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Is Twitch Safe for Kids?: A Guide for Parents

Is Twitch Safe for Kids?: A Guide for Parents

What is Twitch, and should I let my kids use it?

Twitch is an app that allows you to watch livestream videos of others playing video games (not to be confused with a video game streaming service, which allows you to play video games on your own device using a faraway server). Millions of viewers from around the globe use Twitch every day, and there are more than 1 million broadcasts going on at all hours. In other words, Twitch is huge. But what, exactly is the appeal of Twitch, and is it safe for kids to use?

Twitch defines itself as a community of devoted gamers, and while many channels consist of people playing video games, there are also livestreams of pretty much anything else you can imagine: music, art, cooking, makeup, animals, or simply talk. The most popular non-game category, in fact, is called Just Chatting. Tags like “IRL” and “creative” allow you to find these non-gaming streams. A live chat runs alongside each livestream, allowing viewers to participate in real time.

If you’re not a gamer, it’s hard to comprehend the appeal of watching someone else play a video game for hours on end, but for kids who are into a game, it’s an enticing lure. Twitch has been called a gamer’s paradise, something akin to reality TV for gamers.

Is Twitch safe for kids?

Twitch wasn’t designed for kids, and there are definitely some concerns to address if your child wants to use it. While there is plenty of appropriate content, such as livestreams of folks playing games like Roblox or Minecraft, and you can search for streams tagged Family Friendly, there is also a lot of stuff you probably wouldn’t want your children watching.

How old do you have to be to sign up for Twitch?

Twitch requires a person to be at least 13 to sign up for an account, and the organization Common Sense Media doesn’t recommend it for anyone younger than 15.

You can download the app for free and start watching livestreams, but you need an account in order to start your own broadcast. There are also different levels of membership, some of which allow you to watch ad-free. Twitch is owned by Amazon, so if you have Amazon Prime or Prime Video, then you already have Twitch Prime.

Although it’s free to sign up for an account, there are ways to spend money on Twitch. You can subscribe for a fee to your favorite channels, and even make direct donations to broadcasters. You can also purchase “bits” and distribute them to show support for your favorite streamers.

How does Twitch monitor the livestreams on the site?

Of primary concern is the unpredictable nature of livestreaming. Because the videos run in real time, there is no going back and editing out anything that happens. There is plenty of swearing, and an almost infinite variety of content. Creators are responsible for moderating their own streams, and a tool called AutoMod is available to help them block inappropriate messages before they go out, although it’s up to each broadcaster to decide if they want to use it, and to adjust the settings.

Twitch has an exhaustive community agreements document, with a newly updated hateful conduct and harassment policy set to go into effect on Jan. 22. Users can have their accounts suspended for offenses that fall into these and other categories, such as self-destructive behavior. But these actions are reactive, and rely on a moderator to catch, or a user to report, problem behavior. With a million streams going at a time, it would be impossible to catch every offense.

While the bulk of Twitch activity is public, it is possible to send private messages between users with a function called Whisper, although you can also block a user from sending you messages.

Twitch no longer keeps a recording of every stream, but this doesn’t prevent another user from capturing content. So kids should assume, as with everything else on the Internet, that anything they say or do is potentially permanent.

How can I keep my child safe while they stream videos online?

One way to work around these concerns is to constantly supervise your children while they watch, but this likely isn’t feasible for most parents. You could, however, spend some time watching with them and come to an agreement about which channels are okay for them to view.

Your best defense, overall, is working toward open and honest communication with your children about safety and values. They will come across inappropriate content, either on Twitch, YouTube, or another app, and what matters most is how they react. A teen who can be trusted to walk away, speak up, or report online wrongdoing is well-equipped to navigate Twitch and other media.

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Marie Holmes

Author: Marie Holmes has written for Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, the Washington Post, and other publications. She lives in Upper Manhattan with her wife and their two children. See More

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