Internet trend that baffles most parents isn’t slime or even unboxing videos. It’s livestreaming: when people broadcast themselves live over the internet. Even more baffling? When our kids become obsessed with watching these videos, which can be anything from gamers like Ninja playing Fortnite to a Russian talk show to a guy in China doing his homework. With over 15 million daily visitors and 2 million live broadcasts happening at any given time, the internet’s reigning champ of livestreaming is Twitch TV.
But … why? For those who are passionate about a topic, livestreams offer something you can’t get anywhere else: in-the-moment action, the potential to interact with celebrity livestreamers, and a shared experience with other die-hard fans of whatever it is you’re into, whether it’s Mortal Kombat or the hair-raising sounds of ASMR.
So is this engaging, unpredictable platform OK for kids, or is the content bad enough to make you twitch? Check out some of parents’ most frequently asked questions about the platform and how to use it safely, below.
WHAT IS TWITCH?
Twitch is a livestreaming platform primarily used by gamers. You can view streams for free but you get extra benefits, including the ability to broadcast your own channel, by signing up for a free account. Though gaming streams, especially of hot titles such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, dominate the site, you can choose to follow non-gaming channels such as Art, Talk Shows & Podcasts, and Food & Drink.
IS TWITCH SAFE FOR KIDS?
Like all livestreaming platforms, Twitch can be risky for kids and teens. Although Twitch has moderators and strict rules around sexually suggestive or explicit content, it doesn’t offer filters or age gates for specific categories and games, which include mature, violent titles like Grand Theft Auto V and Crysis 3. Twitch broadcasters also actively solicit donations and paid subscriptions (more on that below) — and some will push the boundaries (such as wearing skimpy clothing or giving out exclusive content) to encourage viewers to send money. Search filters for categories like Educational and Family Friendly block some of the mature content — but the broadcasters themselves are responsible for adding those tags, and using them produces inconsistent results.
HOW OLD SHOULD KIDS BE TO USE TWITCH?
Twitch requires that users be at least 13 years old to use their platform, but Common Sense recommends Twitch for teens 15+. This is mainly due to the unpredictable nature of livestreaming, open chat, and easy access to mature content. If your kid wants to watch someone play a specific game, read the Common Sense Media review to find out our age recommendation.
CAN MY KID CHAT WITH STRANGERS ON TWITCH?
Twitch has a chat feature that runs alongside all streams. Sometimes chats are restricted to certain users, such as followers or subscribers of the specific streamer. But even when you can’t participate, you can see what others are posting. The chat feed itself is hard for newcomers (and parents) to understand, as it’s filled with its own memes and emoticons that Twitch enthusiasts use to communicate. You can hide chat — but you can’t turn it off. Users can also send Whispers (direct messages) to other viewers, although you can limit who can contact you.
IS TWITCH JUST FOR GAMING?
Although gaming is still the primary focus on Twitch, the platform has broadened its offerings to include just about every subject under the sun. Some of the non-gaming categories are Music & Performing Arts, Sports & Fitness, ASMR, and Just Chatting, a section for podcasts, vlogging, and Q&As. Some streamers have multiple channels aimed at different interests. Most also tend to use a variety of platforms, including Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and Discord to promote themselves, so kids will get exposed to a variety of content if they follow a streamer on all their social channels.
WHAT KINDS OF CONTENT WILL MY KID SEE ON TWITCH?
There’s no telling exactly what your kid will see on Twitch. They might see a woman dancing to Dance Dance Revolution. They might see someone eating fried chicken. They’ll definitely see — and hear — lots of gamers swearing and playing mature games. While Twitch doesn’t allow threatening language or sexually explicit content, it does allow games with violence and/or nudity. And while it’s less common, hate speech, derogatory comments, and cyberbullying (though more likely in the comments than in the streams themselves) crop up. Some channels have moderators that try to rein in extreme comments.
IS THERE ANY WAY TO BLOCK INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT ON TWITCH?
Twitch doesn’t offer parental controls or any methods to block streams. Logged-in users can set chat filters to block discrimination, sexually explicit language, hostility, and/or profanity, but the settings aren’t foolproof.
CAN I LIMIT HOW MUCH TIME MY KID SPENDS ON TWITCH?
As of now, you can’t set time limits on Twitch.
HOW MUCH DOES TWITCH COST?
Twitch is free (with ads), but there are definitely costs associated with it. The Twitch economy includes several ways to spend money, including Bits, donations, and subscriptions. Here’s a quick guide:
Bits: Twitch’s in-platform currency that viewers can use to Cheer, or show support for, the streamer they’re watching through the chat function. They’re sold in bundles with savings the more you buy, and streamers earn $0.01 per Bit.
Donations: Although Bits function like micro-donations, streamers also accept and solicit direct donations via buttons on their user page.
Subscriptions: For a monthly fee starting at $4.99, viewers can subscribe to their favorite streamers to gain access to special privileges, like private chats and user badges.
WHAT IS TWITCHCON?
TwitchCon is an annual event where streamers and viewers come together for discussion panels, meet and greets, and much more. It’s well attended (50,000 people were at the 2018 TwitchCon in San Diego) and discussed on most of the popular streams, so kids will likely want to go if they’re really into specific streamers.
HOW DOES TWITCH COMPARE TO YOUTUBE?
Both platforms have a lot in common from a viewer standpoint since the quality and age-appropriateness (or lack thereof) of content are pretty much the same. YouTube has a wider range of topics, including unboxing videos and makeup tutorials, and YouTube streamers such as Markiplier have an established following on that platform. Twitch has the edge with hard-core gamers such as Ninja and his fans, plus it has more engagement features such as chat emotes (pictures, memes, and emojis) that help viewers and creators feel like they’re part of the same club. That said, a rule of thumb for viewers is that Twitch is more popular for livestreams, but it’s harder to rewind or rewatch later. YouTube’s wide variety of content and superior search make it easier to find new stuff, but its suggested videos might be more extreme or have off-topic content. However, Twitch also stands out for its community engagement features, especially in chat.
WHAT IS TWITCH PRIME?
Twitch Prime is a premium offering exclusive to Amazon Prime account holders. Amazon Prime subscribers can connect their Amazon and Twitch accounts to get ad-free viewing and bonus content, including free games, exclusive in-game items, and a channel subscription every month within Twitch.
WHAT IF MY KID WANTS TO LIVESTREAM ON TWITCH?
It’s fairly common on Twitch for viewers to become streamers, even if they only have a modest following (or none at all). But broadcasting can be risky, especially for younger kids. Discuss your kid’s reasoning behind wanting to livestream, and consider the risks involved. If you and your kid agree to go live, set some ground rules together to help establish a safe, rewarding way for your kid to share their passion.