September 19, 2023

Navigating Online Boundaries With Your Teen

Parents can encourage regular safety conversations by honoring young people's online expertise and experiences.

We’re committed to making Discord a safe place for teens to hang out with their friends online. While they’re doing their thing and we’re doing our part to keep them safe, sometimes it’s hard for parents to know what’s actually going on in their teens’ online lives.

Teens navigate the online world with a level of expertise that is often underestimated by the adults in their lives. For parents, it may be a hard lesson to fathom—that their teens know best. But why wouldn’t they? Every teen is their own leading expert in their life experiences (as we all are!). But growing up online, this generation is particularly adept at what it means to make new friends, find community, express their authentic selves, and test boundaries—all online.

But that doesn’t mean teens don’t need adults’ help when it comes to setting healthy digital boundaries. And it doesn’t mean parents can’t be a guide for cultivating safe, age-appropriate spaces. It’s about finding the right balance between giving teens agency while creating the right moments to check in with them.

One of the best ways to do that is to encourage more regular, open and honest conversations with your teen about staying safe online. Here at Discord, we’ve developed tools to help that process, like our Family Center: an opt-in program that makes it easy for parents and guardians to be informed about their teen’s Discord activity while respecting their autonomy.

Here are a few more ways to kick off online safety discussions.

Let your curiosity—not your judgment—guide you

If a teen feels like they could get in trouble for something, they won’t be honest with you. So go into these conversations from a place of curiosity first, rather than judgment.

Here are a few conversation-starters:

  • Give me a tour of your Discord. Tell me what you're seeing. 
  • What kind of communities are you in? Where are you having the most fun? 
  • What are your settings like? Do you feel like people can randomly reach out to you? 
  • Have there been times when you've been confused by how someone interacted with you? Were you worried about some of the messages that you've seen in the past?

Teens will be less likely to share if they feel like parents just don’t get it, so asking open questions like these will foster more conversation. Questions rooted in blame can also backfire: the teen may not be as forthcoming because they feel like the adult is already gearing up to punish them.

Read more helpful prompts for talking with your teen about online safety in our Discord Safety Center.

View your teen as an expert of their experience online

Our goal at Discord is to make it a place where teens can talk and hang out with their friends in a safe, fun way. It’s a place where teens have power and agency, where they get to feel like they own something.

Just because your teen is having fun online doesn't mean you have to give up your parental role. Parents and trusted adults in a teen’s life are here to coach and guide them, enabling them to explore themselves and find out who they are—while giving them the parameters by which to do so.

On Discord, some of those boundaries could include:

  • Turning on Direct Message Requests to make sure strangers can’t message them on larger servers without going to a separate inbox to be approved, first.
  • Creating different server profiles for servers that aren’t just their close friends. You and your teen can discuss how much information should be disclosed on different servers, for example by using different nicknames or disclosing pronouns on a server-by-server basis.

Using Discord’s Family Center feature so you can be more informed and involved in your teens’ online life without prying.

Create more excuses to have safety conversations

At Discord, we’ve created several tools to help parents stay informed and in touch with their teens online, including this Parent’s Guide to Discord and the Family Center.

In the spirit of meeting teens where they are, we’ve also introduced a lighthearted way to spur conversations through a set of digital safety tarot cards. Popular with Gen Z, tarot cards are a fun way for teens to self-reflect and find meaning in a world that can feel out of control.

The messages shown in the cards encourage teens to be kind and to use their intuition and trust their instincts. They remind teens to fire up their empathy, while also reminding them it’s OK to block those who bring you down.

And no, these cards will (unfortunately) not tell you your future! But they’re a fun way to initiate discussions about online safety and establish a neutral, welcoming space for your teen to share their concerns. They encourage teens to share real-life experiences and stories of online encounters, both positive and negative. The idea is to get young people talking, and parents listening.

Know that help is always available

Sometimes, even as adults, it's easy to get in over your head online. Through our research with parents and teens, we found that while 30% of parents said their Gen Zer’s emotional and mental health had taken a turn for the worse in the past few years, 55% of Gen Z said it. And while some teens acknowledged that being extremely online can contribute to that, more reported that online communications platforms, including social media, play a positive role in their life through providing meaningful community connection. Understanding healthy digital boundaries and how they can impact mental wellbeing is important, no matter if you’re a teen, parent, or any age in-between.

When it comes to addressing the unique safety needs of each individual, there are resources, such as Crisis Text Line. Trained volunteer Crisis Counselors are available to support anyone in their time of need 24/7. Just text DISCORD to 741741 to receive free and confidential mental health support in English and Spanish.

Parents and Teens

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