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Grapevine helps people experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage in Coventry and Warwickshire. It does this by strengthening individuals, sparking community action and shifting power across services.

This Guide looks at how to safely use Discord as a platform for connecting with and supporting young people. It covers how you can run sessions and build a sense of community. It also explains ways to handle some common risks.

Steps to using Discord successfully with young people

Discord is a platform that anyone can use to create a community. It is currently used by lots of young people. The young people most likely to be using it are over 13 and interested in computer gaming, tabletop gaming, podcasts or other related hobbies.

Discord offers many functions that can be useful when building relationships with a group of young people.

  • Anyone who has a Discord account can create and run a community (a server).

  • You control who is invited to the community, and which parts of the community they can access.

  • You can run one or more areas for chat messages and posts relating to different topics (channels).

  • You can set up voice or video channels (including screen sharing) linked to any of your chat threads, to run specific sessions.

  • You can set up temporary channels to act as break out spaces.

  • You can send direct messages to people.

  • People using Discord only see each other's Discord identity. You don’t need to share email or phone details.

The Grapevine Teenvine Plus project often works with autistic young people who spend significant amounts of their time gaming. For this reason the project always considers Discord for any groups it runs.

Project worker Sarah likes Discord because it covers many project needs. She finds it useful to be able to send messages and run sessions from one online place. She and young people appreciate that they don’t have to share phone numbers or emails with each other to use it.

Grapevine runs youth-led projects, so they only use Discord for project communications when most young people in a group want to. The Teenvine Plus programme has used it for 2 out of 3 cohorts in the last 3 years.

If you decide to use Discord, you should make sure that:

  • Some of your participants are already using it. This matters if you want to support young people in the places they already hang out. Newbies to Discord will also get more out of it if those with more experience are able to show them tips and tricks for using it.

  • Your workers running the community (server) are willing to become comfortable using it and understand all its safety features - such as how to set permissions and blocks.

  • You’ve planned how to introduce it to young people who haven’t used it before. This might also include explaining it to parents.

In their first year some of Teenvine Plus' young people were already regular Discord users and others weren’t.

Staff set up the server. The young people who knew Discord helped others in the group understand how to use it.

Parents needed to understand what their young people would be using. So staff shared a YouTube tutorial explaining Discord. This helped overcome resistance, uncertainty about new technology and fears of cyber-bullying. Staff also co-created and implemented behaviour agreements with young people.

Parents of young people in the newer cohorts have also been concerned about technology choices. Staff spend extra time talking to these parents. They also ensure there are activities available that don’t rely on newer technologies.

Creating online behaviour agreements follows broadly the same process as for in person agreements. However there are also some extra things worth discussing for any online community, and some specific ones for Discord. This is because young people may be part of other Discord communities. These communities could have relaxed or deliberately challenging cultures that are not appropriate to a youth work setting.

Things to consider:

  • When can you post? How often is it ok to post?

  • What is “off-topic” or “spam” that shouldn’t be posted? Is this different in different channels? How do you add a new channel?

  • What kind of memes are allowed? Memes on the internet are usually images or animations with text. They can be uplifting, funny, or dark. Some memes are very critical. Some online cultures see this as humour. Some people find these distressing.

  • What kind of images are allowed? Consider violent images, sexual images and those showing poor animal welfare.

  • What’s the procedure if you don’t like something someone has posted? How can we make space for discussion without arguments that are painful?

Be prepared for difficult and robust debate as you work through this. Use resources that focus on how to provide an inclusive environment. These will help you hold boundaries with anyone who thinks any rules are getting in the way of their right to express themselves.

The Teenvine Plus group co-created a behaviour agreement at start of its first project. Many of the young people involved had experience of bullying and were worried about the possibility of cyber-bullying. So they were comfortable with rules about kindness and support.

But there were elements of Discord culture that staff had not predicted.

When some members of the group asked for a #wellness channel, other group members began to spam it with memes that shut down discussions and got in the way. The problem had two parts: 

  1. Some memes could be considered “dark” or “inappropriate” - some users were affected by these
  2. The volume and frequency of all posts was annoying to people trying to have a discussion.

When asked to change their behaviour, participants who enjoyed posting “interruptions” were annoyed. They felt they were being unnecessarily policed.

There is a “slow down” feature that you can turn on in Discord to reduce how often people post. But Grapevine preferred to deal with the problem through discussion and agreement.

During Teenvine Plus’s second project, with help from a peer mentor from the first project, they created a more robust behaviour agreement. This helped avoid repeating the problem.

Involving a peer mentor can help your group run smoothly. Mentors should be closer in age to the young people than your staff. Ideally they should be someone who has lived experience of the issues the young people are facing. To gain respect, they’ll need to be experienced in using Discord, ideally across different types of communities. Ideally this would be a paid role.

You could ask them to:

  • Set up the Discord server.

  • Run or assist sessions co-designing the community/server rules.

  • Post in channels to boost engagement in the early phase of the project.

  • Maintain the channels, deleting and adding topics when needed.

Teenvine Plus employed a volunteer peer mentor for their second project. They were a successful Esports competitor, a regular Discord user and an LGBTQ+ rights advocate. He brought draft community rules from other Discord communities and adapted them with the group. This meant the second project avoided the issues of the first. Young people and Grapevine staff experienced more togetherness.

He also discouraged setting up too many different channels for different topics. This made them easier to monitor. It also meant the main channels were always active and engaged.

Sarah thinks that this helped keep the young people focused on Discord. Some of them had asked about using other apps which had good marketing, but much less data security. They came to realise that Discord already offered all the features they needed.

Any online community needs regular, positive interactions to keep going. This may happen naturally between the young people in your group, but its much more likely to be successful if you provide posts, nudges and support.

You could:

  • Use it as a noticeboard for arranging group activities.

  • Use it as a space for youth-led planning of activities.

  • Hold video calls at short notice.

  • Create specific interest channels for shared hobbies, as these topics emerge in general chat.

  • Use it to connect people who want to talk to each other while they are gaming on different platforms. (Discord is better at this than most in-game voice services).

Teenvine Plus started running online support drop in sessions using video or voice chat in the early evening. Any of the group could join. Sarah would post on the server that she was around to chat to. Young people joined if they wanted. Sarah had a private channel ready if anyone wanted to discuss sensitive things. Mostly the sessions turned into informal social chat. The participants tended to stay even after Sarah left.

If your project has a finish date, you’ll need to plan for what happens afterwards.

You can start preparing for a transition by gradually giving young people more admin rights (they get permission to do certain things on your server).

Then, towards the end of the project, you can ask them if they want to continue the community themselves.

If you pass on full server control encourage the young people to think about how they will keep the community running and keep people in it safe. Make sure you let parents know what you and they have decided.

Grapevine made use of Discord admin roles which allow users more permissions and control in the server. People with these  roles were able to set up channels, and to introduce “bots” (small bits of computer program that handle certain activities). Mostly the bots were used for playing music - but there are several possibilities.

The young people with admin rights had their own sub group where they kept a to do list. They used this to manage and make improvements to the community. By the end of the project it was fairly easy for them to take on running it themselves.

Further information

Working with young people who don’t use Discord? 

New to working with young people online?