Sadfishing—you’ve probably seen it online and maybe you’ve even taken the bait. Or maybe you’ve done it yourself. I just saw someone sadfishing in my feed in a status update that said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Any decent friend would quickly respond with concern and that’s what the “fisherman” is going for.
Sadfishing is, well, sad. I would never want my friends in real life to think they need to bait me into caring about them. But what about our kids? What if they are sadfishing? Here’s what parents need to know about why kids do it, what impact it has, and what we can do to help.
Why are teens sadfishing?
Celebrities have posted exaggerated claims to boost followers with much success. Teens see the reaction it generates and follow suit. Even if it doesn’t boost followers, sadfishing does typically get a response, like comments, hearts, sympathy—at least until it doesn’t, which is one of the dangers.
Teens are apt to seek attention through sadfishing because they’ve grown up with social media as their community. I texted two girlfriends last week to say I was having a tough day. I cried. They listened. The Gen Z version of this is to post something online and the more mysterious or dramatic it is, the more interest it will gain. Add to this the fact that studies show that the younger generations who have spent more time online are more lonely, and you’ll quickly understand why they resort to sadfishing.
What are the dangers of sadfishing?
Think of sadfishing like the boy who cried wolf, but “the boy” is everyone on social media. A teenager’s teary-eyed selfie might seem overdramatic, or it might actually be a cry for help, but because so many people do it, it’s easy to scroll by or think they are just seeking attention or jumping on the sadfishing bandwagon.
But some kids genuinely are looking for help. A survey by Digital Awareness UK found that young people with actual mental health issues who legitimately seek support online are facing unfair criticism. Rejection and criticism like this can damage their already fragile self-esteem and even result in their becoming more vulnerable to sexual grooming online.
What can parents do to help?
The first step is to monitor your child’s social media accounts. Remember that some kids create secret accounts that their parents don’t have access to, so don’t be afraid to do some digging. Keep tabs on how much time your kids spend staring at phones and what kind of moods they’re in when they put their phones down. Just like any relationship, if our kids always walk away from time on their phones feeling worse about themselves, then it might be time for a breakup.
Just like any relationship, if our kids always walk away from time on their phones feeling worse about themselves, then it might be time for a breakup.
If your child’s online persona matches what you see in person, and that child is crying for help, then talk to a professional. But if your daughter posts a photo of herself curled up in bed and crying with the caption “sometimes getting out of bed is just too hard” but then you see her outside washing her car at 8 a.m., talk to her about why she feels the need to present something online that is different from reality. And then listen well. Even if your child doesn’t have a mental health issue, the fact that he or she feels the need to attention-seek through sadfishing does suggest that there is some emotional need not being met. As much as teens want approval from their peers, they want it from you even more.
Have you seen sadfishing online? What’s your typical response?