Young girl being homeschooled studying through technology at home
Gary John Norman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There's A Good Chance Your Kid Uses Discord, So Here's What Parents Need To Know

Whether you know it or not. Here’s how you can help keep them safe online.

John Regrave, Discord’s VP of Trust & Safety, thinks it’s important for parents to know, right off the bat, that there’s a very good chance your child is on the communication platform. He also knows that while Discord is becoming more and more popular with users of all ages, there’s also a pretty good chance you’re not. He hopes the newly launched Family Center, the platform’s first parental control feature since launching in 2015, will help change that. Romper spoke to Redgrave about the new feature, and what parents should know about how their kids engage with their friends, and the world, on Discord.

How old do you have to be to use Discord?

Discord is meant for users 13 and older. And as with anything relating to teens, creating the Family Center was a delicate balance of “keeping parents informed while maintaining teen autonomy and control over their Discord experience,” according to Redgrave.

“[Making the internet safer for kids] has been a problem space that I’ve been intensely interested in working on for quite some time now,” he told Romper in a video chat on the platform, “and I now get to do this inside of the walls of Discord.” Redgrave joined the company when Discord bought Sentropy, an AI-powered software company that worked to detect and remove harassment and hate in online spaces, in 2021. (Redgrave is the co-founder and CEO of Sentropy.)

Discord is not just for gamers anymore.

Discord was initially most-associated with video games, providing online gamers the ability to have real-time conversations as they played without the lag-time or lack of privacy available within the game itself. In other words, if your child wants to talk strategy (or just shoot the breeze) while playing Minecraft with their friends, Discord — with voice, video, and text on private servers and in direct messages — is a great option as it limits their online communication to people of their choosing.

Discord is meant for users 13 and older.Shutterstock

Over the past few years, the platform has moved beyond existing as a space primarily for gamers and currently offers something for everyone — there are dedicated servers (think “chat rooms”) for just about anything you can think of. Video games, anime, and comics, sure, but also crafting, parenting, sports, academics, politics, and more. And while there are some searchable spaces, many others are private and can only be accessed by those invited to join.

Discord doesn’t sell ads or suggest content.

Redgrave also points out that unlike social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, Discord isn’t in the business of “monetizing eyeballs or selling ads to people.” Indeed, the platform makes most of its money through paid server upgrades (“boosts”) and subscription services such as Nitro (which, among other things, allows users to upgrade uploads and profile customization). Discord also relies on revenue-sharing with content creators, cash infusions from investors, and corporate partnerships.

It’s also what he describes as “opt-in.”

“We’re not firing algorithmic recommendations of where you should be at you,” he notes. “So people are actively seeking out places to spend time on the platform.”

Unlike most social media, Discord is free from ads and suggestions.miniseries/E+/Getty Images

In other words, your child is not being led to particular content... though that’s not to say they can’t stumble into unsavory corners of Discord on their own. Indeed, having a community for everything means that can include, say, far-right extremists. “There's always going to be these deep, dark pockets,” says Redgrave. “And that is a big part of my job, is to make sure that we remove those actors across what I would define as the main street of the internet ... but there’s so many amazing benefits to a platform like Discord. So we want to clear the way for people to experience those things and to really find belonging.”

How does the Family Center work?

Discord’s new parental features are less about control and serve more of a conversation starter. Part of that is facilitating conversation between teen users and their parents via the Family Center, which parents will have access to via their teen. (Yes: the ball starts off in their court.) Parents will be able to log in through a QR code to get an account set up, and then the accounts will become linked. Once a parent has the account linked, they will be able to see seven days worth of information, including who your child has been messaging, the profile names of new friends, and the names of servers they’ve participated in or joined. There is also a weekly email summary containing this information. One thing parents will not have access to: the content of their child’s messages.

“We think this is a really important commitment to our teens who use Discord and their privacy, but it allows for parents to engage in what we hope will be really healthy conversations about digital well-being,” Redgrave explains. One example of the kind of user they had in mind, Redgrave confirms, would be a queer teen who isn’t ready to come out yet (or for whom it might not be safe to do so), but who is finding camaraderie and coping with other kids like them.

Ensuing conversations are just as important, in many ways, at the feature itself.Shutterstock

The hope is less that the Family Center will allow parents to control their teen’s online use, but rather create a space for parents to become more familiar with Discord and engage in constructive conversations.

“One of the things that we believe in is that if we provide this tool that will get more parents to engage, and I think part of being a parent in this day and age with social media and all these communication services is if you're not a user yourself or you haven't played around with the service yourself or you don't have a reason to engage with it, it makes it really hard for you to engage with your child,” he explains. “A feature is great, but a feature plus education is actually what I think makes the difference.”

“There is no silver bullet” when it comes to online safety.

Just about all of the many online safety experts we reached out to for this article highlighted that parental engagement, not just opting-in to various parental controls, is, as Redgrave suggests, crucial to promoting safe and healthy online engagement for children. They also acknowledged that in spite of any company’s best efforts, including Discord’s, no online space can ever be guaranteed to be perfectly safe.

Wes Anderson, a founding partner and online privacy expert at Reveille Advisors, observes that some of the functions and features that make Discord a great place to for teens to “find their people,” as Redgrave puts it, can also make the platform “a hotbed for online safety and privacy concerns.”

There’s no silver bullet, but there are important conversations to be had and the Family Center can help.NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

“To their credit,” he continues. “Discord has all the settings one would need to protect themselves, the problem is that many kids and teens would not implement such filtering on their own (ie: no direct messages from strangers, friend requests only from shared connections, etc). As we all know, going against our parents is a right of passage.”

Redgrave, however, recognizes that any tool Discord implements will ultimately never find the perfect balance to ensure 100% teen autonomy and 100% safety.

“There's no silver bullet in this world,” he admits. “The old parenting adage really works here: it takes a village, but when it comes to a communication and community-based service like ours, it really does take a village of features, education, and then capabilities. ... The more collaboration that you see across the ecosystem, the more that we get rid of the worst actors that are working to exploit children.”