How to Use Discord: A Parent’s Guide

Discord is a text and voice chat platform that allows users ages 13 and up to connect on public or private servers. However, using Discord may put younger children at risk of being harassed or exposed to explicit content. Learning how to use Discord can help protect your kids.

As a parent, it seems like just when you have the hang of one social media app or video platform, another one arises. 

If you have a tween (a child between 9 and 12 years old) or a teen who enjoys playing video games with other online players, they likely communicate with fellow gamers through Discord.

Discord is a communications app that allows users to join a community of video game enthusiasts and other kinds of hobby groups. Like other social media platforms, however, it presents potential dangers for adolescents that you should be aware of.

The Background of Discord

Discord was initially developed for gamers to talk to one another while playing. Now, Discord is a place for anyone to explore their interests and meet others who share their hobbies.

The popularity of games like Fortnite led to the rise in Discord use. The platform now has more than 100 million users worldwide. Per the site’s terms and conditions, users must be at least 13 years old to participate. A nickname and avatar is used instead of the user’s real name and photo.

Discord allows users to create public or private groups and invite other members. Users can talk with the group they choose, such as a party or team on a multiplayer game or a private group chat about a favorite hobby. While teens can contact anyone, they can also choose to use an invite-only private server for a more secure experience with just their friends.

However, the risks for kids can be significant, as some public groups may have few restrictions and little oversight. Understanding how to use Discord can help you better coach your child on Discord safety and protecting their Discord privacy.

Teens using smartphones

What is Discord used for?

Discord is a free mobile and PC app that allows people to chat via text, video, or voice in real time with users throughout the world. It combines topical discussion boards, like those popularized through Reddit, with the connectivity similar to WhatsApp and the internet calling features like those on Skype. 

With Discord no longer residing solely in the domain of gaming, users can find boards covering topics from politics to anime to gardening.

Understanding Discord Servers

Servers are Discord’s main communities. These are typically focused on a single topic, such as a video game or TV show. Anyone on the app can create a server when they sign up. 

Servers may either be text channels, like discussion boards, or voice channels, which participants can use to talk to one another while playing video games.

Discord does not have a way to search for particular servers—users have to either be directly invited to join one or find out about public or private servers through social media, Discord contacts, or friends. 

This can make finding your teen on Discord challenging. They could be a member of a server you don’t know exists, and even if you do, Discord users are hidden behind avatars and creative handles that make identification difficult.

How to Use Discord Chat and Messaging

Discord’s text channels allow users to type messages to one another, and the voice channels let users talk in real time. You can use the app on a phone, tablet, or computer. Alternatively, you can use Discord on Xbox or PS5.

Users who create server channels can invite people or open them up for the public to join; some channel owners may choose to limit the number of people on the channel. Owners have the ability to set specific rules for participants and can remove and block users who violate these rules or harass members.

Discord allows image sharing in text channels and private messages, including photos, videos, and gifs, as well as screen sharing.

Possible Dangers with Discord

Discord’s terms and conditions require users to be 13 or older. However, the app does not verify users’ ages. Your 12-year-old could claim to be 16 when signing up, and they could encounter an adult predator also claiming to be 16. If your child uses Discord, have a serious conversation about accepting friend requests from strangers or invitations to a private server from someone they don’t know.

No restrictions exist that prevent users from posting explicit content on Discord, so your child can find it if they know where to look or are lured into an explicit server. 

Furthermore, the platform allows direct messaging, so your teen is susceptible to receiving explicit or inappropriate messages from predatory users.

How Discord Keeps Children and Teens Safe

Discord implements various functions to ensure a safe experience for users of all ages, but especially for minors. It prohibits the sharing of misinformation, malicious impersonation, and spam and platform manipulation.

Server moderators actively police user behavior in groups, including removing users who may pose a threat or post age-restricted content against the server’s rules. Further action will be taken with these users in accordance with Discord company guidelines.

Additionally, Discord has a reporting feature where users can report harassment or abusive behavior to the Trust & Safety team.

It has also partnered with Crisis Text Line, a text-based nonprofit that lets users seek support and help regarding mental health issues.

Discord  Transparency Report

Discord shares a quarterly Transparency Report that discloses the type of content and behavior it experiences that go against company guidelines and the actions it takes to remedy it. The following statistics are from the first quarter of 2022.

Child Sexual Abuse and Endangerment

If a user is found to be sharing or engaging in child sexual abuse material, the content is removed and the account is disabled and reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In the first quarter of 2022, Discord reported 10,695 accounts to NCMEC. The majority of reports contained images or videos, followed by high-harm grooming and endangerment.

Exploitive and Unsolicited Content

Discord disabled 146,897 accounts and removed 3,525 servers for sharing or promoting sexually explicit content of other people without their consent.

Harassment and Bullying

This category includes cyberbullying, negative comments, circumventing bans, server raiding, suggestive or overt threats, sexual violence, and sharing someone else’s personally identifiable information (also known as doxxing). Discord disabled 13,423 accounts and removed 716 servers for harassment-related behavior.

Discord also takes action against deceptive practices, hateful conduct, identity and authenticity, platform manipulation, self-harm concerns, regulated or illegal activities, and violent or graphic content.

Privacy Settings in Discord

By opening the User Settings menu and selecting the Privacy & Safety menu, you can view and change your child’s privacy settings in Discord.

The app allows users to control who can send them direct messages, as well as who can send friend requests (everyone, friends of friends, or server members).

You can filter out explicit content under Privacy & Safety in User Settings by checking the “Keep Me Safe” box. This will automatically detect and delete uploads containing explicit and inappropriate content.

In the same section, you can check the “My Friends Are Nice” box that scans direct messages from everyone unless they are a friend.

Users can also configure how much of their data is collected through the app.

Teen using smartphone at night

Keeping Your Child Safe on Discord

Millions of people use Discord on a regular basis. Unfortunately, not every user has the best intentions. CNN Business spoke to parents’ of teens who were exposed to “self-harm chats, sexually explicit content and sexual predators.” 

  • A stranger from England requesting nude photos of a 16-year-old, photos of their house, and photos of what an American school bus looks like
  • A 13-year-old who started self-harming after learning how to from other users
  • A 30-year-old requesting a 13-year-old to send photos and engage in naughty cam activities

These unsettling stories of children and teens who use Discord further support the importance of setting boundaries. The first step in keeping your tween or teen safe on this platform is learning how to use Discord yourself. 

Before allowing your child to become a member, you may want to download and peruse the app to get a feel for it. If you are concerned about Discord’s privacy, you can put safety measures in place that help protect your child.

It is best to have an open conversation with your child about internet safety and possible threats before they start using Discord. Some parents may find it worthwhile to roleplay with their kids about handling online harassment or what to do if someone sends them an unwanted message. 

Remember to talk to your child about the potential for sexual abuse on the internet. Exposing a minor to sexually explicit content is abuse, and it is also illegal. 

Open, ongoing dialogue with your child is often the most effective way to keep them safe online. If your child has been sexually abused online, cyberbullied, or blackmailed, we can help you seek justice. Contact Social Media Victims Law Center today for a free, confidential assessment of your case.

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Content Reviewed by:

Matthew P. Bergman

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