What Parents Need to Know About Twitch
The age of web streaming is here to stay, and popular streaming website Twitch is leading the way. With more than 140 million active users on the platform, Twitch is the most popular destination to watch streamers play through games and engage with their community.
On Twitch, users can watch others livestream as they play games, providing commentary throughout. Coupled with a robust chat system that allows streamers to interact with those watching, Twitch can be a magnetic platform for gamers of all ages. Teens frequently visit Twitch to watch their favorite games being played, chat with other fans, and discuss events in real time. If your kids love games, odds are they have shown an interest in Twitch, and you’ll want to make sure they know how to use the platform safely and appropriately.
What Is Twitch?
From the platform’s website, “Twitch is where millions of people come together live every day to chat, interact, and make their own entertainment together.” Using Twitch, streamers (creators that record and post videos live) entertain their followers with the latest games and gameplay videos. If you’re not familiar, think of it like YouTube, but all of the content is live, as opposed to prerecorded.
More recently, Twitch has grown beyond video games and hosts streamers for other topics, from politics to travel and even cooking. For example, the most popular non-gaming topic is “Just Chatting”, where streamers will speak with their audience through chat or other voice services (like Discord).
Can My Kids Communicate with Others via Twitch?
Twitch is, at its core, a social platform. Streamers can DM (direct message) fans, and fans can interact with each other via the built-in chat function. Many popular streamers make their own community guidelines for their streams and hire/choose “chat moderators” to discipline users that are behaving inappropriately.
There are options to hide chat for personal interactions, but if the function is not activated strangers can privately message other users.
Users can also obtain “channel points”, which can be used for streamer-specific actions (such as highlighting their chat message during a stream or even asking the streamer to do a certain action like checking chair posture or modifying the current game in some sort of way). These channel points are earned by staying in the stream, chatting every so often, and purchasing subscriptions during the stream’s duration (more on this later).
There are options to hide chat for personal interactions, but if the function is not activated strangers can privately message other users during streams by using a direct message function. Twitch does not offer the ability to disable chat during streams, so you can assume that your kids will have some exposure to other users – be it active or passive. Some streamers cultivate heavily moderated chats that promote safety, but unsolicited private messages can still occur in this space.
Does Twitch Cost Money?
Twitch is free, but there are options to spend money. While many streams are ad-supported, streamers often also accept donations from their community, enabling some creators to make Twitch their full-time job.
Twitch does not have any built-in parental controls for spending.
There are a few functions that may require payment for access. For Twitch partners and affiliates (streamers with a sizable audience and approved through Twitch’s vetting process), users can purchase subscriptions, and streamers will take a portion of those profits. Some streamers also enable donation tools like Streamlabs, Patreon, Kofi, and PayPal, where users can send money to their favorite personalities – almost like a tip jar.
For those that have Amazon Prime, there also are free bonuses, such as a free monthly subscription to a Twitch streamer and perks for other games. (Twitch is owned by Amazon.) This requires that your kids’ Twitch account be linked to an Amazon Prime account.
Twitch does not have any built-in parental controls for spending so it’s important to discuss this with your kids and enforce household rules about how much, if any, money can be spent.
How to Manage My Kids’ Twitch Activity?
As mentioned, Twitch does not have the kind of parental controls you may expect from video game consoles and other devices, but there are some built-in measures you can take to help manage what your kids are exposed to.
Children 13 or older are allowed to create an account under parental supervision.
Keep in mind that Twitch streams can be watched without an account. If you’re not logged in you cannot participate in chat, but chat is still visible, meaning the potentially mature content in a chat is visible. However, with an account users can turn off the direct message function entirely, as well as block or report users that are behaving inappropriately.
According to Twitch’s Terms of Service, children 13 or older are allowed to create an account under parental supervision. Should a child under the age of 13 create an account, parents can email the site to have the account deleted after providing relevant information to confirm that your child has breached their terms of service.
Is There Inappropriate Content on Twitch?
Like many social sites, there can be inappropriate content on Twitch. Strictly adult content, such as anything explicitly sexual, is not allowed according to Twitch’s terms of service. However, as a variety of games can be streamed on Twitch, including games that are rated M for Mature, your kids could encounter content that that you may consider inappropriate. Note that Twitch prohibits streams for games rated AO (Adults Only).
Some popular streamers may use strong language (though not considered a breach of the terms of service) that some parents may find objectionable.
Streamers are not required to flag these M-rated games before playing, or proactively warn their community about coarse language, so it’s helpful to keep an open conversation about who your kids are watching on Twitch, what their favorite streamers are playing, and more. No one knows your kids better than you, so while some parents may be OK with what their kids are watching, it’s always a good idea to vet your kids’ favorite streamers to see how they behave.
Talking to Your Kids About Twitch
Parents and caregivers should nurture an open and ongoing dialogue with their kids about the content they consume online – including Twitch streams. It’s important to understand your kids’ favorite streamers and why they like them so much so you can gain a better understanding of what your kids may be exposed to. No matter where your kids are watching – be it on a family computer or a personal device – some parental controls are likely available to help manage what your kids are watching, when, and for how long.
With this information you can take some time to watch streams yourself to see why your kids are drawn to these personalities. In some cases, you may find that the content created by your kids’ favorite personalities are not quite appropriate, leaving the door open to a conversation about what is and is not permitted. However, it’s just as likely that you’re entertained by it, too and may even turn it into a regular family activity!
Patricia E. Vance is the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). In her position, she leads the teams responsible for assigning age and content ratings to video games and apps, enforcing marketing guidelines adopted by the video game industry, and operating ESRB Privacy Certified, an FTC-approved COPPA Safe Harbor Privacy seal certification program.