What is Discord and How Do You Use It?

If you have a teen or tween chances are they’ve asked you for Discord! It has left you wondering, what is Discord, is it safe for my teen, and how do you use it?

What is Discord?

Discord is basically a chat application. It is a way for people to communicate with other people online. It was originally built in 2015 as a way for gamers to communicate during their gaming sessions or outside of the game to coordinate playing together or to just chat with their new friend. If you meet somebody inside of a game during a live gaming event then you can take that chat out into Discord. This also would allow them to mute the in-game chat so they were only talking to their team members or people they wanted to communicate with.

Discord has now extended way beyond those initial use cases and now you can find Discord servers for pop culture, education, and friend groups. Even FamilyTech now has a Discord server!

How does Discord work?

To explain Discord in a way we children from the 80’s and 90’s can understand, it is like AOL or MSN Instant Messenger had a child with a BBS and an online forum. Discord basically has all of the features that were on those platforms, and then some.

What is a Discord server?

Instead of chat rooms, Discord is broken up into servers. People will join a specific server to communicate with others about specific topics, friend groups, schools, fan bases, or more. Inside the server, there are several areas where you can get even more specific about a subtopic. There is usually a general chat where it looks like a chat room where you can have a conversation about anything. Depending on the server’s creator and moderators, there may be several other chat rooms called channels about different topics. Like in a Marvel Fans server you could have a channel for the movies, a channel for the comic books, etc.

What features does Discord have?

Discord also has the ability to make a channel more like a forum. Inside these channels, it’s less like a chat room and more like an online forum similar to Reddit. You can pose a question or a topic inside the channel and people can respond to the question or comment.

Another feature of Discord is the ability to do a voice chat, video chat, or stream live video. This would be similar to those party lines you could call if you want to do a group voice chat with other members of the server.

What kinds of servers are available on Discord?

When you sign up for Discord, you can join any number of different servers. You can use a specific invite link, like this one for the Family Tech Discord Server, or you can tap the “discover” button to find popular servers in topics you are interested in. The Family Tech server will help you get to know Discord so you can keep your family safe, but we’ll get into that a bit more.

For most servers, you will need a specific invite to join it, but if the server has over 1000 members it can be listed in the Discover section, so any servers there will have a lot more members than a more private server that you join with an invite link. Many YouTubers who want to have their Community like Family Tech on their own Discord server will give you an invite link to their specific server.

There are servers for all kinds of groups including schools. If sign into Discord with a school email address then you can actually join with other people in that school. As long as they’re verified School email addresses. One word of warning. These servers are not managed or maintained by the school or district themselves. The use of the school email address is only a way for Discord to verify that you are with that school and you should be allowed in that group. But I REPEAT the server is NOT associated with the school. If something happens in that server, you really can’t go to the school administration to get it shut down.

These groups can actually be really beneficial for your kids though. There can be groups for different classes so they can get help with homework. There can also be subgroups so that you can work on a class project together inside Discord. So, sit down with your kid and see what is available to them through their school account and see how they can get the most benefit from it.

Once you join a server you may have to agree to the rules put in place by the server moderators, or there may be hurdles or questions you have to answer before you gain access to the full server. Some of these include choosing your own roles or posting in a specific channel. What you need to know here is that servers can be private or they can be public, but you do have to join the server to see the content. There isn’t an algorithm or a feed to show you content from all of the servers you have joined. You need to visit the server to see the updates.

How do I keep my kid safe on Discord?

Since Discord can be kind of the Wild Wild West, each server may or may not be inappropriate for your child. Many of these servers can be labeled NSFW, meaning Not Safe For Work, meaning definitely inappropriate for your child. If your child’s age is correct in Discord, there are some default restrictions that will not allow them to join any servers that are labeled NSFW. However, since there are people on the internet who lie, even if a server is NOT labeled NSFW, it could have inappropriate content and there could be predators on that server.

With so many dangers that could be lurking on Discord, especially when you first allow your child to start using Discord, you will want to monitor it heavily. The best way to do this would be to log into their Discord account on your devices so you can see exactly who they are talking to and what servers they are joining. If your child has an Android device, you can monitor Discord through a parental control app like Bark.

In addition to chatting publicly inside the various servers, Discord also gives you the ability to private message other Discord users. You can send a private message to somebody who is in a server with you or someone you have connected with by adding them as a “friend” on the platform. In the user settings, you can limit who can private message you, and the kind of content you can receive in a private message.

Now let’s dig into these user settings so we can set our kids up for success on Discord. First, the most important thing you need to know in this entire article is the age restriction for Discord. You MUST be at least 13 years old to have a Discord account. Hard stop. End of story. This is the age restriction currently set by Discord itself. If your child is 10, 11, or 12 years old and wants a Discord account, do not allow them to have a Discord account. You would have to lie about their age in order to get them that account. Lying about their age, or allowing them to lie about their age can set a really bad parenting precedent. It shows your child they can lie to get what they want, and it will likely mess up some of the default settings put in place by Discord to help keep your child safe. So make sure to wait until they turn 13 to get their Discord account. My son actually had it on his calendar that he is allowed to get Discord on his 13th birthday. He was really excited to get it!

Inside the user settings, when the account is owned by a child between the ages of 13 and 18, some defaults are put in place to help keep your child safe. These settings CAN be changed by your child, but just be aware to check these and make sure they are set properly from time to time. You can even enable some of these settings for yourself too!

Discord Privacy Settings

The first setting to pay attention to is putting a content filter on your Direct Messages. To access this setting tap on the settings icon by your username if you are on a desktop, or tap your profile photo and then tap the settings icon at the top right if you are on a mobile device. Next, tap on “Privacy and Safety”. From here you are presented with 3 options for the Explicit image filter. You can Filter all direct messages, only messages from people who are not added as friends, or you can choose to not filter messages at all. There are 3 similar options for any messages that might be detected as spam.

With the filter set, it scans incoming messages to see if they contain spam or are inappropriate, and then will block them from being delivered if it is detected. No system is perfect, so I would not completely rely on this to keep your child safe, but it is definitely going to help with some of the worst images and messages.

The other privacy settings related to Direct Messages are the ability to block members of servers you have joined from sending messages. This will keep strangers out of the DMs. If you do not allow direct messages from server members, you will only be able to receive messages from people you have added as friends.

Another setting to check to keep your kids safe on Discord is friend requests. While you are still in your user settings, tap on the “Friend Requests” section. For your kids, I would disable the ability for everyone to send them a friend request. For kids just starting out, I would probably even disable the ability for friends of friends to send requests. If you join a public server that has thousands of people, without this setting disabled, you might get friend requests from inappropriate people that are also on that server. With friends of friends turned on, some of your actual friends might not be as particular with who they accept as a friend, so this might allow inappropriate people to request you as a friend too.

How can I learn more about Discord?

As I mentioned, Family Tech does have its own Discord server. The reason I created this Discord server is so that parents can sign into Discord, and join a server where they’re not going to get any judgment if they don’t know how to use Discord. I am very passionate about understanding the platforms your children are using. You should ALWAYS be where your children are sharing. If they want BeReal, get BeReal yourself. If they want Snapchat, get on Snapchat. Be where your children are communicating. So, if your child has a Discord account, I highly, highly, HIGHLY, recommend you get a Discord account too.

Once you log into Discord, you might be a little lost as to what servers you want to join. I mean, you probably don’t even really want to use Discord at least right at the beginning, right?? It’s a little intimidating to use a new platform. So, go ahead and Join the Family Tech Discord Server by clicking here. You can ask questions about Discord. You can ask questions about parenting technology. You can even ask questions about smart home advice! If you are tech-savvy, you can even join the server to help other parents out with their questions! There are a lot of things you can do in the Family Tech Discord server to help you get to know the platform better. Then you will be able to guide your child as they use Discord.

Go ahead and join the Family Tech Discord server and get the help and advice you need. You might find a community of people who are just going through exact same things that you are!

The other thing I will say about joining Discord and getting to know it now, is that pretty soon Discord is actually going to be releasing some built-in parental controls. This is going to allow you to see what servers your children are joining, who they’re communicating with, and a few more insights. However, you do have to have a Discord account in order to set up those parental controls.

To set up the parental controls when they are released, you as the parent, will be invited from your child’s Discord account to “supervise”. Once you accept the invitation, you will be able to take advantage of the monitoring available through the platform.

I’m having a lot of fun on Discord! It is a really great place to find Community, and I’m finding that I like it better than Facebook groups! I like it better than Reddit! So I would love to see more parents on Discord to really help them understand why their kids like it so much! Kids today are really gravitating towards and using Discord a lot. I want to make sure you understand how to use it so you can better protect your children.

Hope to see you over on Discord today! Join Now!

TL;DR?? Watch the video instead!

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About the author

Sarah Werle Kimmel

Sarah Werle Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 20 years of her career working as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on local NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX news affiliates, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com

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