Discord for preteen?
May 14, 2020 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I have a pre-teen daughter whose (mostly male, same age) friends are hanging out on Discord, and I am trying to figure out whether it's possible to give her access in some way without exposing her to the site's very nasty underbelly...

Particularly during the pandemic, I don't want to cut off access to her friends, but Discord culture makes me really queasy...

Has any of you been successful in creating a safe-ish environment in Discord? How do you do it?

Would we have to limit her to her own invite-only server? Is it even possible to restrict access in this way, or is a Discord account basically a ticket to unfettered access no matter what?

Even her friends' servers can be iffy... they tend to be open and unsupervised by parents. A quick experimental visit didn't boost my confidence any.

I've been probing to see if there are any alternatives (Google hangouts/Skype... even setting up a Mastodon instance) would give her the same sort of access that she wants... but the fact that her friends are all on Discord kinda makes alternatives hard to pitch.

Any advice/thoughts are welcome. Thanks!
posted by cgs06 to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My 12yo son is on discord with his friends. He also has an account on the Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men discord, but that's a mefi-level good people hangout.
He's been online since he was about 2 years old, so we have this drill about never sharing private info, letting me know if anything sketchy goes on, etc. He's good about it, asks me for permission to go on new networks or services, or momentarily turn of restricted mode in youtube,
We also have a zero privacy policy, meaning I'm allowed to read anything he posts or receives, I have the passwords to his accounts, etc. I don't use this information, but I want him to know I could.
posted by signal at 10:57 AM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

The thing about discord is that you're not really exposed to anything except the servers you're on, unless you seek them out (or somebody invites you)., It's not like youtube where content is fed to you by algorithms.
posted by signal at 10:59 AM on May 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It doesn't look like Discord has explicit parental controls, so anything you do to your child's account can be undone by them. But if you trust your daughter to not do that, there are some things you can do:

This blog from Discord mentions turning off friending and blocking inappropriate content. Personally, I would set your daughter's Safe Direct Messaging to "keep me safe", and disable "Everyone" as a friending option, and "Allow direct messages from server members". That will restrict it so only her friends can message her privately, and would stop random internet strangers from trying to friend/message her.

As a parent, my only actual concern would be to keep her from joining bad servers. If her friends are hanging out on a friends only server that's no less safe than any direct messaging would be, so that's not a problem. I don't see why the friends' servers would be worse than any other private chat, as in practice parents are never going to be able to monitor all kid-to-kid private chat. The problem is that I don't see any way to block an account from joining random servers, so you're just going to have to monitor which servers she's on, which you can quickly do by glancing at the left side of her screen. Unfortunately there's no account-wide way to block easily joining new servers it looks like

In my personal experience the vast majority of public Discord servers are totally safe for 13+ kids, and ones like "The Official Minecraft Discord" that show up on the first page of Server Discovery (magnifying glass on the left) are well moderated and safe. But, if she joins a server associated with an "older kid" game like Call of Duty or something she will be exposed to the kind of stuff you're afraid of. And any private servers you have not personally vetted are the most likely to be dangerous.

I think you're not going to have any luck pitching alternatives, and honestly those alternatives all have similar problems. As Discord is technically only for 13+ kids in their terms of service, I might be inclined to not let a preteen use it, but if you monitor the service it shouldn't be worse than other alternatives.
posted by JZig at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So Discord is a tool, like e-mail. It's a chat program, essentially. You can use it just to talk to your friends like you would via texting, or you can join much larger servers and talk to strangers. The former I think is definitely okay for a pre-teen, the latter is a lot more risky and takes a lot more care. The "culture" on Discord is super dependent on the server and the mods of the server, so it takes a lot of vetting.

You can't restrict her from joining other servers, just like you can't restrict her from e-mailing people you don't know or joining a listserv/e-mail group. However, the nice thing about Discord is it doesn't advertise any groups for you, and it's actually... frustratingly hard to search for them. So, mostly you find other servers by being invited, or by seeing it advertised somewhere else. Similar to e-mail in that regard. A Discord account would mean she could join any server she wanted (although many servers are 16+ or 18+ only and require you to state your age before they'll give you access to the server), similar to how she can e-mail anyone she wants with an e-mail account. However, she would have to go looking for other servers. If you are worried about this, you can have her regularly show you what Discord servers she is in--they'll appear on the left. Now, she could leave a server, show you, and then join again if she wanted to hide a server from you--but if your relationship is like that, she could just as easily make a secret Discord account anyway without telling you.

I think if you believe she respects your rules and is mature enough to stick to friends-only servers, or larger servers that you vet, Discord would be fine for a pre-teen. The things you saw in friends servers that made you uncomfortable--were these things said by her friends, or by strangers? If the servers are just small friend groups (a.k.a. 5-10 people), then that sort of talk is going to happen no matter what they use--phone call, email, texting, etc. Teenagers say iffy shit to each other. You can't change that without stopping your daughter from being friends with them or monitoring all of her texts, calls, etc,. which I suspect you aren't doing and don't want to do. If it's stuff said by strangers, though, that suggests to me it's a larger server and the kind you would want to vet before letting her use.

I'll say that Google Hangouts/Skype would not be considered a suitable replacement for Discord. The point of Discord is you can hop in and out and leave messages without requiring other people to be online, and you can have multiple conversations at once (via channels). It's also focused on text-based chat, which is a lot less demanding and Official-feeling than video chat. Mastodon would be a little closer, but it's not really a chat as far as I know, so it doesn't feel like real-time interaction. As a teenager, I always had some kind of chat that I was in with 4-5 of my good friends (AJAX chats were my Discord) that allowed me to have a hangout space online--none of those would have come anywhere near replacing that.
posted by brook horse at 11:02 AM on May 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

Yep, you're running into the lock-in aspect of the network effect. Whatever service your daughter's friends are using to hang out, for her to hang out with them, she'll need to be on that same service. The different services mostly don't talk to each other.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:12 AM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

You have to actively seek out toxicity on Discord more than you do on a lot of other platforms. Unless you go looking for public servers, being on Discord is mostly just like being in a group call or chat with a list of friends you invited to participate.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the opinions... I'm digesting.

The things you saw in friends servers that made you uncomfortable--were these things said by her friends, or by strangers?

The worst elements were from the strangers, but the friend who set up the server was setting the vibe of the place.
posted by cgs06 at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2020

Best answer: So, that might be a problem specific to that friend. If your daughter sets up her own private server it'll be easier for her to set her own vibe. If this isn't a close friend, you could suggest she make a server for her closer (and hopefully less problematic) friends, and still use DMs to talk to this friend without letting said friend's vibes mess with her server. And, again, her setting up a server with just her friends isn't really going to be inherently worse than any of the other ways she interacts with her friends.

I would suggest she avoid servers that are allow strangers unless they're well-moderated by people who are trying to set up a family-friendly vibe (which you would have to vet). If you do want to allow her to join a larger server, look for ones that describe themselves as "family-friendly," "welcoming community," "SFW" "active staff/mods," "verification system." Avoid ones that mention dating, "loose moderation," "not strict," etc. It's a good idea to look at the rules a particular server has set up--if the Discord doesn't have any visible rules, I would definitely avoid it. Here's an example of rules on a server I'm on that maintains a positive vibe and family-friendly atmosphere (it's 16+, unfortunately, or I would suggest it if she's into Animal Crossing): 1, 2. This is the sort of thing I would look for. Hang out yourself for a few days to see if it lives up to the description + actually follows the rules laid out.
posted by brook horse at 12:21 PM on May 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

What kinds of conversations have you had about the values and ethics of online behavior? Without tying it to a discussion of whether or not she gets access to Discord have you talked about what makes you queasy? Have you asked her about what she thinks of the vibe her friends is setting on their server?

Beyond just giving access to any particular site you need to equip your daughter with some tools to evaluate what's going on, make good judgments, and know how to stand up for herself/others in a way that is safe and empowering. Adolescents are still developing their moral compasses and that's something they need help with.

Parental controls and permissions are only one part of the conversation you need to have.
posted by brookeb at 1:12 PM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

The worst elements were from the strangers, but the friend who set up the server was setting the vibe of the place.

if they are pre-teens I think that's something you should bring up to their parents asap. Kids are a lot more likely to behave appropriately if they know all the parents in their friend group communicate and are on the same page.
posted by fshgrl at 2:36 PM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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