Letters to this column have been on the decline, most likely because I can't afford much advertising right now, but the majority of the letters I do get have been from kids who all ask, in various ways, the same question: "I'm a furry and am afraid to tell my parents/friends/family." I don't post such letters and my responses because it's repetitive and doesn't add to the column. Past columns regarding "coming out furry" can be found here.
When I first started writing this column, my position on young furries (under 16) joining in the fandom was very different from what it is today. Back then, I basically encouraged kids to be furry, telling them a number of ways to broach the subject with their family and try to get them on board, or, if their family still didn't support their furriness, that they should still be furry but keep it quiet until they were adults and could make their own choices.
While I did stress to such letter writers that the furry fandom was conceived as a social group for adults and not children and that they should be careful where they go online, I still saw the fandom as an exercise in creative imagination that is important for children and that could be healthy for them, so, I erred on the side of saying they should be secret furries. That was wrong of me.
That was 10 years ago. Even then, there were dangers in the fandom for children, but these days I feel it is a much more sketchy world. In allowing their children to be furries, parents need to make one of two choices: either allow them to participate while being supervised continuously (monitor their internet and phone behavior and go with them to furcons or furmeets) or tell their kids that this is an adult fandom not intended for children and they will not allow their kids to participate any more than they would allow their kids to watch porn sites (parents need to give a clear explanation and not just say, "Because I told you not to.")
Parents, I must stress, not only have the right but also the responsibility to supervise and protect their children. Good parents stay involved in their kids' lives. But this means more than just saying "yes" or "no" to their children. Communication and involvement are essential.
Parents, if your kids want to be furry and they are, say, 10 or 12 years old, you should know that they aren't looking for sex and porn. Many of your kids write to me and emphasize that they know there is X-rated stuff online but that they just want to have a fursona and a fursuit. They are enamored by anthropomorphic animals. You need to understand that watching cartoons or movies like Turning Red sparks their imaginations and feelings of playfulness. Wanting to dress up as a fox or Husky is just creative play, not anything evil, anti-Christian, or nefarious.
So, if you wish to ban your children from the fandom, that is understandable. But, at the same time, you should also come to understand their interest in anthro characters. Play with your kids. Maybe even help them make a costume (fursuit), read them classic anthro stories such as The Wind in the Willows or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH or Redwall and share with them their explorations into stories and fiction. This is healthy, believe it or not, and not enough parents do it.
Kids, if you are underage, Papabear understands you aren't into the fandom because of porn. You just want to play pretend. I get it. But you need to understand that the online community can be dangerous. You might think you know, but you don't. Even adult furries can face attacks by some quite nasty furs on the internet. While most furries are good people, if you aren't prepared for what might happen, you could become a victim of pedophiles or worse. The furry fandom can be a wonderful place--and it usually is (it's not about furporn, which, while it is out there, is not the purpose of the fandom at all)--but you need to be careful.
While working with Tim Stoddard on his upcoming book, Furtannia, I learned that in England the furries do not permit minors to attend furcons and meets. In fact, the idea of allowing kids into such functions is bizarre to them. In America, where we have become very permissive of people's desires and privileges, we have perhaps gone too far and no longer recognize that not all things are for children.
The bottom line is this: The Furry Fandom is an adult fandom that looks like it is for children, and that can be a potentially dangerous combination for you cubs out there. Papabear does not recommend an active involvement in the fandom--especially online--for anyone under the age of 16 without parental supervision.
But this doesn't mean you cubs can't do furry stuff. After all, the main reason we older furries love the fandom so much is to share our interest in movies, TV shows, novels, and comic books with anthropomorphic characters. You can still do that. And you can write stories and maybe make your own fursuit, too.
Parents, stop stressing about whether or not your kids are getting A's and are going to integrate into "normal society." Imagination and creativity should be encouraged and not suppressed. Don't call your kids "weird" or worse because of their interest in furries. They're just trying to be playful. You should try to remember, perhaps, what play is and how healthy it is for mind, heart, and soul.
Above all else, parents and their kids need to talk to one another. Parents, don't just "lay down the law" and forbid them from being furry; kids, don't try to hide your furriness and be sneaky with your phone and online behavior because, believe me, your parents will find out and then you will damage their trust in you.
Being furry can have many benefits for children. For example, parents, did you know that being a furry can help kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder? It's true! Watch this video for more.
Even more, being in the furry fandom can foster skills such as drawing, writing, sartorial skills (sewing is a valuable skill!), and even computer programming and the digital arts. On a less technical side, being furry often is a side effect of a person's love of animals and nature. These days, kids can feel very distanced from Nature, and caring about domestic animals and wildlife can be good for them. So, there can be many academic and social benefits.
As with anything in the modern world, being a furry can be complicated. There are both good and (some) bad things about it. As kids, you need to be aware of the dangers; as parents, you have the right to protect your kids, but don't be lazy about it by just saying "No." Get more involved in your children's lives. Find out why they like furries. Ask questions. And let them be kids. Being a parent is hard, no question, but it can be much more rewarding if you connect to your kids rather than just regulating their lives.
Questions? Feel free to write me and I am happy to answer anything you would like to ask!
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.