We often see questions from parents about the new apps their kids are using. Are they safe? What does this app do? Are there any parental controls I can use? Here are some recommendations from the OffenderWatch Team to help navigate this year’s most popular social media platforms. 

Discord

This app originally started as a meeting place for video gamers to chat but has evolved into a platform for text, voice-chat, and video-chat to discuss a variety of topics. Discord users can host their own public or private “servers” that revolve around a certain user or topic, much like a chat room.  

  • While many servers are moderated and can be age-appropriate, others are very inappropriate for children because of hateful, inaccurate, or explicit content. 
  • There are specific “NSFW” servers that require a user to be 18 or older, but these restrictions can be easily bypassed by a user. Discord requires users to be at least 13 years old to create an account, but they do not verify users’ age upon sign-up. 

Our Recommendation: Teens aged 15+ 

  • If you do allow your child to use Discord, the safest option for a minor is to join a private group comprised of only people they know in real life.  
  • Request that your child show you their group’s typical feed to get an understanding of the specific content they’re consuming and contributing to before allowing them to participate further. 
  • With the right privacy settings and monitoring, Discord can be a safe environment for your child, however, parents should discuss with them how to recognize and deal with online predators before actively using this app. 

Parler

Originally created as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook, Parler has grown in popularity with politically conservative people. Marketed as a platform without any censorship, Parler continues to top Apple’s App Store charts since early November 2020. Parler allows for its users to post short messages of up to 1,000 characters in length and direct message users for a private conversation. 

  • It is harder to be completely anonymous on Parler—users need to submit an email and a phone number to join. Users can also sign up for a “verified” classification that requires a photocopy of a valid driver’s license of picture ID and a selfie. 
  • Users can auto-block certain words or sensitive material, but it requires effort from the user to initiate these keyword blocks. 
  • Although the platform does offer some basic community guidelines (no pornography, no death threats allowed, etc.), Parler is its own wild west of communication. They claim to keep banning of users to a minimum, but they have begun increasing their authority as more users begin to join. 

Our Recommendation: Adults only 

  • Although Parler has banned people for inappropriate conduct in the past, they do pride themselves on limiting intervention as much as possible. It’s best to leave Parler to the adults.  

 Houseparty

Houseparty is a video chatting app with minimal room for parental control. Friends can communicate through live video and texts in group chats. This can be dangerous—there’s absolutely no screening process upon entry and there are no restrictions on sharing and viewing inappropriate content.  

  • Although only users who are friends can invite each other to groups, there’s nothing stopping a potential predator from entering a group chat as long as they’ve already connected with someone on the app. 
  • Houseparty doesn’t have a moderating system. Unlike static posts that a moderator may review, live chats featured in this app are completely unregulated. It’s impossible to predict what kids might see, especially if they’re in chats with strangers they don’t know. 
  • Houseparty does allow for users to report or block users they encounter. Once a user is blocked, they will no longer be able to communicate with your child. 

Our Recommendation: Teens aged 15+ 

  • We recommend young children refrain from using this app, but if they do, make sure it’s under adult supervision with a parent or guardian within earshot. 

Reddit

Reddit has been around for several years and its userbase spans multiple generations. As a microcosm of the internet, this ever-expanding forum offers a variety of content from the mundane to the fascinating. The site and app are made up of “subreddits,” which act as post-based chatrooms centered on a single topic. Anyone can create and moderate a subreddit, making it an endless repository of information on anything you can imagine.  

  • Its robust user-based voting system helps police the forums. Responses with the most positive votes float top the top, while negatively reviewed posts get pushed to the bottom of the feed. Usually, this helps with getting rid of inappropriate content organically, but they do offer a moderating component as well. 
  • It takes little effort to make a new account. Many users make “throwaway” accounts to hide their post history. This kind of anonymity can make it difficult for a user to escape from a potential cyberbullying situation. 

Our Recommendation: Teens aged 15+ 

  • We suggest that parents sit down with their children to discuss which forums they which to frequent. Reddit can be a great learning tool, but it’s important for parents to constantly discuss what capacity their teens are using the platform. 
  • Proceed with caution. Reddit is best for older teens with a critical eye for misinformation and a moderate level of internet safety intelligence. 

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