How Concerned Should Parents Be About Reddit?

Let me start off by saying that Reddit is not one of the most well-known apps used by kids. For that reason, many parents may not have investigated the risks involved with their children using Reddit. As far as apps go, it has some terrific opportunities for people to learn on the app. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is plenty on Reddit that many parents would not like their children to see.

Officially, Reddit’s a site designed around the concept of free speech. Unofficially, what I’ve seen on the app would make many parents cringe. I use it myself to find out things happening near where I live, about some of my hobbies (boardgames, flyfishing, gardening, etc.)

What most people would call chat rooms or groups are called communities on Reddit and there are lots of communities on every topic you might consider. People post questions and others can reply to answer them, either publicly or privately. Users are free to post just about anything that they like. The feedback from other users comes in the form of comments and voting a post up or down.

Take a look at the graph below to see how I rate Reddit on several key areas of concern for parents. In my article for Pediatric Safety on Instagram, I explain in much more detail what the values on the graph mean and how using an app might endanger a child, but here it is in short form:

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
  • A rating of 5-6 is average risk – it should concern parents, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic and should concern parents quite a bit.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is very troubling as that behavior is almost a certainty within this app, and involves issues that are likely of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.

Catfishing (6 out of 10)

The potential is clearly here, but I have to say that the posts that I’ve seen which are most likely catfishing are often those that include adult content. Users can easily see the same pictures and videos of what are supposed to be users on multiple accounts.

In fact, I considered giving this a higher score, but only chose not to because the majority of what I’ve seen on the app is obviously people trying to help other people, so it’s not as bad as Kik or Whisper, which are meant to be use anonymously and often result in extremely insensitive or hurtful comments.

Cyberbullying (7 out of 10)

To qualify as cyberbullying, the Cyberbullying Research Center requires that the behavior meets four criteria. One of them is that it must be repeated – a single incident may not be nice, but it’s not cyberbullying.

Many of the comments I have seen on Reddit are single comments by one user, but when multiplied by the sheer number of people who jump on the bandwagon so to speak, the results are the same. It’s what’s known as a “roast” – when multiple people attack a person where they are sure to see it.

Language (7 out of 10)

Overall, most people mind their manners on Reddit, but that’s not always the case, especially in some of the more adult-appropriate communities. I’ve seen comments to posts that would get people arrested if they actually committed the acts they mentioned in their comment. The same is true about some of the original posts and what they’re asking for/about.

Nudity (10 out of 10)

Reddit is filled with nudity, including images and videos. Hard core nudity. It’s that simple. What surprised me the most is how quickly I was recommended to see posts or communities that included such content. I’m not saying that nudity and pornography is everywhere on Reddit, but it definitely exists and it’s not hard to find. The images below, however, were posted in a Reddit Community where explicit images may not have been expected.

And while these images still have the people wearing at least some clothes, there are plenty of cases where the images and videos are far more graphic in nature.

For what it’s worth, communities that are known for adult content typically, but not always, have a warning pop-up so that users can’t enter them without a chance to prevent it from being seen.

Privacy (7 out of 10)

Users don’t need to even sign into Reddit or even have an account to view what’s posted on it. That’s probably the best way to maintain a person’s privacy, but of course, that also means that they can’t engage in the discussions and that’s a shame, because there is a lot of good content on Reddit.

Sexting (7 out of 10)

Plenty of the communities that contain adult content generate extremely crude and inappropriate comments by users – statements that would most definitely get children in trouble for saying such things at home or at school. This often results in long threads (reply after reply) about sexual activity. That’s just what’s publicly available from the posts themselves. Direct messaging between users is not available to see but most likely continues this type of behavior.

Sextortion (7 out of 10)

Any place where kids can meet strangers and engage in sexting has the potential to lead to sextortion – blackmailing others to perform sexual acts. This typically begins after the victim sends a single inappropriate picture to force them to continue doing it. Considering that the FBI estimates that at any given moment, there are 750,000 child predators online, parents need to treat even the potential for this happening very seriously.

Stalking (7 out of 10)

The best way to prevent stalking on Reddit is the proper use of privacy settings. Reddit has the ability to establish “friends” on the app, as well as block users that people no longer wish to be in contact with. This also helps with privacy concerns.

That’s not to say that if your child blocks someone that the other person won’t create a new account and try to contact them again, often catfishing them as another person so that your child doesn’t know their true identity. For this reason, it’s so important that we all use privacy settings to prevent even one bad person from getting into our inner circle.

Viruses (8 out of 10)

It’s very common for people to include links in posts or as a reply to a post. Many of those that I have seen, even in what should be a “safe” community such as a gardening community, use URL shorteners like TinyURL or Bitly to make long URLs less intimidating, but they can also be used to disguise where a link is going. My advice is that nobody should ever follow a link that they can’t say with 100% confidence where it’s going. That usually means trusting the source of who posted it. For more information on this, please read my previous article for Pediatric Safety.

The Bottom Line

Reddit can be a very helpful site. Of all the social media apps that I’ve used, I can say that I find Reddit to be the most useful when it comes to learning things from other people. It can let them engage with others to get different points of view and share knowledge. But that’s a double-edged sword. It also opens us up to the worst parts of social media. To help keep safe on Reddit, we and our kids need to do the following:

  1. Remind your kids to be very careful about what they do on Reddit – and any other apps as well. Have frequent and honest discussions with your children about their online actions. Let them know that it’s not because you don’t trust them, but because you can’t trust everyone else out there.
  2. As parents, it’s always a good idea to know what apps your children have installed onto their devices. As it’s pretty easy to hide them from being seen on the desktop, the best way is to try and download the app onto the device. If it allows you to download it, then it’s not already there. If it offers you the option to open the app, then it’s already there, even if you can’t find it on a list of apps on the device.

Overall, Reddit can be a good platform for people of all ages to use. Just keep in mind that although you’re less likely to encounter cyberbullying and several other issues, it has far more nudity/pornography than most parents want their children to see.

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for more than 10 years. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that he became involved in helping others in the area. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention. Joe is the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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