Experts in digital safety
A free social community, connected by the love of reading? For parents of avid and reluctant readers alike, the digital reading app Wattpad sounds like the perfect place for them to be inspired and entertained through new, diverse stories they just don’t have access to on the shelves. The free platform passed 500 million users in 2020, and shows no sign of slowing in popularity, particularly among teens and young adults. But is Wattpad safe for kids, despite its younger user base? As a parent, here’s everything you need to know about the online story-sharing community.
What is Wattpad?
Wattpad is an online reading platform designed to help its users find, enjoy, and even publish original stories. Wattpad is accessible via its own website and app, where users can upload their own amateur stories, or simply read content published by others.
What started as a mobile reading app in 2006 offering free ebooks has now grown into a hugely popular social reading platform, especially among younger readers. According to statistics compiled by the platform, 90% of Wattpad’s 90 million monthly users are Gen Z or Millennials.
With amateur writers publishing in over 50 languages, Wattpad has become a global success, allowing readers anywhere to pick up their mobile and enjoy stories on-the-go, no matter where they are in the world.
What do kids like about Wattpad?
If your child loves diving into new stories, a free social reading platform allowing them to both read and publish their very own creative content sounds like a match made in heaven. With chapters and chapters of fictional stories, children are pretty much guaranteed to find something that interests and entertains them, and as the entire Wattpad library is available online, no trip to the bookstore or library is needed. And for kids who are less excited to pick up a book, the fact that Wattpad can be accessed from their phone, computer, or tablet might just get them reading every once in a while.
One of the big draws of Wattpad for kids is fanfiction, which makes up a huge chunk of the published work on the platform. Fans of just about anything, from Among Us to His Dark Materials, write and read stories based on their favorite characters, plotlines, and real-life personalities. Fanfiction is especially popular among children, as it allows them to explore their interests, get creative, and share what they love with members of a wider online community.
Aside from fanfiction, Wattpad also hosts a huge amount of original, user-produced content. You’ve probably heard of, or seen, the Netflix movie The Kissing Booth. What you might not know about it, however, is that it first sprung to life on Wattpad. Teen author Beth Reekles penned the story using the online platform after growing tired of reading stories about “vampires and werewolves”. Her young adult novel, published chapter by chapter, began to rapidly grow in popularity on the site, and before long she was offered a publishing deal at the impressive age of just 17.
While stories like Beth’s are not the norm, they’re certainly in the realm of possibility through Wattpad. The platform offers children and young adults a creative outlet, not only giving them the chance to express themselves, but also the small possibility that their stories could go viral, without them having to pitch to publishers.
Is Wattpad safe for kids?
For parents of devoted readers and budding writers, Wattpad might be beginning to sound as if it’s the ideal place. Unfortunately, while Wattpad can be a source of entertainment and creativity for kids, it’s also full of content which is inappropriate for young readers. Through stories on Wattpad, children could be exposed to:
- Suggestive and erotic content, including sex stories and mature themes
- Content which could be emotionally or psychologically triggering, such as self-harm and suicide
- Graphic depictions of violence or abuse
- Inappropriate or bad language
- Cyberbullying through comment sections or private messages
As Wattpad is also a social platform, allowing community members to interact with one another through comments on their story chapters, or through direct messages, children could be subject to online abuse from people they don’t know, or contacted by much older strangers.
Wattpad attempts to limit exposure to inappropriate content in the following ways:
1. Using the “Mature” rating
If a story on Wattpad is rated “Mature”, it is designed to be read by audiences aged 17+. Once a story is rated as Mature, it will not be as easy for younger readers to search for and access. Stories containing explicit content, self-harm themes, and graphic descriptions of violence are labeled as Mature.
2. Removing inappropriate content
Stories which are rated Mature cannot contain themes or content which the platform deems inappropriate. Wattpad removes stories which depict a range of sexual content, including illegal sex acts and pornographic material. Wattpad also allows users to post images, videos, GIFs and sound clips, which can be removed from the platform if they do not comply with its content guidelines.
3. Banning users
As well as removing individual stories, Wattpad also bans users who fail to comply with their content guidelines. In addition to restricting inappropriate content, Wattpad does not allow users to make threats of violence or promote hate towards individuals or any group of people. Users who reveal private information about others, in a practice otherwise known as doxxing, may also be removed.
How can I make Wattpad safe for my kids?
While Wattpad has its own restrictions and guidelines that attempt to make the community safer for younger readers, it’s very difficult to guarantee that your child will not come across content which is either inappropriate for their age, or which does not tie into your family’s values.
Some ways you can help make your child’s Wattpad experience safer include:
- Reading the community guidelines together, so they know what’s expected of them on the platform, and when they should come to you to talk about inappropriate content.
- Having regular conversations with your child about what they’re reading on Wattpad, or stories they’re working on if they love to write. If they’re comfortable with it, you could even encourage them to share the stories they write and publish with you, so you can enjoy them together.
- Show them how to report abusive or hateful comments, and make sure they know how to report individual users on the platform.
- Remind them that there are real people behind the usernames. Your child should be considerate and kind towards other people on the internet, but they should also bear in mind they don’t know who is really behind the profile. Teach them to be careful about how they interact with people on the internet, encouraging them not to reveal any personal information, such as their name, or where they live.
- Use a parental control tool like Qustodio to set time limits on Wattpad, or block the app entirely if you feel your child is making inappropriate use of it.
Qustodio’s final advice on Wattpad
While Wattpad can be a great outlet for creativity, and get kids excited about reading, they need to be aware of the risks they may come across on Wattpad before they use it. To make Wattpad safer for your child, become involved in the process, from initial setup to the content they choose to read.
Cross-platform apps like Wattpad are difficult to closely monitor and restrict, and it’s also important for children to find ways to develop and explore their interests. Try to make Wattpad a collaborative, family experience as much as you possibly can. By teaching your kids how to use Wattpad responsibly, and helping them understand what behavior is expected of them online, you’ll ensure they (and you!) get the enjoyment they deserve from their digital hobbies.