Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Everything I Thought I Knew About Furries is Wrong as I Learned from My Teens

I started to notice my teens’ interest in furries when one of my teens showed up to a downtown event wearing a panda suit she had bought online. She had scrimped and saved and was the very proud owner of this new suit that allowed her to walk around town looking like a panda character you might see at an amusement park.

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Then in October, right around Halloween, Wal-Mart and Target started selling full on furry heads.

And I noticed that my teens were talking a lot about the furry community.

I’m going to be honest here for a moment: Everything I thought I knew about furries I learned from an episode of CSI over ten years ago. The other day, I had a discussion with my teens about why this episode of television is so offensive. You see, in the episode, the furry community is shown as being all about sexual kink. The reality is, less than 20% of furries engage in sexual kink and there is, in fact, a large under the age of 18 furry community. The furry community is a safe haven for a lot of outsiders and does have a large population of LGBTQ youth, but it is also predominantly a creative community. In fact, part of the appeal is creating a character and telling their backstory. The identities that they create are called fursonas. As teens wrestle with their place in the world and try to figure out who they are, they find themselves drawn to this accepting community that is safe, welcoming, and creative.

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I have spent a lot of time recently asking my teens questions about what it means to be a furry and really trying to listen as they explained it to me. It’s very much about the magic of story and the ability to become someone else, in this case an anthropomorphic animal. Before you consider that weird, keep in mind that a lot of our favorite books, tv shows, cartoons and movies are all about anthropomorphic animals. Zooptopia, Mickey Mouse, Duck Tales . . . these are all stories where animals are given human characteristics and we have loved them for decades. One of my personal favorites is Winnie the Pooh. He’s a silly, willy nilly old bear that I love.

There are a couple of really popular furries on YouTube that all of my teens are watching, including Majira. There are furry conventions that have safe spaces and meet ups for teen furries. And there are online youth furry communities. Many of them make great attempts to keep their youth furries safe. In fact, that Austin teen furry page has a FAQ for parents.

Make no mistake, if you do research on furries you will also find a lot of anti-furry groups, particularly the parents of teens. And I think it’s important to read and do research on that point of view as well. I may be a teen services librarian, but I also work with parents and I have to be respectful of their points of view as well.

I have been doing a lot of reading and researching about the teen furry community and here are a couple of articles you may want to read:

What’s the Deal with “Furries?” | Psychology Today

How the Furry Community Became a Safe Space for Youth – VICE

If, like me, you are learning that your teens are into the furry community, I recommend doing a lot of research and really just sitting down and listening as they tell you who they are and why they like being a part of this community. It’s really just another type of fandom or con community. As someone who greets every stranger I see wearing a Tardis t-shirt with the you are my people exclamation, I can begin to understand what this draw to community means to my teens. And whatever your personal point of view may be, we still have to be respectful of the teens we serve. Also, let this be a reminder to us all, a television show is not a good source of information about any community.

MTV may not show videos anymore, but you should watch these shows if you work with Teens

There was a time when MTV showed music videos. And it was awesome.  Though it is not a music staple anymore, and I sometimes weep about it, Teens and Young Adults (true young adults, in their early 20s) are still MTV’s target demographic.  And in all honesty, they do have some interesting things happening on the channel.  So if you want to work with teens, I think it is important to spend some time in their world.  Just a little.  Here are 5 MTV shows that will not only help you work with your teens, but they are actually pretty good.  Yes, I am admitting it. 

So, what 5 shows on MTV should you be watching?

Teen Wolf

Season 3 of Teen Wolf premieres on Monday, June 3rd.  This series is loosely based on the 80s movie starring Michael J. Fox, but it has amped up the sex appeal.  MTV is all about amped up sex appeal sometimes.  Scott is a teenager who was bitten by a wolf and is plunged into an underground world with power struggles, death, and danger at every turn.  Although there is some evidence to suggest that paranormal is waning in the publishing world, it is still hot with teens.  Also, you can never go wrong with hot vampires (Vampire Diaries on CW) or hot werewolves.  See above.  It is not as awesome as Buffy, because it lacks the Whedon vibe, but Buffy staple Nancy Holder has written some of the book tie-ins and many people on Twitter watch it together.  Community watching always makes TV more fun.

World of Jenks

Andrew Jenks was a teenage documentary film maker.  He is now 24 and makes a show on MTV that is really kind of awesome.  On the World of Jenks, Jenks spends time literally walking in someone else’s shoes.  He has lived with a rapper, an autistic boy, and more.  While he is living with them, we learn about lives different then our own.  It’s really pretty cool.  He also recently released an autobiography which we reviewed and gave some programming ideas for. His story is pretty inspiring to teens and young adults.

True Life

 
True Life tells the story of young people who are facing a wide variety of life challenges.  The goal of this show is to raise awareness and just let young people tell their stories.  It is, in fact, often one of my favorite shows on TV.  The show synopsis says: “Since its first episode in 1998, True Life has provided a window into the struggles, hopes, and dreams of young people. Narrated solely by its characters, each episode documents the unusual–and often remarkable–circumstances of real individuals, whether it’s about soldiers returning from Iraq, deaf teenagers, or people living with autism. We’ve given all of them–and hundreds of others–the opportunity to tell their own stories directly to their peers in this powerful, Emmy award winning series that uniquely reflects the experiences and cultures of this generation.”

Awkward.

 
Being a teenager is, well, awkward.  And Awkward really capture the essence of it.  Awkward is basically a serialized soap opera that follows the life of Jenna, who many people believe tried to commit suicide, although she genuinely had a weird accident.  Jenna shares her life in a blog.  Actually, she overshares.  There is a lot of good humor here.  I particularly love the English teacher who tries to really get his students to write in ways that would probably get him fired in real life.

Made

Made is an award winning show that focuses on teens (and now college students) trying their hands at personal transformation.  This is more than just The Biggest Loser, however, as the transformations can literally be anything.  Some teens take dance or cheerleading lessons to be “made” into these different people.  Most of the goals are career or performance oriented.  And yes, some of them involve things like being made into a beauty queen.  But it is still an interesting look into the life of young people and their hopes and desires.

As for music, if you really want to see music video I recommend Jump Start on VH1 (I have my DVR set to record it so I can skim through the videos I hate) or check out Fuse.

What other shows do you think are secretly awesome and why?  Tell us in the comments.  They don’t even have to be on MTV.