As social media has gained prominence in our lives, we’ve gotten more comfortable sharing personal information online. There are pros and cons to being more connected and sharing our lives with our virtual network. We can keep up with old friends around the world and even make connections with new friends via the internet. It’s easier than ever to stay connected and see how everyone is doing.
Teens are now growing up in a world where social media sharing is entirely commonplace. Facebook and Instagram have been around since before our kids reached puberty, and now new brands are hitting the market and taking over the digital teen scene. As parents, it’s important to understand how teens use social media and what we need to do to keep them safe online.
There’s a somewhat new trend on social media called “sadfishing.” Though it’s been happening for several years, it’s finally happened enough to get its own name. Sadfishing is a form of attention-seeking behavior that shows up on social media posts. It’s been a common style of post from celebrities and influencers for a while now, but teens are starting to pick up on the trend as well.
Sadfishing is a highly emotional social media post that plays to the sympathy of friends and family.
The dangers of sadfishing
Sadfishing can be dangerous because it blurs the lines between legitimately asking for help and simply looking for attention. Many teens who struggle with mental health issues lack the confidence to ask for help in person. They may not feel supported at home, or they might feel like they would look weak, asking for help from their friends.
Making posts online asking for help can feel much less threatening than actually asking someone face-to-face. So, they make posts on their social media accounts alluding to their mental health struggles in hopes that someone will reach out and offer help.
When teens make sadfishing posts, they seem to be looking for help, but they are just looking for attention. As a reader, it’s hard (if not impossible) to tell the difference. Unfortunately, this can lead to callus observation when it happens too much. If your page is bombarded by posts from people who send signals that something is wrong, you get numb to it and stop paying attention. Or, you start assuming that everyone is simply sadfishing when some people genuinely need help to get through a mental health crisis.
How to address sadfishing with your teen
If your teen has a smartphone or a computer, they likely have a social media account. Start by talking to them to make sure that they understand what sadfishing is and understand the larger implications of acting like something is wrong when it isn’t.
Your teen needs to know they can get support when something is wrong so that they don’t need to exaggerate the small things to get attention.
Teach your teen the signs of sadfishing so that they can better distinguish sadfishing posts from friends who might genuinely need help. Some signs of sadfishing include:
The post indicates that something is wrong without giving details.
When someone else responds to the post, the original poster responds offline (i.e., saying that they will send a Direct Message).
Their posts are regularly dramatic and hyper-emotional.
Remind your teen that mental health concerns should be taken seriously and should never become a joke. Teens who are accused of attention-seeking when asking for help learn that asking for help doesn’t work. This puts them further at risk of developing depression and feelings of isolation. Threats regarding self-harm and suicide ideation should always be taken seriously, even if you suspect sadfishing.
If your teen has been making social media posts that seem like sadfishing, talk to them about it. Provide a safe space for them to talk in case they are struggling with mental health problems.
If they are dealing with depression or anxiety, consider seeking outside help from mental health professionals. Contact us today to find out if our residential treatment center could benefit your son.