How Discord Is Trying to Make Teens Feel Better About Themselves

Fighting negativity with compliments

  • A social media app that provides compliments to users is going mainstream. 
  • Discord is buying Gas, which provides polls and is popular among teens. 
  • Experts say Gas can help teens with self-esteem but warn that it has some pitfalls.
A group of teams using their mobile phones on a college campus.

Xavier Lorenzo / Getty Images

Discord is buying Gas, an app that's popular among teens, and the move could bolster the self-esteem of some social media users. 

Gas is known for its positive spin on social media. It uses anonymous compliments as a way to interact. Some experts say that the app is a rare positive factor in the social media world.  

The Gas purchase is likely to make teens "feel better about themselves and have less anxiety," Colin Campbell, a professor of marketing at the University of San Diego's Knauss School of Business, told Lifewire in an email interview. "By polling across entire classes, students are more likely to feel included and seen as well. It's great to see an app that is trying to steer teenagers toward more positive interactions on social media."  

Feel Better Social Media

In the Gas app, users participate in anonymous polls regarding pre-written complimentary statements to their peers. Winners of the polls receive a 'flame.' 

"Gas is all about uplifting and empowering each other through positive affirmations," Discord wrote on its blog. "Its tremendous success shows the opportunity that exists in creating a playful yet meaningful place for young people. Gas' founders have a proven track record of creating exciting apps and experiences, and we're thrilled to work with their team to take things to the next level."

Closeup on a teen using a smartphone.

The Good Brigade / Getty Images

But Dr. Rosmy Barrios, a medical advisor, warned in an email interview with Lifewire that Gas isn't a cure-all for the toxic effects of social media on teens. 

"Teens who overuse this app will excessively depend on outside validation to feel good about themselves," Barrios added. "Plus, they'll subconsciously be waiting for people to like them on the app and be stressed about figuring out crushes. Moreover, it can lead to unhealthy competition among teens with respect to who has more crushes and things like that."

Social networking sites like Gas promote social comparison—a strategic process that aids in satisfying certain motives or goals, media commentator Corey Emanuel said in an email. For instance, a teen experiencing body image dissatisfaction (insecurities) might seek positive body affirmations from peers. 

"During the formative years, when teens often have an unstable view of who they are, they are likely to perceive the praise of others as especially rewarding and emotionally prioritize it to satisfy the need of belonging," Emanuel added. "At this stage in development, feeling accepted by one's peers is crucial." 

Emanuel pointed out that the reward system in Gas isn't unique. "Really, any apps that allow for emojis in the form of celebrating, admiring, or 'liking' someone for some special attribute or trait could be likened to Gas," he added. For example, receiving the 'Best Dressed' award on Gas is similar to receiving heart eyes on a story post on either Instagram or Tik Tok when you're all dressed up in your best outfit."

The Problems With Social Media and Teens

The Gas app is a response to an ongoing problem as the harmful effects of social media on teens are well documented, Jillian Amodio, a social worker and parenting expert, told Lifewire via email. She said that social media is a leading cause of mental health struggles in children. 

"While parents can enforce rules and boundaries and place restrictions on devices, app access, and social media 'allowance,' it is likely that teens will obtain access to social media or be exposed to various social media sites through peers at some point in time," Amodio added. 

Another problem with apps like Discord is that the risk of encountering struggles with cyberbullying can increase on social platforms, Amodio said. Parents should also be aware of the dangers of teens sending and receiving sexual content through social media, she added.

"Teens often feel invincible, and it is our job as parents to help them understand, assess, and mitigate risks," Amodio added. "An online presence may also give kids a false sense of anonymity which may allow them to engage in behaviors they might not otherwise involve themselves in; it is important to help kids understand how their behavior in a digital space can have real-world consequences."

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