How Parents Can Make Discord Safer for Kids
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How Parents Can Make Discord Safer for Kids

Parents carry the weight of making Discord safe. Here’s how to lighten your load.

Discord, originally known primarily as a chat app for gamers, has evolved and grown into a broader platform that brings like-minded users together to chat about topics of interest, listen to music, hang out or play video games together. Users can join chats on topics ranging from literature and music to entertainment and tech.

Discord currently has more than 150 million monthly active users. For context, Instagram has roughly 1 billion monthly active users, while Snapchat has almost 530 million monthly active users. Even as Discord has only a fraction of the users these other social apps enjoy, the platform’s popularity is surging. It gained momentum during the pandemic as kids looked online for ways to engage socially while remaining physically distanced.

Since the pandemic, Discord’s user numbers continue to follow an upward trajectory.

How Discord Works

Discord is an instant-messaging platform. The company describes itself as, “the easiest way to talk over voice, video and text.” It runs on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, Linux and in web browsers. So kids can access Discord from their laptops or from the platform’s downloadable smartphone app.

If you read anything at all about how Discord works, you’ll quickly see references to Discord’s servers. Within the platform, servers are what Discord calls its in-app communities. Within each server, there’s a voice channel and text channel.

This account was set up to experience Discord firsthand. In this screengrab, you can see how a Discord server appears once it's set up, before guests are invited. You’ll also notice the two channels: text and voice.

Servers are user-created and can be public or private. Private servers are joined by invitation only. Anyone who joins Discord can create a server for their groups or friends. Servers typically focus on a single topic or game. For instance, a server might be created for friends to chat while playing Fortnite, the popular, free-to-play Battle Royale game.

Users must be at least 13 years old to use Discord, but the platform does not verify users’ ages once the sign-up process is complete. So there’s no real enforcement of age restrictions.

What Kids Like About Discord

Discord offers text, voice and video chat. It also allows kids to share their screens. These features mean a group of kids can set up an online space where they can go to hang out and chat in various mediums.

Screen Sharing

The screen share is an important Discord feature. Possibly one of the platform's key differentiating traits, at least from a kid’s perspective. Screen sharing is handy because that means friends can gather on a Discord server, hang out and switch between different media without exiting their shared space on Discord.

Here’s an example of how a kid on Discord might use the screen-share feature. Let’s say you’ve got five preteens, and they’ve created a server where they can hang out while playing Roblox together. In the shared space, they can listen to a shared album, share screens and chat back and forth about where they’re at and what they’re doing in the shared Roblox game.

Customized Space to Hangout with Friends

In an article published by Bloomberg, Nick Gamolin, a high school senior in 2020, describes his Discord server in the same way a kid from “That 70s Show” might describe Eric Forman’s basement, where the show’s teens often hung out. “I’ve created my own server where my friends and I can gather in our ‘lounge’ and play games, watch movies or simply talk together,” he says.

Alexandra Lang, who wrote the Bloomberg piece, observes, “Discord teens can be the architects of their own social lives, chilling with a shared soundtrack in one virtual room (basement, beanbags, low lighting), yelling at Minecraft teammates in another (the backlit glow of the arcade), whispering about suspicious villagers in a third (living room, lights up so that you can see each others’ faces).”

Meeting Like-Minded Kids

The other big lure for kids using Discord is its offering of wide-ranging topics, and how this equips the platform to pair kids with other like-minded kids who are the same age.

Today’s kids — thanks to the Internet and near-infinite access to information where every query has an answer and every nuanced interest or hobby can be explored — often embrace niche interests that are obscure among their real-life friends and local communities.

Say your kid is into songwriting, but most of his buddies are playing Little League Baseball or debating the implications of Marvel’s multiverse. With Discord, this kid can join the server Academic Music, get on the #composition channel and chat or ask questions about songwriting experiences with like-minded kids. Kids can chat through the challenges, rewards and proven processes of their own experiences.

Why Parents Should Have Concerns About Discord

We’ll start with the good news: Circle supports Discord as a controlled app, and the consensus across many tech media reports and reviews is that Discord has made great strides in becoming a safer platform than it was several years ago.

But there is a darker community that exists on Discord. It’s a layer that can be monitored and controlled, but never completely eradicated due to its user-generated content. The truth is, there are safety concerns for kids using Discord.

When alluding to Discord’s past safety problems, Common Sense cites two alarming crimes against kids to substantiate the assertion.

Crime

In 2018, there was a Discord-related crime against a 14-year-old girl when a 25-year-old male from New Zealand, who the girl met on Discord, tried to break into her home in Virginia. This man literally traveled more than 8,000 miles in his attempt to get to the girl and was ultimately shot and wounded by the girl’s mother. The shooting happened after the man was warned repeatedly not to enter the home but ultimately reached into the home, through glass he’d broken, to unlock and open the door.

In another incident, police in Pinellas County, Florida, near Tampa, uncovered a human trafficking ring in 2019 where at least one of the teens victimized began talking with one of the suspects on Discord.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is common on any platform that brings kids together without supervision. As we wrote in the blog post, “A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe On TikTok,” one way to avoid bullying on social media is to make your kid’s account private and vet who’s allowed access to the account. Of course, this negates the possibility of a post going viral and, especially on TikTok and YouTube, that defeats the entire point for many kids.

For Discord, cyberbullying can be limited by creating a private server for a small group of friends your kid knows, trusts and enjoys. It’s also good for parents to watch for signs of cyberbullying by keeping an eye on their kids’ behavior. The chance for cyberbullying increases, of course, when they’re participating in larger, public servers with kids or other users they don’t know.

Inappropriate Content

Inappropriate content is on Discord, it’s just a matter of whether or not your kid finds it. Common Sense sums up Discord’s risk this way: “The risk for kids can be tiny or huge, depending on how they use it.”

Being smart about what servers your kid joins is a good first step, but avoiding inappropriate content doesn’t end there. Your kid may avoid public servers that appear ripe for inappropriate content, but receive inappropriate content anyway — from their own peers. Inappropriate content can be anything from memes, posts or direct messages that are sexual in nature, violent or threatening, anti-sematic or racist. It’s also fair to assume that, at some point, your kid will likely share inappropriate content either knowingly or unknowingly.

There’s also the question of actively monitoring a kid’s online activity versus that kid’s privacy. Many parents struggle to pinpoint where their kids’ privacy ends, and a parent’s online oversight begins. Recognizing where that line is drawn is often dependent on the age of your kid, a family’s unique value system and, within that system, which values are most sacred.

For instance, if parents value trust above all else, they may opt for very little online oversight. For them, it’s important to demonstrate trust by allowing their kids ample privacy. Meanwhile, a parent who feels strongly about the power of influencers and the persuasiveness of online messaging, may elect to actively monitor what their kids are consuming. The latter would likely consider their kids’ loss of privacy a small price to pay to ensure healthy messaging reaches their kids, while the former may consider honoring their kids’ privacy nonnegotiable.

Beyond the questions surrounding a kid’s privacy, there are other factors to consider. Developmentally, kids may view a meme as funny or interesting when, in fact, it’s offensive. Kids also don’t possess the ability of an adult to access risk versus reward. As such, it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about being smart online. You’ll want to teach your kid to take the long view and be strategic about his or her reputation and long-term digital footprint.

The timing of these conversations is critical, because timing dictates how persuasive the conversation will be. Ideally, these talks will take place over time, and you’ll want to avoid having a conversation while your kid is in trouble for his or her online behavior. When a parent tries to change a kid’s mindset in the midst of doling out online restrictions, the talk feels like part of the punishment and, as such, loses its ability to persuade.

How Circle Can Help Keep Your Kids Safe on Discord

Being honest with your kids and having candid conversations about online safety and smart online use is effective. Pairing this approach with tangible tools like online filters and time limits can put kids in a position to succeed and apply best practices for online use.

Parents can use Circle to set up:

  • Custom Filters for Discord
  • Category Level Time Limits for Discord

Custom Filters. Custom Filters on Circle are useful when you’d like to control filter settings on a site-by-site basis. This feature makes it possible for a parent to filter a website that your kids can access when you’d prefer they not access the site. Or, conversely, you can set up a Custom Filter to allow your kid access to a site that’s totally fine for them to visit.

To manage or filter Discord using Circle, you’ll need to find the website’s URL in Circle’s History or Usage. When this platform is in use, it’ll appear as discordapp.com, status.discordapp.com, gateway.discord.gg or other similar links.

Once you’ve located Discord’s URLs on Circle’s History or Usage screen you can set Discord as “Not Allowed,” “Unmanaged,” or you can tap “Visit website” to load it in your browser.

Read our step-by-step guide to setting up a Custom Filter for Discord.

Time Limits. With Time Limits, a parent can use Circle to limit the amount of time your kids spend online. And you can choose how you’d like to limit the time, either by setting a daily time limit for the total time spent online or by limiting time by category based on content types and individual apps or websites like Discord.

To set up Time Limits for Discord, you’ll use Circle categories to limit time. Each website or app has an overarching Category in Circle, and Discord’s assigned category is Chat & Forums. Once the desired time is set and that designated time has been used, websites (including Discord) in Chat & Forums will no longer load.

Read our step-by-step guide to setting up Time Limits for Discord.

What Discord Is Doing to Make Its Platform Safer

You can read Discord’s “Four Steps to a Super Safe Account” to learn about the efforts Discord has made to increase user safety. Once signed up for Discord, user settings can be adjusted based on privacy preferences by visiting the site's Privacy & Safety page.

Here’s a summary of what your kid will see when he or she creates an account on Discord and navigates to its Privacy & Safety page:

Direct Message Scan. Users can choose for Discord to automatically scan and delete direct messages received containing explicit media content. Discord doesn’t provide details on how they classify what’s considered “explicit media content.” With this option, a user can choose to scan all direct messages, only direct messages from those users who are not Discord friends or users can choose for Discord to never scan direct messages.

Block Direct Messages from Server Members. A user can apply this setting when they join a new server. Maybe your kid is on a server that has 6 members and they’re all friends from school. He or she would likely want to receive those direct messages. But maybe your kid has also joined a public server based on personal interests. It’s probably a good idea to block direct messages coming from that server.

Friend Preferences. Your kid can toggle on or off who can add them as a friend. They can select “Everyone,” “Friends of Friends” and/or “Server Members.” You can also toggle on or off whether you’d like to allow friends to join your game or whether you’ll allow voice channel participants to join your game.

Options for How Discord Uses Your Kid’s Data. Discord allows its users to opt out of various data-use settings. One setting uses data to process how your kid navigates and uses the platform. Other uses include data used to customize a user’s experience and track screen reader usage to improve site accessibility.

Getting to Know Discord Is the First Step

Once a parent pieces together a real understanding of what Discord is and how it works, things begin to make sense. Things like why your kids want to use the app in the first place, its risks and its usefulness. As a parent of a kid who is on Discord or wants to use Discord, consider opening a Discord account for yourself and seeing firsthand what’s there and what’s lacking. A deeper knowledge of Discord quickly leads to recognizing where your oversight is needed most, what that oversight should be and in what ways it should be applied.

To learn more about how Circle can help you keep your kids safe online, visit our features page.


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