As a parent, I knew the day would come that my kids would start talking about music, movies, celebs etc. that I would not know about.
It’s impossible to keep up. But one area I thought I would hold my own and be able to talk the talk, was with technology and online apps.
But that quickly vanished over the past few years and especially since our oldest son added a phone and Chromebook to his life. Now my brain checks out when the boys talk about Minecraft, Among Us and Roblox.
I tried to understand each by creating profiles and playing, but it just never caught on. For the record I am horrible at Among Us.
The latest and maybe the most unknown app to me is Discord. Have you heard of it? If you have young kids or teens, I know you have.
Do you know what it is? What it does? If it’s safe?
You really should because at least in our house it’s becoming the number one way our oldest son communicates with the online world (and us).
I know I am late to the party, but for those who don’t know about Discord, here is my explanation including what parents need to know.
What’s a Discord?
I enjoy making our kids laugh, while trying to show interest in what they love. It’s why I will ask them – how do you Roblox? Or have they crafted any Mines lately. Silly dad stuff.
It’s partly how I get them to start a conversation about any number of topics. So when we started hearing our oldest say he saw something on Discord, or learned about a topic on Discord, it perked our ears.
Simple questions at dinner like – were you “Cording” with friends?, would produce the usual oh gaaawd smile. No dad, it’s Discord.
So what is Discord for those who don’t know? In my own words it seems to be another messaging tool like WhatsApp, Teams, Slack, Toast, Monday, Clubhouse and more. By the way, I made up at least one of those.
So why is it so popular when we already have Facebook, email, texting and more. Okay old person.
Common Sense ratings and reviews highlights 6 key things for parents to know:
- Chat function is popular with gamers
- Does have privacy and safety settings
- Does not offer parental controls
- Possibility of inappropriate content
- Safest when used only with friends
- Not limited to gamers or gaming
As I dug in more, it seems Discord started as a popular communication tool for online gaming and streaming. In researching it I saw it called Skype for gamers. But if you are under 20, you probably have no idea what Skype is. So forget that reference.
Basically, Discord was designed to help gamers communicate and coordinate via private servers using text and voice-chat. I guess they don’t want to use the functionality built into Xbox games etc.
Since the days of gamer communities only, Discord has exploded in popularity and moved beyond just gamers to how family and friends stay connected even if video games are not the reason.
At it’s core, young people see it as a fun place to hang out. I am guessing they like the lack of old people.
Facts.net lists these quick facts about Discord:
- Discord was launched in the year 2015.
- As of December 2019, there are over 250 million registered Discord users.
- As of February 2020, there are over 56 million monthly active Discord users.
- Discord has a total of 165 employees as of May 2019.
- An average of 25 billion messages are sent monthly on Discord.
I have to say, it’s hard to believe I did not know about this app until now. Here I thought I was plugged in. Clearly I will now be living through my kids to learn about what is cool.
Should you be using Discord?
Do I think you should add one more app to your life to communicate with people? Depends? In our house, I don’t see see myself becoming a Discord power user, but I am taking the time to learn so I understand what my kids are doing.
So far we have balanced the line of showing interest and participating without being seen as spies or not trusting. Like with anything, especially online, kids are going to use it somehow, so it’s worth understanding.
So far we pretty much use it for sending silly GIFS to each other, but it has also become clear if we want to digitally reach our kid, texting, email, or yelling upstairs, does not have the same power as a quick message on Discord.
Cool features of Discord
Since I have started using Discord to send my son my favourite GIFs, I have to say, it’s a pretty common chat app. It doesn’t feel much different than Slack or WhatsApp so I had to know more. Why is it popular. Why does my son look like he is in a hackathon when sitting at his computer?
From looking around, the desktop Discord app can be accessed via an overlay, meaning that messages can be carried out without interrupting game play or watching YouTube. Well that makes sense.
Discord is also particularly good at managing large groups. With a Discord server, you can create separate channels with different levels of permissions for users, meaning that groups remain focused as opposed to being in one mass message thread or voice-chat channel.
Definetly helpful when you have many friends or family members on a server and each have their own break out sessions so to speak.
Ever since our son got his phone and asked us to download some chat app, we have heard him talk about creating Discord servers like he worked in Silicon Valley. But as it turns out it’s kind of just making a group.
A server is an invite-only place for your personal circle or community that you are directly involved in.
Right now we have a family server and a silly one I created for food.
Creating a server is pretty easy and there are eeven templates to choose from. Everything can be tweaked.
Within a server, you can have different channels for different topics. Whether it’s school related, movies, games or whatever else, it’s a channel to hang out and discuss just that topic.
Channels are also easy to add. This helps you parse your group even more. In our food server, we have channels for foods we like and foods we don’t like. These can be voice or text channels.
To get your friends onto your new server you share the link provided for that particular server. You can put limits on the URL depending on how many people you want to invite.
Our son is only allowed to add people he knows.
Parents and Discord – possible concerns
Now with any technology that is connected to the outside world, there are definitely things parents should be concerned about.
Just like with any platform or community you want it to be safe for your kids.
Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or even email, your kids will need your help navigating what’s appropriate and what isn’t. It can be very easy to go down a bad path.
This is why we have taken an interest in Discord and why we communicate sometimes with our son using this format. We can get a sense of his knowledge and it let’s him know we are keeping an eye on him. Sadly it won’t be long before he won’t want to have Discord chats with mom and dad. That’s when we really need to remain vigilant.
After all, Discord really is geared towards adults.
Because it’s a pretty inclusive app (desktop or mobile, not resoruce heavy), that inclusivity also brings dangers for younger users. Profanity and abusive language are standard on many Discord gaming servers.
Also because it’s for gamers many players are discussing “mature” games touching on sex, violence and drugs. This goes for YouTube as well.
So of course these themes will often creep into chats. Imagine having this tech when you were a kid? Now the private stuff you would talk to your friends to in a treehouse is cruising around cyberspace.
Again, we all have to remember Discord is not an app that was ever aimed at kids.
Anyone over 13 – or anyone who claims to be over 13 – can download it for free. Shhhh don’t tell.
While our 11-year old uses it for pretty harmless things, he could quickly encounter things that he is not ready for. That’s why we are pretty clear to tell him only connect with people you actually know. So far he has been very good about this.
The safest way to use Discord is to only accept friend requests and participate in private servers with people you already know.
But it’s good to make your kids aware that they can block unsuitable content using the app’s explicit content filter. They can also easily mute or block individual users, and limit “adds” to friends.
It’s also very important to know that Discord does not offer parental controls. You can’t restrict content or password-protect the settings.
Discord makes it easy
Discord is an extremely useful app for so many different kinds of people.
It’s a great way to stay in touch with a group of friends, stream your favourite games, connect with your online community, and collaborate with other online creators.
Now do I see myself using it for more than pinging my son when it’s dinner time? I am not sure yet. It is certainly an option for a group chat for the family. But I already have my methods of communication for people. WhatsApp, texting, Facebook Messenger and even LinkedIn chat.
I doubt I will be a Discord superstar going forward. I am happy our son has found someting he is really interested in and that it connects him to his friends during a time when it’s hard to see friends.
He has grown some very strong friendships with his class via Discord that may not have happened thanks to home school, lockdowns and all the other pandemic protocols in place.
Get hands on with Discord
If your kids are using Discord, I think it’s best to familiarize yourself with the app. I don’t expect you to use it all the time or switch all your comms to it, but be able to have a conversation with your kid about how it works and what they use it for. Understand the powers and limitations. Parents and Discord can work together.
Oh and send them the occassional GIF just to show them you are still an out of touch old person who cares.