Exploring the Furry Trend: Kids Who Identify as Animals
Most children love animals. They love cuddling them, petting them and learning about them. But lately there’s been talk of kids actually identifying as animals, and some think that’s a step too far.
You might be wondering, “Wait…what? Identifying as animals?” Sure, younger kids often dress as animals when they play; it’s a way for them to use their creativity and imagination.
But the trend of kids—even teens— taking on animal personas in school and within society, which has sparked some controversy across the country.
The claim that older kids are identifying as animals has been coming and going since last year, and possibly even earlier. School officials mostly deny it’s a real thing but some parents and students are saying otherwise.
A Child Identifying as an Animal is Not the Same as being a “Furry”
You might have heard the term “furry” used to describe a person who dresses like an animal.
Merriam-Webster‘s official definition of a furry is “a person who identifies with and enjoys dressing as an animal especially as a member of a subculture devoted to the practice.” These personas include animals such as wolves, foxes and, sometimes, even mythical creatures.
But it’s important to note that the term “furry” is reserved for adults, not younger kids who are simply using their imaginations when they don a cat-ear headband or hop around the house like a bunny.
“A furry is usually a term used for people older than children,” explained Daniel Rinaldi, a therapist, life coach and father. “There may be instances when a child identifies with being an animal, and that’s okay. Children may identify with many different people or creatures in their childhood; that’s part of learning and growing.”
What Parents and Kids Are Seeing — and Saying
Some parents in the New York area say their kids have classmates who behave as animals in school, and it can be disruptive to other students.
But none of the parents we spoke to said they saw “furry-like” behavior with their own eyes. And none said that their own kids identify as animals. It’s a sensitive topic, and most of the parents we spoke to preferred to remain anonymous.
One mother said her 16-year-old daughter sees many “furries” at her Whippany, N.J., high school.
“A few of the kids in her school identify as furries. They bring animals to school and dress up as animals themselves,” the mom said. “As much as my daughter loves animals, she thinks the whole idea is a little screwy.”
Other parents see this behavior as a way for kids to express themselves.
A Manhattan mom we spoke to said her son sees kids behaving and dressing like animals at school. Although she’s not sure just how serious her son’s classmates are about truly identifying as animals, her opinion is that kids who do this are, in a way, promoting acceptance.
“I think kids who see themselves this way are also teaching others about acceptance, and other kids may not understand,” she said.
Kids Identifying as Animals: How Common Is It?
You can easily find articles, statements and Twitter posts from schools debunking any truth to furries and/or kids identifying as animals being accommodated in schools with litter boxes or other “accessories” that an animal would have.
It seems likely the litter box thing is a hoax based on rumors, but some students are telling their parents they have seen fellow students acting with animal personas – like barking and meowing – in class.
A school in Australia made headlines last year for supporting a non-verbal student who identifies as a cat. Reports and interviews with people close to the story said the student was allowed to assume the identity of a cat as long as it wasn’t disruptive to others.
And here in the United States, North Dakota Rep. Lori VanWinkle said her state has students who don’t identify as human, as reported in NBC News.
The state even proposed a bill that would ban schools from accommodating students who perceive themselves as any species other than human.
Sharon Roberts, an associate professor of social development studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, told ABC the furry world is growing in popularity because it is a safe, welcoming and nonjudgmental community.
At this point, it’s important to note that only a very small number of furry people—adults—actually believe they are an animal trapped in a human body, according to Furscience, a website packed with information about the furry lifestyle.
Allowing Your Child to Be Creative
When it comes to younger kids, it’s normal for them to play dress up and pretend they are animal creatures like bunnies, kittens and pups, explained Rinaldi.
“Many children enjoy pretending to be their favorite animals, whether it’s through costumes or playing make-believe,” Rinaldi said. “Dressing up as animals allows children to use their imagination, and engage in creative play, which is very important for child development, as it’s important for children to see the world from multiple perspectives and develop their imagination muscle. We can’t forget about the fact that play and having fun is part of learning for children.”
Mendi Baron, LCSW and CEO of Moriah Behavior Health, a mental health group that treats teens and adolescents, agreed that younger children dressing up and pretending they are animals is healthy and developmentally appropriate.
“Pure and simple, children see animals as characters in books, shows, movies, plays etc. They are viewed in an anthropomorphic fashion,” Baron said.
It also allows younger kids to feel close to their favorite animal and even gives them the opportunity to feel connected with nature, Rinaldi explained.
“A natural curiosity about animals and nature is very normal for young children, and dressing up as an animal helps them learn more about the world around them,” he said. “And, of course, many children find comfort and security in the presence of animals, whether they are real pets or stuffed animals, so they feel extra comfortable dressing up as their favorite animal. It helps them feel at ease.”
Kids Identifying as Animals: When To Be Concerned
It’s generally encouraged to embrace and support your child’s interests and preferences. Dressing up can be a healthy form of imaginative play and self-expression.
But if you notice concerning or potentially unhealthy behaviors, it might be time to seek help from a therapist or specialist. Rinaldi said some of the things to pay attention to are:
- Excessive obsession: If your child’s dressing as an animal becomes an all-consuming obsession to the point where it interferes with their daily life.
- Social isolation: If your child is consistently isolating themselves because they are so consumed with dressing up as an animal.
- Escapism or avoidance: If your child is using dressing up as an animal as a means to escape from reality.
- Impact on self-identity: If your child exclusively identifies themselves as an animal.