Is Discord Safe for My Child?

By Lindsey Johnson
Boy wearing headphones playing on computer

Discord, a new app on the scene, has exploded in popularity as a way for teens to connect through an online platform. But with every new social media program, we as parents have to ask whether or not it is safe for our children.

What is Discord?

“Discord is a free voice, video and text chat app that is used by tens of millions of people ages 13+ to talk and hang out with their communities and friends,” states their official website. Users enter a birthdate when they sign up to verify their age, but like other sites, users can enter any date they want.

Discord logo

How are users engaging?

Discord is a messaging app that allows users to connect by text, voice and video. One popular use is for gamers to play games virtually and discuss with other players. School study groups, teams, community organizations and more use Discord for communication.

Within the app, which can be accessed on a computer or mobile device, there are “servers” that serve as groups. Unlike other social media apps like Facebook or Instagram, there is no general public area for users; you must join individual servers. Servers are typically based on topic. The majority of them are small groups of people known in real life but there are also many large “verified” servers created by companies that could contain strangers.

Users can send each other direct messages, which can be either private or in a group chat with up to 10 people. Video and voice messages are not saved, similar to a standard phone or FaceTime call.

What are the dangers?

The ability to private message other users means that children may be contacted by strangers. According to Defend Young Minds, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting children from the dangers of pornography and sexual exploitation, sexual predators posing as children groom young users through private messaging. There are reports of child pornography, criminal activity, white supremacy and human trafficking happening within this application.

Local teen Natalie Rodriguez is a gamer and Discord user. While she thinks it’s a great platform to connect with other gamers and friends, she has experienced the downside of strangers’ messages. “People will trauma dump very quickly,” Rodriguez warns.

She has experienced other users contacting her with messages threatening suicide. “It happens often,” she says.

Like other social media platforms, Discord is another space for cyberbullies. Defend Young Minds notes that the disappearing audio and video messages creates a lack of evidence of the abuse. Some children will also create a closed server, intentionally excluding others.

How can I protect my child?

While we can’t fully protect our children from all the evils of the world, there are some steps parents can take to help ensure online safety. Rodriguez advises that parents establish the privacy and safety settings for their children. She recommends only allowing direct messages from friends, not from everyone. While this can’t ensure that their known acquaintances won’t cyberbully, it can limit exposure to unwanted adult content and dangerous predators.

It is also important to review these possible dangers with your child and encourage them to report anything unusual to you immediately. Reassure them that they will not be in trouble for reporting it. Learn the app and guide them to what is permitted and check in periodically to ensure there are no surprises. Knowing how to navigate the potential landmines will prepare you both for a safe and successful online experience.

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