Demystifying Discord for Parents of Teens

With the chat features of Skype combined with Reddit-like discussion boards, Discord is the social media network that many parents haven’t even heard of.

Launched in 2015 and targeted at gamers, Discord has grown into the premier online location for teens to gather online. With nearly 200 million users worldwide, this free app allows users to communicate via chat, voice, and video. Though the average user is just 16 years old, the platform’s reliance on user-based moderation and minimal parental controls allows a plethora of potential dangers to lurk in the shadows of Discord.

What is the allure of Discord?

Discord is arguably the best communication platform for gamers, but it’s the communities that attract users to it. Whether you’re looking for others with common interests, a place to share memes or just want to hang out with your friends and watch their streams, Discord probably has a place for you. And if it doesn’t, you can create it yourself.

With all of that going on, parents shouldn’t be surprised when their teen asks them if they can get Discord. Besides, their friends are probably already on there.

Is there a dark side to Discord?

Though not a true social media network, Discord meets all the criteria. And with that status comes all the dangers of social media. Except, it’s in real time, it’s interactive and voice and video are just a couple clicks away.

Though many of the popular servers are moderated by other users, your teen is more likely to be in servers created by other teens – or themselves – and are therefore probably not moderated. Meaning that anyone with an invitation to the server could be in there, and whatever they type, or share could be seen.

Due to being in real time, the fear of missing out (FOMO) can become an issue. Conversations on Discord aren’t like other social media platforms where you can simply come back to a post later. Discord is more like the chat rooms of old: constantly moving and scrolling. Catching up can be a time-consuming task that most teens would probably choose to avoid by just staying glued to their screens.

Can teens find a sanctuary within Discord?

Despite all those dangers, Discord can be a wonderful, supportive place. The keys to keeping your teen safe on the platform are trust and open communication, understanding the privacy and security settings available and establishing and enforcing the appropriate boundaries.

Even letting your teen use Discord is a huge display of trust on a parent’s part. It’s important to keep an open line of communication with your teen about who they are talking to and what they are talking about on Discord. Take the time to ask them about their online friends and what conversations they’re having. Additionally, because Discord allows users to change their display name at any time, it’s also not a bad idea to ask them who’s who.

Though Discord’s privacy and security settings leave much to be desired, there are some settings that you may want to consider turning on. Once you get in the app, look for the gear symbol called User Settings. In this menu, you will want to focus on the settings under Privacy & Safety, Friend Requests, and Family Center. Most of these settings include a link to more information about what each does.

It is important to remember that these settings, excluding the family center, can be edited by your teen. So, you should set some ground rules with your teen. It’s also important to understand that even with the Family Center enabled your teen’s messages will stay private. There are bound to be different opinions on this, but it may be a good idea to periodically spot-monitor your teen’s activity on the platform. Check to make sure their settings are still intact and then scroll through a few chats to make sure they are following the guidelines you both agreed on. If they are not, don’t be afraid to remove access to Discord for a set amount of time. You will find that doing so is a highly effective punishment.

Now that you understand more about what Discord is, why your teen wants to use it, what dangers they may face on the platform and how you can keep them safe from those dangers, you can make an informed decision about letting them use the app.

And remember, Discord isn’t just for teenagers. Sometimes the best way to understand what your teens are up to is by joining them!

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