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Sep 15, 2023
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Sadfishing 101: A Toxic Social Media Trend or Cry for Help?

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Have you ever come across a post on social media that is overly emotional? These may be typical teenager posts, or they may even come from older adults looking for attention. Posts, reels, memes, and comments that are cryptically sad and seem attention-seeking may be a cry for help or something else. People, especially teenagers, tend to share more about their personal lives online than they should. Those who constantly seek sympathy responses are often considered to be “sadfishing”. There is a fine line between actual mental health issues and teens simply following the sadfishing trend. Let’s take a more thorough look to learn more about it.

What Is Sadfishing and Why Do Parents Need to Be Concerned?

Sadfishing is a relatively new label that describes an age-old behavior. Attention-seeking behavior, such as making up stories or lying for attention and sympathy, explains the premise behind sadfishing. The term was coined by Rebecca Reid in 2019. She is a journalist who called out Kendall Jenner over her post on social media regarding her struggles with acne. Unfortunately, instead of being a voice of common ground, the posts were actually created to promote products to unsuspecting teenagers. Thus, the sadfish label was born.

For parents, it can be hard to understand when a teenager makes up stories for attention and when they are actually suffering from emotional distress. It is completely normal to crave attention from one’s parents or their peers. Creating a false narrative in order to garner said attention is where the problem lies. According to Scott et al., 2020, teens and others tend to sadfish in increasing numbers due to the response emotional appeals elicit. While some posts, behaviors, and comments may be real, others are purely manipulative. This can result in others who have been victims of manipulation labeling everything as sadfishing on social media in an effort to reclaim their own power. 

Sadfishing: Teenager Attention-Seeking Symptoms

There are risks to ignoring emotional responses in teens. Generally, adolescents and teenagers are more prone to anxiety, feelings of loneliness, distress, and other forms of emotional suffering. Puberty brings drastic changes in hormones, often paired with the pressure of fitting in at junior high and high school. The signs of bullying and peer pressure are often easy to spot; however, they can be easily confused with the behaviors of someone who craves attention. Some signs of sadfishing and attention-seeking to look out for are:

  • A teen making overly sad or dramatic posts online while behaving normally in person.
  • Performative behaviors that only occur when there is an audience.
  • Engaging in risky behavior in an effort to garner attention.
  • Behaving or posting in a way that is out of character.
  • An extreme focus on how others react to their social media posts.
  • Creating fantastic stories or scenarios in order to get attention.

5 Things Parents Can Do About Teen Sadfishing

Sadfishing can become problematic if left unchecked. It is also important to know when a teen may be crying for attention due to depression. Using strong parental control tools such as uMobix on anything that connects to the internet is critical. Aside from that, there are 5 main things parents can do to combat various forms of attention-seeking behavior.  

Be an Active Listener

When it comes to sad teens, it’s important to be an active listener. Pay close attention to what your child has to say, even if it seems overly dramatic. Often, teens will have trouble expressing themselves eloquently, which can lead to their feelings being dismissed or ignored completely.

Express Positive Attention and Support

Online predators often provide supportive communication for kids, which may open the door for manipulation. Providing your teenager with positive attention and support is the best way to reduce their dependence on outside attention. Interact with them when they share their goals, dreams, and even their failures.

Teach Appropriate Social Media Use

The internet is a great tool, but it also carries with it a lot of risks. It is important to start teaching online safety well ahead of adolescence. Teach your teen the dangers of oversharing on social media. It is also important to caution against the use of anonymous chatrooms, e.g., Omegle, and messaging apps on social media.

Explain the Dangers

The risks of sadfishing are more than just being viewed as being overdramatic. There are real dangers that come from oversharing online. Explaining the dangers that come from sharing excessively emotional information online is critical. Some dangers are:

  • Increased chance of being cyberbullied.
  • Increased chance of developing anxiety or depression.
  • A teen may engage in suicidal behavior to gain more attention.
  • May increase passive-aggressive behavior in vulnerable teens.
  • May result in a lower sense of self-worth.
  • Can lead to antisocial behavior over time.
  • Constant sadfishing can lead to chronic fatigue and decreased moods.
  • The feeling of loneliness may increase if social media posts don’t generate the expected responses.

Signs of Grooming

Sexual predators are rife online, and with the ability to operate in complete anonymity, it is critical that parents become more attentive. There are some signs of grooming that you can look out for that may indicate your teen is being targeted by an online predator.

  • The other party instructs the teen to maintain secrecy surrounding their relationship.
  • Personal information, such as where they go to school or where they live, is requested.
  • The other party may “love-bomb” or provide excessive attention to the teen.
  • Interactions are often only initiated when adults or caregivers are not present.
  • Sexual or inappropriate themes may be a common part of conversations.
  • The teen may receive gifts or cash from the grooming party. 

Use a Parental Control App 

Use a Parental Control App

Monitoring online activity is the best way to keep kids safe. Placing a focus on in-person connections and interactions is also important. In this digital age, there is no way to avoid social media and online interactions completely, but you can monitor your children’s activities with a parental control app and stay in the loop about their well-being. uMobix will give parents a way to track text messages, monitor social media usage, and more. The app features real-time updates that will also log keystrokes, monitor phone calls, and even track videos and photos on the child’s device. The most important feature, however, is the GPS location setting, which provides real-time location information and visited places’ history. 

How to Prevent Sadfishing?

We covered some sadfishing examples earlier in the post, but it is equally important to help prevent it from occurring. It is important to try to stay as connected as possible with your teen, especially online. Along with using parental controls and monitoring apps, make sure that you actually view their social media feed. If you see that your child makes overly emotional comments or posts, consider speaking to them about it. Avoid being judgmental or overly reactive. Alternatively, make a point of actively listening and opening yourself to appreciating what they may be experiencing at the time.

Always ensure that your teen understands that you support them and love them regardless of the situation. Knowing that they have your unconditional support will encourage them to turn to you for help instead of strangers online. Of course, most teens will always turn to their peers for certain issues, but knowing that you have their back will keep them from making excessively risky choices online. 

Wrapping Up

Attention-seeking behavior has been around for quite some time. With the digital era in full swing, sadfishing has become an epidemic. It exposes children, adolescents, and teenagers to a range of dangers online that can be hard to combat with passive advice alone. Using parental control programs, monitoring your teen’s social media usage, and maintaining an active role in their lives can help keep them safe in the current digital landscape.

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