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Get to Know Your Teen: What is Discord?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Chat platforms have been an online staple since the advent of the World Wide Web. America Online Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, and Microsoft Chat were some of the first household instant messaging programs. They paved the way for the ubiquity of live chat today, from private messages with friends to receiving customer support on a brand website.

Discord is the 21st century version of AIM. 20 years ago, you and your friends hurried home after school to chat with each other on AIM in blinding neon colors with abrasive notification sounds. Today, your teen logs into Discord to talk with their friends, both those they met and know in real life – IRL in modern teen slang – and those they meet online.

So, what exactly is Discord?

How does your teen use the platform?

What are the downsides to the service?

How can you ensure your teen uses Discord safely?

We know your inquiring parental mind wants to know.

We have answers.

What is Discord?

Discord is a free app that combines the messaging capabilities of instant messaging with the audio and video capabilities of Skype. It’s a text, audio, and video app used by millions of people around the world. The service is home to thousands of communities of varying sizes, from families and class study sessions to mental health support and hobby-focused groups.

Voice over IP (VoIP) services have long been used by teams playing online games since in-game voice communication features tend to be low quality and lack features. Discord was invented for online gamers as a free alternative to other VoIP services like Mumble, Teamspeak, and Ventrilo.

Since its introduction, though, new Discord communities have appeared daily. Many still use the service for in-game communication when playing online games, but it’s no longer reserved for game-related conversations. Discord calls itself Your place to talk and hang out – and it serves as just that.

Discord hosts innumerable servers where people can share their interests and hobbies. There are servers for fans of TV shows and sports teams, members of clubs, and various hobbies. If you can think of it, there’s probably a Discord server for it.

Why Do Teens Use Discord?

Teens use Discord because it gives them a place where they can be themselves in a group that shares similar interests. For example, say your teen loves building model planes. They can join a model plane server and chat with people around the world who also love building planes. They can learn about new models coming out, the best methods for building them, and trade with others once they finish a build.

The same applies to thousands of other activities, hobbies, and interests. Your teen can find people interested in their current passion. Conversations in Discord usually center around the subject of the server. Most also include off-topic areas where users can chat about whatever is on their minds, like how their day is going or what they’ve been up to lately.

Common Terms Used on Discord

Like most online communities, Discord has its own glossary and lingo. Understanding the different terms used on Discord will help you understand what your teen is talking about.


Servers are the spaces on Discord set up by different communities. Most servers are relatively small and operate on an invite-only basis. Sometimes servers are large and open to the public. Anyone can start a Discord server about any topic for free.


Channels are located within an individual server. Servers offer both text and voice channels, and channels are typically segmented into different topics. Text channels are like instant messenger programs and allow users to post text chats and images as well as share files. Voice channels are like Skype and allow users to voice or video chat.


Direct messages (DMs) are messages that users send privately to one another. Most DMs are one-on-one, but users can start group direct messages (GDMs) that include up to 10 users.

Go Live:

Users can share their screen with another user on the same server or in a DM.


Nitro is a premium subscription service offered by Discord. It is a way to support the platform in return for special customization options like Discord Tags, emotes, and more.

Server Boost:

A server boost is like Nitro but for a whole server. They offer special perks like emotes, higher call quality, and more to members of the server.

Privacy on Discord

Discord might make you think of the old AIM chat rooms. In those rooms, you could speak with anyone, anywhere, at any time. These times on the internet were a bit creepy as people hid behind text-based aliases with little to no supervision or repercussion.

Discord servers are a far cry from the public chat rooms of the past. Again, most Discord servers are private, invite-only communities. People must already be a part of the group or community so they can receive a special invite link to join the server.

Large public Discord servers are a bit more reminiscent of the AIM chat rooms of the past, but have far more safety measures in place than those old rooms. Most servers have moderators that keep an eye on members and work to keep interactions safe, clean, and fun for everyone.

How to Keep Your Teen Safe on Discord

Despite the mostly mild interactions that occur on Discord, it’s always best to take precautions and be safe. Talk with your teen about the servers they join and whether they know these individuals from real life or online. Keep the communication between you and your teen open and honest instead: that’s the best way to get them to open up and be cooperative.

If your teen is using Discord and you didn’t know it, it’s important for you to know there’s no need to freak out.

The private server aspect scares some parents, but that’s really a plus: it means the person who starts the server has complete control over its members. It’s likely your teen’s interactions are limited to innocent banter with friends about topics, hobbies, and activities that interest them. Still, it’s good to know what your teen does with their time online, just as it’s good to know what your teens does with their time IRL.

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