virtually. It became Zoom on steroids, but without the secure connection and safety protocols.
So is Discord the best thing that ever happened to gamers, or is it a Wild West of inappropriate content? Here is how the platform describes itself:
People use Discord daily to talk about many things, ranging from art projects and family trips to homework and mental health support. It’s a home for communities of any size, but it’s most widely used by small and active groups of people who talk regularly.
The vast majority of servers are private, invite-only spaces for groups of friends and communities to stay in touch and spend time together. There are also larger, more open communities, generally centered around specific topics such as popular games like Minecraft and Fortnite. All conversations are opt-in, so people have total control over who they interact with and what their experience on Discord is.
But is it as safe as my teen claims?
As Common Sense Media points out: Because it’s all user-generated, there’s plenty of inappropriate content, like swearing and graphic language and images (though it’s entirely possible to belong to a group that forbids these). You can hide your real identification on Discord. So, potential online predators are able to use this feature to hide behind anonymity and potentially prey on your kids.
Also, Discord also has “NSFW” channels and servers that require users to be 18 or older to join (but it’s easy to click through the verification). If you're wondering about more of the dangers, check out the link below for Defend Young Minds.
Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the App
What is Discord?
Discord is a free app for mobile and PC that lets people chat via text, voice, or video in real time. Combining the internet-calling features of Skype with Reddit-like discussion boards, it's broadened from gamers-only to a social networking site for communities of all types, including those with non-gaming interests like anime, TV series, music, and more. It can also be an easy-to-use group-chatting tool for friends.
How old should you be to use Discord?
Discord requires that users be at least 13 years old, although they do not verify users' age upon sign-up. Common Sense Media also recommends Discord users be at least 13 due to its open chat. Because it's all user-generated, there's plenty of inappropriate content, like swearing and graphic language and images (though it's entirely possible to belong to a group that forbids these). Discord also has "NSFW" channels and servers that require users to be 18 or older to join (but it's easy to click through the verification).
What are servers on Discord?
Servers are the main communities on Discord, often focused on a single game or topic. Anyone on the app can create a server upon sign-up. There are private servers that require an invitation to join as well as public servers that anyone can take part in. Servers are broken up into text channels and voice channels, and some have bots (computer programs that mimic human interaction) that do automatic moderation, welcoming, and community management. Discord doesn't have an in-app way to search for servers unless you've already joined them, so users have to be invited directly or else find out about them from other sources, like friends or social media.
Is Discord safe?
With the right privacy settings and monitoring, it's easy to use Discord safely. However, there's always a risk when it comes to sites and apps with open chat. The safest way to use Discord is to only accept friend requests and participate in private servers with people you already know. Although it's rare, there have been a handful of cases where predators have targeted kids by using Discord's public servers to send direct messages (DMs). Even though most server moderators (and other users) are often quick to police this kind of behavior, kids and parents should know how to recognize and deal with creeps and online predators.
How is Discord related to Minecraft and Fortnite?
Minecraft, Fortnite, and Pokemon Go are a few of the games with particularly big followings on Discord, especially for tweens and teens. There are plenty of public servers dedicated to those games but also tons of private servers that friends use to chat while they play together. For example, a squad on Fortnite could create a private server on Discord to chat and strategize together in order to avoid the public chat on Fortnite itself. Discord also allows an in-game "overlay" for Fortnite and other PC games, so gamers can use Discord to chat directly within those games (instead of having the app open in the background or using the in-game chat).
Are there privacy settings for Discord?
Discord has a wide array of privacy and safety settings that allow users to control who has the ability to send them direct messages or add them as a friend. Its "Safe Direct Messaging" feature can automatically scan and delete direct messages containing explicit content (although this isn't foolproof, and it doesn't apply outside of DMs). Discord also lets its users decide whether the app can collect and use their data for customization or analytics purposes, which is a nice change of pace from other social apps that provide no insight or control over your data. To view and change your privacy settings, select the "User Settings" gear icon by your username, then choose the "Privacy & Safety" menu item.
Are there parental controls for Discord?
At this time, Discord doesn't offer parental controls, so there's no way for parents to restrict content or password-protect the privacy settings within the app.
How does Discord chat work?
Each server on Discord has both text and voice channels. Text channels allow people to type messages to each other, while voice channels let people use the microphone and speakers on their device to talk to each other. Users can directly invite friends to a specific chat channel, or you can join a channel after being invited to a server. Some channels have limits on how many people can join, which are set by the server owners. Server owners can also set their own rules for what is or isn't allowed (for example, swearing or hate speech) and block from chat users who break the rules.
Can you share images or video on Discord?
You can share images, video, and GIFs on Discord either in text channels or direct messages (voice channels are audio only). Discord also allows for video chat and screen sharing in direct messages.
Is Discord just for gaming content?
You don't have to play video games or even discuss them to use the app. Just about any topic is represented on Discord, although gaming, music, anime, and memes tend to be the most popular categories. The app can also be used for friends and groups to chat with each other directly, as with WhatsApp, Skype, or any other messaging service.
Many online safety experts provide resources for parents to navigate their kids’ online lives.
ConnectSafely published their Parent’s Guide to Discord which gives a holistic overview of how your teen uses Discord, our safety settings, and ways to start conversations with your teen about their safety.
The Bottom Line
Says Defend Young Minds about the app: If your teen can use Discord safely, Discord can be a way to connect with their real life friends through games when they can't be together. They might find a community that wants to discuss their interests. But because of the lack of parental controls, Discord will always be a more risky app to use. Carefully weigh whether the benefits outweigh the dangers of Discord. If you choose to allow this app, make sure your kids/teens have an internet filter installed to protect them while they're having fun online.
Below are third party resources recommended by Discord
Find more information from other organizations, please go directly to their websites: