Teens today are turning towards a new trend in social media called “sadfishing.” What is sadfishing, you ask? Vague posts with obviously sad status updates in the hopes of getting attention in the form of likes or comments. Although the practice isn’t new, it’s grown in popularity since Kendall Jenner used it to generate buzz around her Proactiv acne brand campaign.
Safety Risks Parents Should Know
While it seems harmless in practice, Nina Davachi, a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor, from Sandstone Care’s Maryland treatment center, tells Parentology there are risks for teens expressing their emotions online to gain attention. “While you may receive comforting feedback regarding your emotional state, there’s also a significant risk of opening up feedback you may not want to hear and may not be supportive,” she explains, adding that parents should view signs their teen is sadfishing as a cry for help and respond accordingly.
How Parents Can Respond
Having strong, healthy relationships with your teens is the key to building a strong family system with trust and open communication according to Davachi. “While family systems can be in different places, parents can always take steps to help improve the dynamics and foster an environment to promote this healthy connection.”
Davachi suggests parents collaborate with their teens to create alternative channels of communication, and additional outlets for them to connect with. “This could include trusted friends or other family members such as aunts, uncles, siblings, etc… who your children may feel more comfortable discussing and being vulnerable with regarding these sorts of issues.”
Going Online for Support Can Be Dangerous
While it’s great to see teens reaching out to connect with others online, there are risks involved when it comes to whom they will actually end up talking to. Stefanie Juliano, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with Stefanie Juliano Therapy, LLC says there’s no real way of knowing what the other person’s motives will be when teens finally connect. That there are people suffering from their own mental health issues who may decide to antagonize, or even attempt to persuade your teen to commit acts of self-harm, instead of offering support. “Others can also make the poster feel that others have it worse, that what they are dealing with is nothing, or other harmful things to that effect.”
Additionally, there are rising instances of sexual predators using social media platforms to find vulnerable teens so that they can lure them away from home and into unsafe situations where they may fall victim to sexual assault or worse. “It’s quite simple for someone who is attention-seeking to fall prey to the sweet promises of friendship and love that predators spew,” Robyn Flint, a writer and MS Clinical Mental Health Counseling Student explains. “In addition, it opens the vulnerable person up to bullying and emotional blackmail from peers and creeps.”
Flint believes children and teens with low self-esteem crave attention, no matter who it’s from, and believe the person on the other side of the computer screen is sincere because the conversation is giving them the connection they were otherwise missing.
Starting the Conversation
Experts agree parents engaging in a daily conversation with their kids is important for not only keeping the lines of communication open, but starting hard conversations in the first place. Juliano suggests exchanging experiences with your child and letting them know, in an age-appropriate way, how you struggle with your emotions, as well. When is best to start this habit? Juliano says opening up this form of conversation can begin as early as toddlerhood.
What Is Sadfishing — Sources
Nina Davachi, a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor, from Sandstone Care’s Maryland treatment center
Stefanie Juliano, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with Stefanie Juliano Therapy, LLC
Robyn Flint, writer and MS Clinical Mental Health Counseling Student