A Parent's Guide to Discord

APR 11, 2022

Is Discord Safe for Kids? 

Learn about child safety risks on Discord

By Joseph Pratt
Gabb Family Resources

5 Facts About Discord

What is Discord?

  1. Open audio, video, anonymous chat rooms, and screen sharing
  2. Access via phone or computer
  3. Minimal age verification, any user can lie about their age, making it a hot spot for predators
  4. Cyberbullying happens through audio and video, with no evidence
  5. Exposure to content that is illicit and objectionable

Discord made the National Center for Sexual Exploitation’s 2021 Dirty Dozen List, an annual campaign calling out twelve mainstream entities for facilitating or profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation. Learn what Discord is, why it made the list, and what it means for your family.

The National Center for Sexual Exploitation indicts Discord for facilitating and profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation.

What Is Discord?

Discord is a communication platform, like Slack or Skype, where users can message one another and also share their screens. Users can join channels called “servers” to talk with others about topics they are interested in.

These channels can be about anything—movies, cryptocurrency, the Kansas City Chiefs, or your local high school band. 

Discord can be a powerful tool. Users can chat with friends, organize schedules, and explore new topics. It can provide opportunities for users to join and feel part of a community that interests them. It can turn solo gameplay into a social experience that boosts bonds with friends. 

How do Discord servers work?

What makes Discord so popular are its servers. Think of a server as a house. Every user can have their own, and by sending the “address” to others through a link, those you invite can then enter your house. Everyone who enters your house moves in and essentially has their own “room.”

Contact With Strangers Is Easy

On Discord’s servers, strangers can talk to each other through “DMs” (direct messages), voice channels, screen sharing, and video calls.

Is Discord Chat Safe?

Some servers are private, meaning only people who have been sent a link can join.

A server can be made public by posting the link on social media platforms like YouTube and Reddit. The users in your house communicate openly in a conversation thread.

Users can also send direct messages (DMs) to other people if they want to speak privately.

On Discord’s servers, strangers can talk to each other through DMs, voice channels, screen sharing, or video calls.

Why do kids like Discord?

Discord is particularly popular among young gamers who play games like Fortnite and Roblox. Discord offers players access to a wide range of public servers, as well as private servers, where they can chat while playing together.

Whether teens are talking about strategy in between games, or directly chatting within a game, there is a massive following on Discord. Check out this article to learn more about gaming in Discord.

teenage boy playing video games at his computer

Why Is Discord Dangerous?

Discord can be dangerous, depending on how kids use it. Parents have a right to know about these dangers so they can make informed decisions about how to keep their children safe.

NSFW= Not safe for work/wife

Discord provides easy access to harmful content

Since Discord allows anyone to create servers about whatever topic they want, there are tens of thousands of channels that have pornography or other inappropriate material.

Over 43,000 channels contain information marked as NSFW—not safe for work/wife (National Center on Sexual Exploitation [NCSE], n.d.a). The links to these servers are posted publicly where kids can find them—on social media and online chat rooms.

Some Discord servers also contain extremely violent or graphic material. Parents have complained about their kids being able to watch videos of people being mugged, abused—even beheaded—on Discord (NCSE, n.d.b).

No evidence of cyberbullying

When kids communicate through voice messaging and video chat, there is no record of the interaction. This provides bullies with more ways to target victims.

While users are sometimes required to meet an age requirement to join these types of servers, Discord does not have a meaningful age verification process when users create their accounts (NCSE, n.d.a).

This means all your child needs to do is mark their age as 18+ when they sign up (or change their age after they’ve signed up) and a world of pornography is at their fingertips.

Some servers encourage unsafe behaviors

Kids can join dangerous servers that provide tips and support for engaging in behaviors like eating disorders, self-harm, and unsafe sex. Even channels not specifically dedicated to these behaviors can be threatening to a child’s well-being because of the toxic culture often found on Discord.

Children perceived as annoying, different, or weird can be bullied, ostracized, and told to harm or even kill themselves (Kelly, 2022).

young girl in dark room lit up by computer screen

Children can meet online predators

Creating or joining public servers allows you to take part in interesting discussions with people from all over the world. It also allows online predators to meet and groom children (NCSE, n.d.c).

Even if your child solely uses private servers, that doesn’t mean they can’t come across people they don’t know. If the owner of the server (the person in charge of managing the server settings) allows it, anyone on the server can invite anyone else to join.

How Parents Can Respond

Parents are empowered the more familiar they are with the apps their children have or want. Discord does have some “safe-settings” features, but kids can turn these safe settings off if they so choose. Discord does not currently offer parental controls. 

Discuss concerns

If you feel like the risks outweigh the potential rewards of Discord, talk to your child about it. Ask them what they know about Discord and how it can be unsafe.

Listen to them and seek to understand why they want the platform. Be transparent about the dangers, which will help them understand why you are choosing to make them wait until they are older.

Speak up

Some classes or extracurricular activities use Discord as a way to communicate. They set up a private server, usually with a teacher, coach, or a parent assigned the role of “Administrator”, and use the server to quickly disseminate information out to the class or team.

If your child is in this position, you can explain your concerns to the leader of your child’s organization. It is okay to ask and encourage them to adopt other methods of communication like GroupMe.

You might also consider downloading Discord to your own phone. This allows your child to receive communication for their clubs/teams without having Discord on their personal devices. 

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