Parents' Ultimate Guide to Discord

Is Discord safe? How does it work? And what does it have to do with Fortnite? Here's everything you need to know about this popular chat app for gamers.

Discord is a voice and text chat app designed to help gamers talk to each other in real time. While playing a game on their device, users can log into Discord and enter a group chat with one or more other gamers so they can talk while they play. The app is free, and it's available on just about any device. Whether you use Linux, Mac OS, or Windows, the desktop client is smooth and responsive. If you can’t install it, there’s a web client that works just as well. Discord is also available on Android and iOS devices.


Parent Guide for Discord

What is Discord?

Discord is an instant messaging and social network app that lets users communicate with text, images, audio, and video.

Discord was once associated mostly with computer gamers and its slogan was "Chat for Gamers". Its appeal to those who did not see themselves as computer gamers led to this slogan being changed to "Chat for Communities and Friends" and Discord is now used for more general purposes, including education. This Discord app review will look at how its features can be used and how safe Discord is for kids.

What are servers on Discord?

Each community on Discord is called a server. Servers cannot be searched for within the app and so users must be invited to them, or find their online address from elsewhere. In education, a server would be restricted only to those people whom the teacher approves but other servers can be much less restrictive.

In education, we can use an analogy where the Discord server is the online equivalent of a teacher's classroom and fully under their control.

Within the server are channels and, in education, these can be seen as the different ways classrooms are used, such as student workspaces, for lessons, and for teacher/student administration. Discord channels are ways of ensuring discussions are focused. A channel could concentrate on a single topic or lesson. More generally, it could focus on homework or class administration. Channels and their focus are defined at the choice of the person who creates the server.

Channels are either text or voice-based. Communication on Discord text channels is, as you'd expect, by text.

Voice channels allow for multi-user verbal chat and users can also share their screens to collaborate on projects. Teachers can use this facility to host an online lesson.

What we love about Discord

Discord is very easy and convenient to use. Within the area they control (their server), teachers have access to useful tools that can keep the discussions safe, on topic, and useful.

What skills does it improve?

Discord is a communication tool. It can be used to support learning in any subject. More generally, Discord can introduce children to working remotely and collaborating on projects when a physical presence is not possible.

What age is it appropriate for?

There is an age limit of 13 years old set by the service and the Discord sign-up page makes it clear that children under the age of 13 should not use it or create an account. Discord does not come with any content so its age-appropriateness beyond this limit is determined by its ease of use and the risks of communicating online with other people - known and unknown. 

Kids old enough to have a Discord account should be able to manage the interface but, more importantly, they should have learned about online safety. Teachers, parents, and schools should make it clear what appropriate and safe use of Discord is.

Is Discord safe?

Discord is an online messaging and social network app so its safety is dependent upon how it is used not on what it comes with. It is at its safest when used only to communicate with friends and classmates within a teacher-controlled server but it cannot be restricted to this alone.

Individual servers can be made so that they are perfectly safe for children. Those created by a child's teacher will be one of these. They can be set as invite-only so only people whom a teacher approves can join a server, typically students and other school staff.

Within a server, approved participants can communicate freely and at any time. They can also share images and files. Any discussions are, however, visible to the teacher who created the server as well as the invited participants so poor behaviour can be detected. Some teachers might prefer to limit servers to text channels so that a record of communication remains - voice channels do not leave such a tangible record of the conversations.

Discord is a generally available communication tool. Teachers can control their own server but not the thousands of servers created by others and Discord allows access to all of them. Other servers may be innocent enough or they may be unmoderated, contain inappropriate or offensive content, and have no child safeguarding in place. There is no way for parents to restrict access only to servers they approve of in Discord.

Are there privacy settings for Discord?

Each user of Discord can set the app to offer them the experience they most want. Direct messages from one user to another, bypassing the channels, can be blocked or only allowed from friends.

How the app processes user data collected through Discord's use is under the user's control. Note that these privacy settings are free to be set by the users in the app, not by parents or teachers in the server.

Are there parental controls for Discord?

Unfortunately, there are no ways to set parental controls that cannot be easily changed in the app. However parents adjust Discord's settings, children can change them just by going back to the settings options.  

There are no PIN or password options to lock any of the settings including the privacy ones discussed above in this Discord app review. This makes it especially important that children understand about safety online if they use Discord.

How does Discord chat work?

In a text channel on Discord, users communicate by typing messages into a text box. In a voice channel, users communicate by using their device's microphone and speakers to hold a spoken conversation.

Within the channels, these conversations are open to others who have been invited to join. In a teacher-created Discord channel, this will likely only be students and staff members. Users can also chat by direct message and these are private between the participants.  

Can you share images or videos on Discord?

Yes. These can be exchanged between users either in the text channels or within private direct messages. This facility is necessary for effective collaboration between students but is also, obviously, possible to abuse.

Is Discord easy to use?

Discord has an easy-to-understand user interface. Ordinary users will quickly be able to work out how to use it and those creating and administering channels should not find the process especially difficult.

There are plenty of official guides on discord.com to setting up Discord servers in general and for education specifically. These official guides are also accompanied by Discord education templates to make the process even easier for teachers.

How will kids benefit?

Teachers who set up a server can enlist others to help monitor and ensure its smooth running. This could be another member of staff but it could also be used to offer a taste of responsibility to chosen students.  

Like in a classroom, these students can be given specific tasks and roles. As long as a teacher ensures that only they have full access to all of the controls, they can give students varying levels of responsibility within the server such as to keep discussions focused or to report issues.

Services like Discord are great for clarifying suddenly noticed misunderstandings in topics. Kids can clarify a point with each other or their teacher before they produce a piece of homework based on an error. By monitoring the discussions, teachers can interject with relevant points or clarifications just the once rather than having to do so to each student individually.

In general use, Discord makes collaborative learning, working, and studying easy when children are not physically present. Some children will already be familiar with Discord as it is so popular with fans of certain games.

How will parents benefit?

Busy parents often feel guilty when they cannot help their children as much as they like. You might want your child to work on school projects alongside their friends but have no safe or practical way to get them together regularly. Discord provides a very useful alternative that lets children support each other, work together and develop new collaboration skills from the safety of their own home.

Overall rating of the app

Discord was not designed to be an app that assists education. Its ease of use and effectiveness as a communication tool has meant that it has found a place in some schools' remote learning strategies. It keeps students connected with each other and their teachers when circumstances prevent actually meeting.

Purely in its communication features, it does a great job, but its lack of parental controls shows that Discord has evolved into an education tool rather than being one designed for the job. This exposes a weakness in safeguarding that could leave parents and teachers uneasy.

Parents have to decide whether their child is ready for using a tool like Discord. Teachers have to be sure that their whole class is mature enough for it and that parents understand the general capabilities of Discord and how they could be misused.

For kids who are clear in their understanding of online safety, Discord is a great tool. For others, you should probably look at services that allow for more restrictions and controls than Discord does. This Discord app review awards the service 4 stars.