You may never have heard of Reddit, or you may have heard your teen casually mention something they read there. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, we’re here to help. Reddit is an online forum which allows registered users to post content. With 1.7 billion monthly visits, Reddit ranks among the most popular apps in the United States. But is Reddit safe for teens? Your Teen talked with Christine Elgersma of Common Sense Media to learn about this popular website.
Q: For parents who don’t know, what is Reddit? What is Reddit used for?
Elgersma: Reddit used to call itself “the front page of the internet.” It’s an aggregating site where registered users can submit content to the site, such as links to articles or images, which are then voted up or down by other members. The most popular posts are then featured directly on the front page. I would describe it as a source of information, another way to find community about various topics and engage in conversation.
Q: What kind of topics can you find on Reddit?
Elgersma: The range of topics is very wide. A community discussing a specific topic is called a subreddit. Popular topics trending right now on the front page include Star Wars movies, the best pickup lines, and cooking. The discussions in a subreddit can be very in-depth. Many Reddit communities are known for having users who are very knowledgeable and have done really deep dives into a topic. Each subreddit has its own unique personality and rules. You can find community on things you are interested in and find really great information. There is a lot of really great content.
But there can also be a lot of misinformation, conspiracy theories, dark topics, and fringe stuff. There is a lot of pornography and NSFW [not safe for work] content.
Q: Does Reddit moderate content?
Elgersma: The short answer is no. There are community moderators, but they are volunteers, not employed by Reddit. Many of these volunteers will monitor to make sure the discussion stays on topic. Reddit does employ site administrators who might address things like bullying or spamming, but they are not restricting content.
Q: What content concerns should parents have?
Elgersma: First of all, there is porn on Reddit and it’s easy to find. Reddit has all the threats—porn, white supremacy, hate speech, really dark topics that a young teen may find confusing, disturbing, and upsetting if they see it even accidentally. Users can stumble into a group that is inappropriate for their age, and a vulnerable teen could get sucked into this.
Q: What controls can parents enable?
Elgersma: You can read Reddit without any kind of account. To control content, you must either register an account on your computer or download the Reddit app. Once you become a registered user, there are settings for content preferences. Under User Settings, there is a tab called Feed Settings. You must proactively turn on Adult/NSFW content for it to show up in your feed and search results. If you do turn on Adult Content, however, users can still select to toggle on “safe browsing mode,” which will blur thumbnails and media previews for anything labeled NSFW. You can also turn off trending posts, so your teen won’t see those topics.
Q: What about any sort of privacy settings?
Elgersma: Any Reddit user can send you a message or initiate chats with you. But if you have a registered account, you can turn off private messages. In the upper right hand corner of your screen, go to your account name and click on User Settings. Find the tab Privacy & Security. There you can disable private messages so you don’t receive them from strangers. You can also disable chat messages and requests. Controls also enable you to turn off comments and voting on posts and comments as well as to block specific users.
A word of caution, however. These setting preferences are not permanent—there is no parent mode or password control, so your child can simply switch it back.
Q: What age do you recommend for teens who want to use Reddit?
Elgersma: Common Sense Media recommends 15+, but of course your comfort level is going to depend on the child. Reddit is a First Amendment free-for-all and the Wild West in terms of content, language, and the people you may encounter. It’s really a mixed bag.
Q: If your teen wants to be on Reddit, what should parents tell them?
Elgersma: The conversation about porn should happen long before your child has access to the internet. The conversation with your teen should be something like: “I know you’re interested in this Star Wars subreddit, and I see why you want to read this. My expectation is that you will steer clear of this other kind of content. I will be periodically checking on the computer and going in to make sure that you haven’t changed any of the user settings and to see what you’re reading.”
Parents should be armed with information. Let your teen know that you expect them to avoid questionable stuff. As always, I err on the side of telling the truth to kids and equipping them with the ability to walk away from things that make them uncomfortable and to come to you with questions or things that confuse them.