Dr. Delaney Ruston – I recently learned about Youth Era, started by Martin Rafferty, an organization based out of Oregon that has established drop-in centers for youth with all sorts of resources and online communities via Discord and Twitch, as well.
Recently I had a conversation with Mike Caruso, who runs Youth Era’s virtual channels on Discord and Twitch. Today, I will write about my conversation with Mike and explore what Discord and Twitch are, some of the risks of the platforms, some ways to mitigate risks, and what Youth Era does on these platforms.
Mike is a very thoughtful guy, and his work is all about having young people join him on those platforms to have fun while he also interweaves social and emotional topics. Also, there are trained peer-support specialists available who can provide support in real-time. Given that youth connect across video games and social media platforms, having support systems meet them where they are is a pretty neat idea.
Frankly, this is particularly true regarding boys who often don’t feel a lot of permission in their online lives or offline lives to share emotions or ask for help. In addition, in the gaming world, they rarely see other guys modeling talking about social and emotional topics and healthy ways of coping with them — all things that the Youth Era’s platforms do.
What is Discord?
Recently people have been asking me if Discord is considered “social media.” The answer is yes. On Discord, people can have communities on all sorts of topics, and the most common has been around video gaming. These communities are called servers, and these servers are organized into text and voice channels. For more details and lingo, you can visit Discord’s website.
There is a main chat in a server, and then on that chat, people can direct message each other, or they can jump into a discussion board. There can be many “discussions” in the server, such as an art and crafts section of the server. There, people can have a chat as well. The point is you can have a chat anywhere on the server. Thus you will hear the word “chat” a lot by Discord users.
Discord has grown in popularity immensely due in part to the pandemic and more people online gaming. It is growing in all sorts of ways. There are groups that come together over shared interests in things like science or sports.
Connecting with friends over Discord is the most common positive I hear about from youth. Another positive is that there are no ads on Discord.
An upside I want to focus on today is the Youth Era channel hosted by Mike.
Like other social media platforms, the legal age to sign up is 13. Some parents permit their children to be on it before they turn 13, and of course, some find ways to be on it even without parental permission.
Examples of Risks with Discord
One risk is that youth might join a group where they do not know people. Of course, this is always very concerning for things like the fact that in such groups, they may have people they don’t know say things like, “You’re really cute,” or ask, “Where do you live?”
In addition, just like in any online group situation, they may hear about and get links to violent, scary, or other inappropriate content.
This year, the reporter Bobby Allyn on NPR News said: “Like on every corner of the Internet, chats on Discord can turn nasty. Discord says last year, it had to ban more than 250,000 users for things like harassment. Citron, the Discord CEO, says it has community guidelines against violent threats and extremism.”
What is Twitch?
Twitch is a platform where people live stream on their channel. A person creates a “community” — it could be for a cooking demonstration or making music, but by far, the biggest activity is people live-streaming themselves playing video games. Streams will typically get accompanied by a live chat, where viewers can communicate with the streamer and other people watching. It’s called a “Twitch Live Stream.” After the streamer ends their live stream, they can save the video for a specific amount of time for users to go back and watch. This saved video is called a Vlog. This allows individuals who missed the live stream to go back and watch/catch up on previous content. Vlogs last for one month on Twitch, and then they automatically get removed.
Examples of Risks With Twitch:
Many kids love watching more advanced people playing a video game that they, themselves, play. Just like a tennis player might like to watch more advanced players. The hard reality, though, is that there can be a lot of cussing and other inappropriate dialogue on these channels.
Another issue is there are many channels for things like body painting or for example or women who stream from say their hot tub. These can be extremely risqué and, for youth, inappropriate.
Another example is the ever-present risk that youth will be approached by someone posing as someone they are not, and trying to connect with that youth inappropriately.
Strategies to mitigate risks of discord and Twitch
If your child uses Discord or Twitch and creates a community, talk with them about configuring their settings to private so no one can message them unless they know the person and they accept their friend request.
Check what servers your youth are in, and with them, if they will let you, go through some of the chats — try to be nonjudgemental at that moment. Just get a feel of things. This will give you topics to gingerly discuss in the future. If you respond with lots of negativity, it can close off the potential for future dialogue about the platform.
The youth has a right to block anyone that ever says anything to them that they feel like is inappropriate or uncalled for. By clicking on the individual’s name and going to block, they can no longer message them.
Parents should look, with their teen’s permission and help, at the Twitch channels they follow. Some channels can be toxic.
The best way to understand how your youth interacts on Discord is to ask them to walk you through their channels and go through some of the messages. Ask them to show you their private messages and make sure they are making appropriate comments.
What Youth Era is doing on Twitch and Discord
Youth Era’s website says this about its Discord channel, “You can connect with your peers, receive support, access multiple chat rooms, participate in video game competitions, take cooking classes, do mindfulness exercises, and watch movies, among other activities.”
Youth Era’s Discord has multiple communities within its community. For example, there is an arts and crafts section where youth share their work and what they love to do, there is a music section for those inspired by music or that love to create music, etc.
Mike’s work is all about letting young people know first and foremost: “Be who you are because everyone else is taken.” He helps youth know that they are great as they are and also that it is completely normal to be dealing with uncomfortable feelings. Youth Era’s goal is to nurture a sense of community where everyone can feel welcomed and respected. If anyone is ever not in line with the etiquette of their channel, then Youth Era will block that person.
Mike often demonstrates examples and real stories from his own life (without oversharing) to give youth an opportunity to understand that his channel is a place that allows people to be real and vulnerable. He does all this while doing different activities, sometimes playing a video game, sometimes doing a goofy dance, and the list goes on. By the way, he talks with his community about the importance of having lots of time offline, doing things like spending time with loved ones and taking time for self-care.
Teens are encouraged to participate by writing in the chat, and if any of them talk about their emotional challenges, trained peer specialists, called “peer supports,” are there to talk right away with the youth in a separate chat or even by phone. Youth Era’s certified Youth Peer Support Specialists listen, suggest resources, and help identify strengths and needs.
Consider checking out Mike on Discord and Twitch
If you have kids in your home who use Discord or Twitch, I think it would be great to ask that you spend 10 minutes or so on Mike’s channel. This can be a way of introducing your child to Mike, and then in the future, they will know what he is doing, and perhaps they will want to return to his community. Mike and Youth Era run events where youth can learn beneficial knowledge about life, win prizes, and become part of a growing and loving community.
The best way to find out when Mike is on these platforms is visit this page on the Youth Era website.
Ideas to get the conversation started:
- What do you know about Discord and Twitch? Do you use it? Do your friends use it?
- An interesting thing about Discord is that there are no ads on the site. Discord makes money through subscriptions for things like unique emojis and higher-quality streaming.
- If your child uses either of these platforms, see if they will watch Mike for a bit with you. What did you think of his messaging, and what do you think about having peer support right on those platforms?
- Do you have friends that like to play games with you? If not, we can join Youth Era’s server and find friendly people to play with!