Have you ever heard of a fandom? I hadn’t…until a few weeks ago. I knew there were a lot of girls who wrote “fan fiction.” My understanding of fan fiction up to this point was... that certain kids (and adults, too) write stories to supplement the stories in their favorite movies or TV shows, even comics and books. Fan fiction exists for just about every thing you can think of that has a plot. Star Wars, Once Upon a Time, Dr. Who. I’ve recently been hearing a lot about the TV show, Ninjago. (Just in case you’re clueless like me, Ninjago is about Lego Ninjas. Yep, didn’t really help me understand, either).
Anyway, evidently there’s an entire subculture around fan things. There are fandoms, which are the “kingdoms” of fans around all of these things. There are also fandoms for celebrities, too—that even have their own names. Taylor Swift’s fandom is called Swifty’s. Dr. Who fandom is called Whovians. Justin Bieber—Beliebers. You get the picture.
Fangirls and fanboys are those who are “over the top” fans, as the young girl told me who was educating me on all things fandom. She said she embarrassed herself by being too fangirl on the sites she was visiting. There are message boards created around the fandoms, as well as facebook groups and Tumblr accounts. They also evidently participate in cosplay, where they dress up like one of the characters. Entire conventions exist for some of the larger fandoms, such as Marvel and DC Comics where lots of folks dress up and attend to meet each other and talk about their fandom.
I have to admit I don’t fully understand the fandom world, although I’m trying. What I do know is this young girl I’m counseling started on one message board, started a conversation with several folks, and moved the conversation to google plus, where they each had accounts and could continue talking. And, I know that those online relationships became very real to her. The language she uses are phrases like “we spent time together”, “he didn’t show up”, and “she was there for me.” The problem, as we know, is that none of those things are really happening. No one is spending real time together. People can’t show up. And how do you know who is there for you when you don’t really know if they’re really the person they say they are. This young girl, six months in, found herself online at 2am, sneaking her computer, and trying to coax her online boyfriend out of committing suicide.
It’s all too much. And it started out of some cartoon-based message boards.
Please be aware of your child’s technology use. If your child is writing fan fiction, read what they’re writing. If they’re meeting people online, you need to be on the very sites where they’re meeting people. Wherever your child is online, you need to be there, as well. Be a student of what they love and how they spend their time. They need supervision. They need boundaries. And they need protection. They also need to always be spending more time with people in the real world than in the virtual—whether that’s through writing, gaming, or even texting.