Telegram Messenger (Telegram) is a free instant messaging app with up to 500 million active monthly users worldwide.  The app allows users to send messages, images and videos to contacts added on their Telegram account either individually or in group chats. Users must verify their account with a mobile number to start using the app.  Telegram’s popularity has increased due to its focus on security, and the ability to enable encrypted messages. The app also commits to users that it will not share their data with third parties. The app is available on Android and iOS devices, as well as PCs.

The minimum age restriction for Telegram is 16, however it does not have any rigorous age verification methods.

Apple App Store rates it as 17+ and Google Play rates it as ‘parental guidance required’.

Find out more about age ratings in our ‘A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games’.

Telegram is popular with young people looking for an easy and convenient way to message friends and family. Telegram is easy to use and because it syncs to your phone contacts, users can start chatting with friends straight away. The enhanced privacy and security on Telegram is also a popular feature, with some people wanting to move away from apps run by the biggest tech companies. The end-to-end encryption within the ‘Secret chats’ feature also offers a more secure and private way for sending and receiving messages. However, this can affect the behaviour of some young people using the app and the type of content they choose to share.

  • These hide parts of a message until the recipient clicks on it. This feature has also been added to images, blurring the image before a user taps on it to reveal the image.

  • All messages sent within this feature use end-to-end encryption which means only the sender and receiver of the message can read it.

  • This refers to preventing any third party from viewing or reading a message. Only the sender and receiver of the message can access its content.  End to end encryption means that the message is encrypted before it leaves the senders device and can only be decrypted once it reaches its destination.  This means that data on a server cannot be accessed by hackers because the data is encrypted. 

  • Users can send messages that disappear after a certain time. This feature can only be used in ‘Secret chats’. Users can also ‘Auto delete’ all chats.

  • This feature allows users of the platform to see and connect with other Telegram users in their location. This is not enabled by default.

  • This is a tool for broadcasting messages to large audiences. It sends messages under the channel’s name rather than under the name of a personal account.

  • Last seen is a feature on the app which shows others when you were last online. 

  • You can set a public username which other app users can use to find you within the platform. Users who find you can then send you messages, even if they are not one of your contacts.

  • Once you’ve set up a username, you can give people a username link. When they click on the link, it automatically opens their chat with you.

  • This allows users to chat with groups of up to 200,000 participants. You can manage group chats within your privacy settings. The ‘Topics’ function within group chats allows for smaller group chats to occur within the larger group chat forum.

  • This is a user who sets up a group chat and is able to manage the participants within that group, such as adding and removing participants.

  • This allows the group admin to remain anonymous from others within the group. They can still post in the chat, under the group’s name and profile picture.

  • These are small programs that run within the app and are made by third-party developers.  Bots (short for Robot) are computer programmes designed to simulate human activity and complete repetitive tasks.  The Telegram app supports the use of Bots on its platform in a way that is easy to use – essentially as automated accounts that users can add to their chat to make it more fun, convenient and personalised.  Bots can do a range of things, such as chat, play, influence discussions, search, manage payment, or undertake a range of automated tasks.

  • These accounts use algorithms which learn and mimic human behaviour to play games and engage in conversation with users.

  • Telegram also has a translation feature to allow for more global connections between its users.

  • Users can generate temporary QR codes to connect with people around them. The QR codes can obscure a user’s phone number, which can make them more anonymous and more difficult to track down. Users should be wary of adding people via QR code unless they know who they are adding.

Using Telegram presents significant content risks to users including exposure to violent and sexual content as well as hate speech. The content risks are higher on open channels such as ‘People nearby’, where strangers can share personal stories, messages and pictures and where particularly shocking stories and mis/disinformation may trend under hashtags. To deal with content issues, Telegram have recently launched a ‘Sensitive content filter’ which is enabled by default and can only be disabled by using the desktop version of the app. The best way to limit the type of content your child is exposed to is to ensure they are only connecting with people they know and trust, rather than strangers or receiving content from public channels. However, it should be acknowledged that your child may still be exposed to inappropriate content by their known contacts.

It is also possible your child may come across inappropriate content in the form of bad language or mature content in messages. Features like ‘Secret chats’ and ‘Spoiler tags’ may be used as a way of sharing inappropriate content on the app so you should monitor these. By restricting who your child can access on the platform, your child is less likely to experience language or behaviour that is not suitable for their age.

The app also has a wide range of editing tools available for users to edit the content they share. This may put pressure on some users to edit their photos and videos. Over exposure to highly edited content can have a significantly negative impact on body image and wellbeing.

As Telegram has an age rating of 16, it does not include any real parental control settings. Like many other social media apps, it has to be acknowledged that some children sign up to the app when they are under the suggested age limit. Whilst the default settings mean users are only visible to their contacts, once you set up a username, users can be contacted by any other users on the platform. It should be noted that users are not required to set up a username to use the app. If your child has chosen to set up a username, there is a risk of your child being contacted by someone they don’t know given the high volume of worldwide users on the platform. The ‘People nearby’ feature also encourages and prompts users to connect with users in the same physical location and could also put your child at risk of meeting a stranger in the offline world, so try to ensure this function is disabled. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing any personal or identifiable information on their profile or within chats. Remind them to tell you if they have been asked more personal questions or to chat privately in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Changing the privacy settings to sharing with ‘contacts only’ is recommended.

‘Bots’ are used within Telegram for a range of features, including gaming. Parents and carers should be aware that whilst bots cannot access mobile numbers, they can see profile information and engage with users in the same way that any other user on the platform would. Speak to your child about exercising caution when engaging with bots, just like with any unknown users on the platform. Remind younger users not to share personal information with bots and avoid opening files sent by them.

If your child has their own Telegram account, it is important for you and them to be aware of what they share and the impact this will have on their digital footprint. Some users believe that because it is an encrypted service, they cannot be held accountable for what they share or have it traced back to them. However, young people need to be aware that this is not true and that any content that they post or share leaves a digital footprint. Have a conversation with your child to help them understand what is and is not appropriate for them to share and discuss the various ways they can protect themselves by sharing with their contacts only. Ensure your child knows it can be difficult to keep ownership of any content once it has been shared online, as content can easily be copied and reposted without their knowledge and can then become difficult to remove from the internet.

Other features on Telegram such as ‘Reactions’ mean that users can react to content immediately, without necessarily giving much thought. This may result in users posting a reaction that they may later regret because it causes conflict or upset. Remind your child to stop and think about how the person who posted the content might feel before reacting to any content they see on the platform.

There are a range of features on Telegram that could be problematic for victims of cyberbullying. The ‘Anonymous forwarding’ and ‘Disappearing messages’ features allow users to forward and share content that may cause harm without taking responsibility for or feeling accountable. Talk to your child about the affect unkind online behaviour can have on others, the ways these kinds of features could intensify bullying and harm and encourage them to take a stand against any bullying behaviour that they see.  

There are many features of Telegram which are designed to be engaging and appealing to users, including content features, personalisation through the use of bots, and end to end encryption as one of its options in chat.  It is important to be aware that apps like Telegram are designed to extend user engagement for as long as possible through driving accessible content to users and promoting interactivity.  It is important to be aware of how compulsive apps can be for younger users and encourage those in your care to take breaks.  It is also important for young people to understand that despite Telegram’s reputation for privacy and security, all online activity leaves a digital footprint and all users need to be responsible about what they post and share. The use of bots on the platform are also something to look out for, especially features such as shop bots, which allow users to shop within the app. Ensure younger users understand what online shopping is and that real money is used to make purchases.

  • Telegram gives users the option to choose who they share their information with by selecting one of the following options: ‘Everybody’, ‘My contacts’and ‘Nobody’.

    To set privacy settings:

    • Open the app and choose ‘Settings’.
    • Scroll down to ‘Privacy and security’.
    • Work through the listed options and choose from
      • Everybody
      • My contacts

    To disable ‘People nearby’:

    • Open the app and choose ‘Contacts’.
    • Select ‘Find people nearby’ and ensure the location access is disabled.
  • Telegram default settings means that users can be added to group chats by people outside of their phone contacts without permission. This is the same for receiving calls.

    To manage interactions:

    • Open the app and choose ‘Settings’.
    • Scroll down to ‘Privacy and security’.
    • Work through the listed options and choose from
      • Everybody
      • My contacts
  • Users can report and block other users who may be bothering them or behaving inappropriately on the platform. Telegram also allows users to export copies of their chats, which is useful if they are needed to evidence inappropriate behaviour on the platform.

    To block a user:

    • Go to the user you want to block either by searching or scrolling through the chat list.
    • Tap on their name at the top of the page.
    • Tap the three dots icon and select ‘Block user’.
    • Note that blocking will not remove the contact from the Telegram app, just from your account. To delete a contact, you will need to delete the contact from phone contacts.

    To export a chat log:

    • Go to the chat you wish to export.
    • Click on the chat and select ‘Export chat history’.
  • There are some settings on Telegram to help limit the pressure for young people to be online and respond to messages straight away. All notifications are enabled by default, so taking time to explore the notification settings is advisable.

    To manage notifications:

    • Open the app and choose ‘Settings’.
    • Scroll down to ‘Notifications and sounds’.
    • Work through the listed options:
      • Private chats
      • Group chats

    To disable the ‘Last seen’ feature:

    • Open the app and choose ‘Settings’.
    • Scroll down to ‘Privacy and security’.
    • Tap on ‘Last seen and online’ and select ‘Nobody’.

For increased security, users can set up an app passcode. This means only the app user will be able to gain access to the account. This can be further strengthened by enabling two-step verification to gain access to the app. It is useful to know this, especially for young people who wish to ensure their chats remain private and to avoid being ‘spot checked’ by their parent or carer. Explain to your child why you may want to check in on who they are chatting with occasionally – not to invade privacy but to keep them safe.

Telegram users can make accounts without SIM cards or phone numbers via third party platforms such as Fragment, which offer paid-for anonymous phone numbers.