Is Discord Safe For Your Teen's Mental Health?
Did you ever want to start a secret club as a kid with all your closest friends?
Well, with the power of social platforms and online messaging at their fingertips, today’s kids are able to find communities and communicate with each other from anywhere.
Users have the ability to communicate with voice calls, video calls, text messaging, media and files in private chats or as part of communities called "servers
While technology like this is amazing for finding communities and keeping up with friends and family, some parents have concerns about who their kids are having conversations with online.
The first step to keeping your teen safe in online spaces like Discord is to understand what exactly Discord is. Our parent’s guide to Discord breaks down why it’s so popular with kids and teens and the potential risks of online communities like Discord.
What is Discord?
Discord is a popular social platform that primarily focuses on communication through text, voice and video chat. It was originally designed for gamers to facilitate communication while playing multiplayer online video games, but it has since evolved into a versatile platform used for various purposes.
The Discord app is age-restricted to those who are at least 13 years old; however, it may be older if the person’s local legislation has a different mandate. Creating an account does not require age verification outside of entering a birth date.
Discord posted an article sharing their response to parents’ and educators’ questions about how they ensure children under 13 cannot create an account. Here was their response:
“If a user is reported as being under 13, we delete their account unless they can verify that they are at least 13 years old using an official ID document.”
Why are Kids and Teens Drawn to Discord?
The Discord website shared the following metrics:
- 150 million monthly active users
- 19 million active servers per week
- 4 billion server conversation minutes daily
Discord is popular among teens because it offers an authentic way to show up online and a user-friendly platform for communication.
Other reasons why kids and teens are drawn to Discord:
Discord started as a platform for gamers to communicate while playing. Many young people are avid gamers, and they find Discord to be an excellent tool for connecting with friends and fellow gamers.
The platform offers features like voice chat and screen sharing, which enhance the gaming experience.
Discord allows users to create and customize their servers, adding various channels, bots and roles. Young users enjoy the freedom to personalize their servers to match their interests, such as fandoms, hobbies or school clubs.
Discord provides control over privacy settings, allowing users to manage who can join their servers and participate in conversations. This appeals to teens who want to connect with specific groups while keeping others out.
How Does Discord Work?
Discord operates on a server-based structure. Discord users can create or join servers, which are essentially dedicated chat rooms or communities centered around specific topics, interests or organizations.
Each Discord server can have multiple text and voice channels for different discussions and activities.
Server members can be assigned specific roles with varying permissions. These roles determine who can perform certain actions, such as managing the server, moderating conversations or posting in specific channels. Roles are customizable and can help maintain order within a community.
Discord provides text chat, screen sharing, video calls and voice channels within servers. Their chat app allows users to send messages, share links and post multimedia content like images and videos of different memes.
Voice channels enable real-time voice communication, which is especially useful for group discussions, gaming sessions or online meetings.
Using Private Servers on Discord
Most Discord servers are private. Private servers mean that only those whom your teen invites can participate in the group.
Discord allows server owners to integrate various bots and applications to enhance functionality. Bots can perform tasks like moderating content, playing music or providing information.
In addition to server-based communication, users can send direct messages (DMs) to each other. DMs are private messages between individuals or groups, separate from the server’s channels.
Discord is available on multiple platforms, including web browsers, desktop applications (Windows, macOS, Linux) and mobile apps (iOS, Android).
Is Discord Safe for Kids and Teens?
Discord offers valuable features for communication and community-building; however, parents should be aware of the privacy and safety issues of the platform.
Discord collects user data, including IP addresses, device information and user-generated content. While this is standard for most online services, users should be aware of what data is being collected.
While messages sent on private servers are generally secure, users should exercise caution when sharing personal information as server administrators may have access to message logs.
Spam and Scams
Discord servers and direct messages can be targets for spam, phishing and scam attempts. Users should be cautious of unsolicited messages and links from unknown sources.
Clicking on malicious links or downloading files from unknown sources in Discord can lead to malware infections.
Weak passwords or sharing account credentials can lead to unauthorized access to Discord accounts. Parents should teach their kids to use strong, unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for added security.
Discord servers can contain content that may not be suitable for teens and kids. While Discord has guidelines against explicit content, enforcement can vary, so parents should monitor their children’s server memberships.
Discord chat can be a platform for cyberbullying. Users can block and report abusive individuals, but parents should educate their children about recognizing and responding to cyberbullying.
Just like on other social media platforms, there’s a risk of encountering online predators on Discord. Parents should teach kids to be cautious about sharing personal information and should not meet strangers in real life without proper precautions.
Users should be aware that server administrators have significant control over their servers, including content moderation and member management. This can be both a benefit and a potential issue if administrators misuse their power.
Common Sense Media states the following regarding the safety of Discord:
“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.”
Ways Parents Can Keep Their Kids Safe On Discord
Parents and guardians should involved in their children’s internet activities and educate them about privacy and online safety.
To address these concerns, parents and guardians should become familiar with the safety features and practices Discord has implemented to protect its young users:
Discord provides users with a range of user settings, including the ability to restrict messages and friend requests to friends only. Users can control who can send them direct messages and add them as friends.
Discord has content filtering features that can automatically detect and block explicit content such as images and spam.
Reporting and Moderation
It allows users to report inappropriate content or behavior that does not meet Discord’s terms and community guidelines. It has a team of moderators who review reports and take appropriate action, including warnings, temporary suspensions or bans.
Some servers on Discord are marked as “NSFW” (Not Safe for Work) or have age restrictions. Users must confirm their age to access these servers.
Parents or guardians can set up parental controls to monitor and restrict their child’s activity on Discord. This includes the ability to manage friend requests, message history and access to certain servers.
Some servers, especially those associated with popular games or communities, can become “verified” by Discord. Verified servers are expected to maintain a higher standard of behavior and content.
Discord Family Center
The Family Center is a new addition to Discord’s safety features that makes it easy for teens to keep their parents and caregivers informed about their Discord activity.
The Family Centre provides you with your teens’ activity on Discord including the following information:
- Recently added friends
- Servers joined and participated in
- Users messaged or called within direct or group chats
However, you will not be able to see the contents of the conversations as Discord wants to respect the autonomy of its users.
Although Discord’s safety features are designed to provide a safer online environment, supervision and communication with young users remain crucial for their well-being.
Discord Global Teen Safety Policy Manager, Liz Hegarty added the following advice about parental controls on Discord so caregivers can keep their kids safe on the platform:
“[We] encourage parents to spend time reviewing and discussing their teen’s settings so they can customize their Discord account to avoid unwanted experiences. Our Safety Center gives teens and parents information about the tools and controls — such as blocking or muting — to protect themselves from content or interactions they don’t want, as well as clear information on what behaviors are and are not acceptable on Discord.”
Risks and Benefits of Social Media for Mental Health
We’ve all experienced the struggle of trying to limit our screen time – just one quick scroll through your Instagram feed before bed or a few more Netflix episodes.
For kids and teens today, this constant exposure to social media and entertainment is even more extreme. The US Surgeon General released a new advisory about the effects of social media on the mental health of youth in May 2023.
The Surgeon General stated that almost all (95%) young people between the ages of 13 and 17 reported using a social media platform. In addition, more than a third of them use social media “almost constantly.”
During adolescence and childhood, the brain is in a critical stage of development; therefore, young people are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of social media.
The Surgeon General is hoping this new advisory will “maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of social media platforms, and create safer, healthier online environments to protect children”.
Negative Effects of Social Media on Teen Mental Health
Negative Social Comparison
Social media can lead to unfavorable social comparisons. Teens compare their lives to the seemingly perfect lives of others and worry about what they don’t have. This can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and low self-esteem.
Online harassment and cyberbullying are prevalent on social media platforms and social messaging spaces like Discord. Being a victim of cyberbullying can have serious negative effects on mental health, including anxiety and depression.
Screen Addiction and Time Wasting
Excessive use of social media can lead to addiction-like behaviors. Teens feel the need to compulsively check their feeds because of their fear of missing out (FOMO). This addiction comes at the expense of real-life activities and responsibilities.
Isolation and Loneliness
Even a “social” platform can have harmful effects if kids don’t make the time for their real-life relationships.
Excessive use of social media can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. As more time is spent online, your teen experiences fewer real-life social interactions which is crucial for forming healthy social connections.
Once your teen posts something online, it’s challenging to remove it permanently. If your teen regrets their decision, this can lead to stress anxiety as their personal information is shared without the ability to control who can see it.
Positive Effects of Social Media on Teen Mental Health
Positive Feedback and Increased Confidence
Kind comments and “Like” notifications on a post or photo boost dopamine and make us feel noticed and connected to others. Positive interactions on social media, such as receiving compliments for an art project or support for an upcoming goal, can boost self-esteem and provide emotional comfort.
Safe Spaces to Share Personal Struggles
For kids without many close friends at school, social media can be a safe space for people to share their experiences with mental health issues, reducing the stigma associated with these conditions.
Online Therapy and Support Groups
Social media can provide a platform for connecting with friends, family and support networks, especially for people who may be geographically distant. Some individuals may even use a platform like Discord to discover other mental health resources that they may night have been aware of.
There are lots of online support groups and mental health resources available on social media. Just make sure to vet all advice/sources with a mental health professional as well before taking any advice.
A Final Note for Parents
It's important to remember that while Discord can be a fun and valuable tool for kids and teens, it's not without its risks. As parents, it's our responsibility to educate ourselves about Discord and other social media platforms, so we can teach our children about how to stay safe and healthy online.
By having open and honest conversations, setting clear boundaries and staying vigilant, we can help ensure that our kids are able to enjoy all the benefits of online communities while minimizing the potential risks.
Common Sense Media. (2022, October 26). Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Discord | Common Sense Media. Www.commonsensemedia.org. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/articles/parents-ultimate-guide-to-discord
Discord. (2023, May 31). Bridging Mental Health Gaps for Gen Z. Discord.com. https://discord.com/blog/bridging-gen-z-mental-health-gaps
Giordimaina, A. M., Sheldon, J. P., Kiedrowski, L. A., & Jayaratne, T. E. (2015). Searching for the Kinkeepers. Health Education & Behavior, 42(6), 736–741. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198115578749
Health (OASH), O. of the A. S. for. (2023, May 23). Surgeon General Issues New Advisory About Effects Social Media Use Has on Youth Mental Health. HHS.gov. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/05/23/surgeon-general-issues-new-advisory-about-effects-social-media-use-has-youth-mental-health.html
Masiliauskas, P. (2019, December 5). Discord privacy: the ultimate guide to stay safe in Discord. CyberNews. https://cybernews.com/privacy/discord-privacy-tips-that-you-should-use/
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