Is Discord Safe for Kids?

Here’s what parents need to know about the free, popular chat app.

Prisma Staff
• 
November 22, 2022

Released in 2015, Discord is a free group chatting app available for iOs, Apple, Android, Xbox, and PC. It connects friends and strangers alike, through voice, video chat and text chat, around shared interests, hobbies or themes. Originally designed for gamers to be able to screenshare and chat while they livestreamed multiplayer games like Fortnite and Roblox, it’s now gone mainstream: There are Discord servers dedicated to local community spaces, to national brands, and everything in between.

Now, with other popular social media platforms facing increased scrutiny, Discord has been attracting even more widespread attention — which means more and more kids are asking their parents, “Can I download Discord?”

Organized into servers that are divided into channels, Discord is a little different from other communication apps, like Whatsapp or Slack, so here are some basics to help you figure out: Is Discord safe for kids?

How does Discord work?

You can only use Discord with an account: it requires an email or phone number as well as your date of birth (you must be over 13 years old). Once you create an account, members can join existing public or private servers based on shared interests. They also have the option to create their own, with categories including: gaming, school club, study group, friends, artists & creators and local community.

Public servers

Public servers, which can have up to 500,000 members, are dedicated to discussing any topic under the sun. In addition to popular video game servers, there are servers for activities like sharing memes, cooking tips, and tiktok videos. Recently, popular brands have created Discord servers as a way of engaging their community.

Private servers

For parents who don’t want their child to roam on random servers, private servers created by peers and friends might be up for consideration. Members of a specific club, organization or interest group can create these invite-only servers to hang out on line and discuss their interests in chat rooms, through direct messages (dms), voice channels (essentially like a phone call but instead of dialing someone, the members simply show up in the same room), or video calls.

However, once you let your child create a Discord account, keep in mind that there is no way to limit what kinds of servers they join.

Discord channels

Each server is divided into multiple channels to help conversations stay organized. For example, a friend group might have text channels dedicated to events, memes, and announcements, as well as specific interests. A local community group might have a channel dedicated to items for sale or trade, while health-focused groups could have channels full of expert advice on diet or exercise. There are also channels with adult content, labeled nsfw (not safe for work).

If you join a server, you can choose when to be notified — or silence specific channels. This allows you to avoid being bombarded with cat videos from your three best friends while you’re trying to study, but still get notified if someone tags you with a direct mention.

What makes Discord unique?

The sheer number of integrated communication options within Discord make the platform unique. In addition to being able to text, chat, make video and voice calls, and livestream, you can also integrate other apps, like snapchat, allowing you to use the features of one app inside the other.

One of the biggest differences with Discord, compared with other, self-contained platforms, is that once you have an account, you’re free to join other servers. That means that even if you create a private group with only people your child knows, there’s no way to prevent them from exploring the app and joining servers full of strangers.

How does Discord make money?

Discord has grown by using a ‘freemium’ model, which means its core service is free to use. It offers the possibility to upgrade to premium subscriptions (known as Nitro) and to “boost” your server (a feature important for gamers), and it also sells games and memberships inside the app.

Keep in mind that although Discord is ad-free, corporations are taking note of the platform’s ability to foster deep community bonds and strategizing how to use that to boost their brand’s reach. So pay attention to ways in which the platform goes beyond communication with friends and crosses into an online marketing space.


Parent’s guide to safety features on Discord

Discord users must be at least 13 years old to join, although younger children would easily be able to click through the verification process.

With age restrictions, moderators to enforce community guidelines and built-in filters for explicit content, Discord makes an effort to keep the platform safe. However, with Discord, as with any online community, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be inappropriate content.

In addition, there are no specific parental controls on Discord, so you’ll have to rely on the basic account privacy settings.

These include:

  • Friend requests (options to limit or allow all requests)
  • Privacy & safety settings
  • safe direct messaging options
  • activity status (i.e. display whether or not you’re online)
  • message requests (enable/disable message requests from server members)
  • data usage permissions


Considerations for a healthy online experience

Making decisions about your child’s online activity can be one of the toughest aspects of parenting: how much screen time, what kinds of technology to encourage and avoid, and how to incorporate it into learning and socialization.  

Here are some things to keep in mind when considering Discord or any other digital communication channel.

Kids forge real friendship online - so look for self-contained digital forums

Online platforms offer kids a space to make genuine connections. We see this at Prisma, where learners connect via chat, respond to one another with emojis, and generally make one another feel included. Our private community also has separate channels where kids can go to discuss their interests, like design or gaming, give each other shout-outs, or share funny memes.

That’s the upside of online communities: They give kids lots of opportunities to get to know other kids like them, to feel connected and part of part of a community.

However, our community could only be so successful because of its safety: it’s only open to our learners, and it’s moderated by Prisma staff who make sure interactions stay positive and misunderstandings get resolved.

That’s why we would recommend steering kids towards self-contained apps like Google Chat or Slack that allow kids to connect with friends only, without the risk of them heading off into public servers where they don’t know all the members.

Talk about online safety and etiquette

Regardless of what kind of chat platforms you let your child try — and how many safety settings you turn on — you should still stay engaged with them and monitor their use, especially their private messages. Let them know you will be doing this, so there’s no issue of “sneaking” around their devices. In fact, this practice will give you the opportunity to start conversations with your child about what is appropriate to share online — and with whom.

Whether they’re using Discord or traditional social networks, remember that kids are able to bond with others more easily through just text and avatars than you might initially think. The Discord app can be a good place to make friends and form tight bonds, so parents should make sure they are talking to age-appropriate friends and keeping private info private.

Although our kids are digital natives, they still need to learn online etiquette. As part of our learning at Prisma, we teach kids how to interact positively with others in a virtual community: They need to be taught not to spam, how to wait politely for people to respond in real time, what to do about cyberbullying and that intentions can be misconstrued over text sometimes.

Kids are so adept at navigating technology sometimes we take for granted that there are aspects to virtual communication that they need to develop. Even if an app has parental controls, spend time discussing how to be a good digital citizen.

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