The Dark Side of Discord: What Parents Must Know

Discord icon displayed on a phone screen.

Discord is an app that allows users to set up their own servers where they can chat with their friends or with others who share their interests. The site is most popular with online gamers, but there are also a number of other types of interests represented among Discord’s many servers. 

There are servers set up to function as online book clubs, fan groups for television shows or podcasts, and science discussions, to name a few. That sounds harmless, but does Discord have a dark side? Is it safe for teens to use? Take a look at what you need to know about the dark side of Discord and whether or not you should let your teens use it. 

NSFW Servers

It’s true that users of Discord visit the servers to discuss gaming, share memes, and talk about ideas or interests that they share. That can be a wonderful thing. But there are also servers that are tagged NSFW (Not Safe For Work). This designation usually means that these servers contain adult content that you may not want your teen to see. 

NSFW servers are technically meant to be restricted to users that are 18 or older, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in them actually is an adult. Discord asks users their age when they sign up (you have to be 13 years or older to join), but there’s no mechanism to verify a user’s age, so a child or teen could easily lie about their age to join any server they desired. 

Inappropriate Content

Young Teen boy looking at his laptop screen.
Many Discord servers contain inappropriate content. Do you know what your teen is viewing on Discord?

Even on a server that’s not tagged as NSFW, your child could see content that you don’t want them to see. Discord doesn’t create the servers, nor does it produce the content. The appeal of the site is that anyone can create a server and invite users to it, and the users post whatever content they want. The owner of the server could moderate the content if they want to, but not all of them do. Even in moderated servers, inappropriate content could be visible for a while before someone gets around to deleting it. 

Bullying and Harassment

The risk of experiencing cyberbullying or harassment on a Discord server is about the same as the risk of experiencing those things on most mainstream social media sites, which means that it definitely does happen. Discord isn’t any worse than most other social media as far as that goes, but it isn’t significantly better, either. 

In gaming servers where users may be competing against each other while they chat, or in any server where controversial or sensitive topics are discussed, emotions can run high, and when users wind up on opposite sides of a conflict, one or both may behave badly. Conflicts may also move from a server to a private channel or even to a direct message.

Protecting Privacy

One thing that Discord does have going for it is a great deal of user control over privacy settings. Parents who decide to allow their teens to use Discord should encourage them to use the “Keep Me Safe” setting. This setting provides the user with a high level of privacy and also ensures that all messages are scanned for NFSW content before the user opens them. This setting can help keep your teen safer on Discord as long as it’s enabled. 

Private Servers

While allowing anyone to create their own server means that there are a lot of servers out there and that some host questionable content, there’s also a bright side. Your teen can always start their own server for chatting with their friends. They can choose a verification level, invite only people they trust, and turn on a setting that filters explicit content, creating a place that’s safe for themselves and their friends. 

Other Safety Features

Teens who run into trouble on Discord do have recourse. Discord allows users to block other users. Users can also report a message, user, or server, though it’s important to know that once you delete a message, it can’t be reported, so make sure that your teen knows to save harassing or unwanted messages until they can be reported. 

Tips for Parents

Like most apps aimed at teens, the minimum age to use Discord is 13 yeas old. However, the terms and conditions do say that minors must have parental consent to use Discord. This means that if your teen opens a Discord account without your knowledge and consent, you have the right to request that Discord close and delete the account. If your teen has created their own server, they’ll need to transfer ownership of it or delete it before the account can be deleted, however. 

If you’ve decided to let your teen use Discord, it’s important to talk to them about any ground rules that you want to set. It might be a good idea to have a look at the servers they want to use so that you can get a feel for what they may encounter while using those servers. 

Encourage your teen to use the highest level of privacy settings available to them. Make sure that they know the procedure for blocking and reporting users who behave inappropriately. Also, you should make it a point to ask your teen what’s happening in the servers that they visit. Encourage your teen to share fun stuff – like a funny meme or an interesting story – as well as serious stuff with you. If they’re in the habit of sharing ordinary things that happen on Discord with you, they’ll be more likely to share if something serious or upsetting happens on a Discord server. 

Parental monitoring software can also give you some peace of mind if you know your teen is using Discord. You’ll be able to use it to see what servers your teen is participating in and what they’re seeing and sharing in Discord. To find out more about how parental monitoring software works,  get our free trial.

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