If you’re not one of the two million people who log onto Twitch each month, you may have never heard of the live streaming platform that was founded in 2011 — but I bet your kid has. Originally Twitch was a platform that allowed game enthusiasts to watch livestreams of gamers playing their favorite video games, including Fortnite, which manages to keep my son and his friends busy for hours (and angling to do extra chores in exchange for “V-Bucks”). Since 2011, the service has since expanded to include streams focused on artwork creation, music, talk shows, and even the occasional cooking show.
Twitch, owned by Amazon, not only allows users to watch live-streaming video broadcasts of gamers, but also allows you to livestream your own games and chat with other gamers. The most popular Twitch broadcasters have millions of followers and can earn money based on the number of people who subscribe to their channel.
As Twitch has evolved, it’s also taken steps into the social media world. One of its features, Pulse, available on the app, works similar to a Facebook or Twitter timeline. App users can post status updates or like, share, and comment on other people’s updates.
For kids who love gaming, Twitch is a chance to find their people—others who love gaming as much as they do. The platform has a community-like feel among users and even a quick glimpse into one of the chat rooms revealed the users chatting about jobs and hobbies. In a few of the chats, there was a friendly vibe to the chatter as friends wished each other goodnight and wrote ILYSM (if you haven’t brushed up on your acronyms for a while, that’s shorthand for “I love you so much”) to each other. Although, just a few moments spent in a third chat room revealed bad language and crude words spelled just wrong enough to not be caught by a moderator in a chat that sometimes moved at a dizzying speed.
How Does It Work?
Finding Twitch isn’t a problem — a version exists for nearly platform. The streams can be viewed via the official Twitch website or on an app designed for iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and 4, Amazon’s Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and the NVIDIA SHIELD.
You don’t need an account to view the streams. Watching a stream requires you to do nothing more than type in the name of your favorite game into the search field, or click on one of the suggested streams. But if you’re looking to follow a favorite channel or broadcaster, you’ll have to create an account.
Is It Appropriate For Kids?
It depends. The heart of Twitch is gamers watching gamers play games, either for fun or to learn how to play the game themselves. A more mild game, like Minecraft, would probably be appropriate for most kids. A more violent game, like Call of Duty, would probably be less appropriate. And Twitch features streams of all kinds, from Animal Crossing, The Sims, and Super Mario Bros. to Drug Dealer Simulator (yes, really), Grand Theft Auto, and Resident Evil, and literally everything in between — even poker and chess. Games come with ratings, much like movies. Whether I’d let my child watch a PG, PG-13, or R-rated movie would depend on the movie, the reason for the rating, and my child. I would use those same criteria to decide whether or not a game is appropriate, too.
Since Twitch is no longer exclusively a gamer platform, there might be even more content suitable for kids. Things like cooking shows and watching others create art are probably safe options. But finding that content isn’t always easy, and there’s no single place where all kid-friendly content is stored. You can browse by category …
… but there’s also a list of “suggested” content, curated by the app based on what you’ve watched previously.
Aside from the content of the games or shows, the chat rooms may contain mature language from other users who comment on the games. When you click on a stream to begin watching, a chat room reminiscent of the AOL chat rooms of years long gone (have I just dated myself?) opens up. Moderators are quick to delete inappropriate comments … if they’re caught. It’s also easy enough to hide the chat, by clicking the x and collapsing the box.
And, although there are community guidelines in place, the platform is live. Which means there’s no delay between what the streamers may say and do and when the content is published. This means the content may be unpredictable, and any given moment might be the one your kid sees or hears something you don’t want them to see or hear, or don’t want them to see and repeat — particularly in school, or in the middle of a long checkout line at Target.
What Should Parents Know About Twitch?
Minimum Age: The official suggested age for users is 13 and older, but there’s no verification at sign up to make sure younger users don’t sneak on.
Subscriptions: Twitch is free to use, but there’s a fee to subscribe to channels. Subscribing to channels grants access to ad-free viewing and subscriber-only chats. And speaking of fees, anyone can become a broadcaster—there’s potential to earn real money from each subscription.
One caveat: There’s also the option to gift a channel subscription (“gift a sub,” as the kids say). And if there’s a valid payment method — which we all know can be as easy to access as the push of a button these days — Twitch users can gift up to $499.00 worth of subscriptions. In addition, your child can receive gifted subscriptions that they may not want, but you can also block these in your account settings.
Direct Messaging: Twitch has a direct messaging feature that allows any users to contact each other privately, called “whispers.” There is a way to change the settings to block messages from any strangers, and I’d highly recommend using this feature to avoid anybody creeping into your kid’s inbox. Although that certainly doesn’t mean your kid’s “Twitch friends” are harmless, it does give you a little measure of security.
As you can see in the photo, you can also toggle the “INFOnline Tracking” on and off — this blocks tracking from third-party advertisers.
Screen Time: If screen time is already a concern, Twitch has the potential to make things worse. There’s an endless supply of content to stream. In 2018, 1.1 million years of content was streamed.
Ultimately, Twitch is a live streaming platform with social media-like communication abilities. Parents need to be aware of the features and potential dangers lurking on Twitch. They should pay attention to who their kids are chatting with, what they’re watching, and how they’re watching it. As with any social media platform, online safety is important, and begins first and foremost with a conversation with your children.
Whether they’re on Twitch or a different social media platform, a good first step is to understand what benefit or joy your kids are receiving from the site and balance that with the need to keep them safe. And then, let the gaming — or watching other people gaming — begin!