Understanding Chat Apps

May

30, 2019

by Laura Higgins


Digital Well-Being

Teens and kids love to push boundaries. They actively seek freedom, take risks, and experiment. As a parent, you learn this quickly. While we try to help this next generation safely navigate the online world, we as parents are also learning how to adapt to the digital landscape.  

Inevitably, rules are bent and broken. I doubt any parent thinks limits won’t be tested; it’s part of the territory. So, we do our best to clearly lay out the consequences for what could go wrong and stay involved in our kids’ and teens’ lives to help them anticipate and solve problems.

In the digital world, that can be even harder. Most games and social platforms have safety settings and features available to customize experiences that are age appropriate.

Roblox’s chat features are age sensitive and provide very stringent filters for under 13 players. We don’t allow sharing of images or video and every piece of communication is scanned by automated filters for inappropriate language and over 800 human moderators review content 24×7. We update our chat filter technology every minute of every day to detect and block any new words or inappropriate themes.

But teens crave freedom and social interaction is a compelling part of gameplay, which is why third-party chat apps, like Discord, are so enticing. They give teens a way to use more colorful language and post content that may be considered inappropriate as they play games with their friends.

Unfortunately, because many of these chat apps are designed for older audiences, they have far fewer restrictions and moderation. While that’s appealing to gamers who want to interact with friends, it also attracts bad actors with serious malicious intent. Older players are equipped to navigate in these environments, but younger players, not so much.

Making it even more confusing for parents, some of these apps offer an “overlay” feature that masquerades as part of whatever game the player is using. But they are entirely different spaces, with a vastly different demographic and potentially entirely different individuals than those actually on the various gaming platforms.

At Roblox, we believe it’s our responsibility to help parents navigate what can often be a confusing digital world. Here are some tips to help better understand the communication channels your kids and teens are using:

  • Chat Applications: Familiarize yourself with each chat app your kids and teens use and learn who else uses it, how to use it, and even what functionality the app provides.
  • Adults Only: There are some platforms popular with gamers which are more geared toward an adult audience, so keep talking to your kids and teens about where they “hang out” online. For example, Discord is intended for 13+ users, so they will likely be communicating with adults on that platform.
  • No Judgment: If your teen talks to you about inappropriate content on chat applications, listen with neutrality. If teens feel they are being blamed or judged, they may not come to you again or may decide to hold back in sharing important information you could use to help them.
  • Empower, Don’t Panic: Make sure your kids and teens know how to report harmful content. Go through the process of reporting something with them to build their confidence. Explain to kids and teens they are not “tattletales” but helping to protect others from getting hurt.

Most importantly, remember that as parents, we are the main source of reassurance, guidance, and wisdom for our kids. Be there if they need you, even if they broke the rules (like setting up an account without your knowledge), because it is likely you will help them solve a problem better than anyone. If they know you won’t judge them but will listen with empathy and guide them to find solutions, you’re setting an open door precedent that will serve them well in the real world too.