Do Parents or Teens Dare to Enter the New World of YouTube Fan Fiction ?
“The culture of fandom is relatively new. Not being a fan of someone per se, but today it’s easier to feel connected to a celebrity or creator. Back then they were just celebrities so they may not understand how we feel as though we know them.” Helena … teen creative writer on Wattpad … connected at 12 years old.
Have you heard of Wattpad on YouTube, a special community where 13 year old teens can set up an account, write and read stories by some of their favorite stars? Does it matter if internet safety experts have concerns about X-rated, dark, violent, sexual or offensive content with recommendations “you’ll also like this.”
“Kids writing and reading: What’s not to love? Well, when it comes to fan fiction, where the possibilities are limited only by imagination, there’s a little more to the story. A good portion of the fan fiction on the internet ranges in age-appropriateness from completely mild to nearly soft-core porn. And there are no barriers to reading it. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, you’ll come across words and images that are graphic.”
Psychologists explain teens can be fixated with popular celebrities and favorite online stars; made to feel special by belonging and consuming anything and everything. This new special YouTuber hero (heroine) talks directly to the camera, up close and personal, with effective eye-contact to give the feeling of authentic friendship.
Have you heard of this new term called a parasocial relationship between fans and YouTubers, where they feel a particularly strong sense of allegiance through their vlogs?
“In a parasocial relationship, the audience comes to feel that the personality is a friend and they experience the person as if they were in a reciprocal relationship, rather than a one-sided one … this experience is amplified in social media where influencers respond to comments and fans, increasing the illusion of friendship.” Pamela Rutledge (media psychologist)
So, what’s the deal with Fan Fiction?
What happens if stories allowed can have adult themes or turn dark or inappropriate with nude references to the “biggest horny boy ever met,” or violence, homophobia and even suicide? What happens if boundaries are fiercely protected and cyber bullying runs rampant?
Is the teen seeking an honest connection online? Is the adolescent brain assaulted again by content it is not emotionally mature enough to understand? Or worse yet, grow neuronal pathways that this is normal behavior or culturally appropriate.
Smut warnings exist; screenshots are shared to Instagram for more viewers. There are no age restrictions on the majority of fan fiction sites. Even Wattpad notes that “problems can also arise if the fantastic online world starts to get in the way of their real offline life.”
One teen writer thinks fan fiction is something older people just don’t understand like teenagers do or value “fandom.” She admits there is certainly mature adult themes that can get pretty dark sometimes; but she reads the descriptions first and knows what she is getting into. She is glad to be part of it. Good for her … easier said than done … a 14 year-old brain still knocking on judgement’s door.
My Teacher’s Heart Breaks
I loved to teach creative writing to my students. There were formal rules to write many different kinds of paragraphs from descriptive to expository with outlines to structure from least to most important with a comprehensive conclusion. Stories took a week to understand the different levels of engagement. Novel studies took a month for analysis to outline the importance of settings for a suspenseful mood, to paint the main character and add conflict to the antagonist in a clever step-by-step plot line. Literature by intelligent authors was appreciated.
But, today, by reading this one article, I had to add some new dictionary vocabulary to this social media revolution:
Wattpad, internet safety expert, media psychologist, parasocial relationship, online Fan Fiction, fandom, YouTubers, adultification. (I knew what a vlog is.)
Once again, what I call the Social Media Medusa Manipulator extends her domain into creative writing for teens with or without positive intentions … right or wrong formats … leaving the choice to a teenager to make a logical choice during an emotional transition into finding a place to belong to.
Once again, do parents have to worry … or not? Where do children go if something upsets them beyond their years? Definitely, the responsibility lies with the parents to control these safety settings, sometimes harder to do with moving targets and fly-by-night influencers.
“There’s nothing more important than having an open dialogue with your child about what and who they are engaging with online. Having regular, honest, and open conversations with your child is the best way to stay in tune.” Carolyn Bunting, the CEO of Internet Matters, an organization dedicated to keeping children safe online.
This is the reality of our Internet Revolution where the average child owns their first smartphone at 10.3 years and can open accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Kik and Snapchat.
Are parents somewhat complicit in allowing their kid’s exposure to content that generation ago would be off-limits?
Is the stage set for early adultification making the right time for marketers to take advantage by adulterating adolescent social rites of passage?
So many questions. What do you think? What are the problems? What are the solutions? I believe more than tactics are required to stop this social media infiltration to protect our precious teenagers.
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Excerpt: Teen Girl Faces Time in the Sand — a timely tale of social media struggles, regrets and survival with superpower tool.
“Imagine, you are just 14 years old, yet your brain is wired for positive feedback which gets a dopamine spike with every click, every buzz, to keep the story fresh and wanting more. How could it be any other way? Your habit of posing and posting becomes like an itch, somebody else’s itch, but you got to keep scratching it, painful as it may be at times, because sometimes you get the word LIKE.
And here’s the true tragedy. Many young people who inhabit their smart phones will refuse to face any other truth beyond their existence on their smart phones because it becomes the core of their experience. Think about that. Mass media will never apologize for what it is doing because it makes money. Cosmetics and fashion are expensive. Sex sells whether you are 14 or 40. Did you know plastic surgeries have increased by nearly 100% in the last few years?”
Read the full article: YouTuber Fan Fiction Teens Exposure to Violent Sexual Content
Read more contributions by Carolyn Bunting, CEO, Internet Matters, an independent, not-for-profit organisation which helps families keep their children safe online.
Check out this comprehensive overview about fan-fiction facts, lingo, and tips for parents who want to monitor this site and others.