As a parent, you may be trying to understand your teenager’s emotional needs in everyday life, let alone on social media. However, it is important to be aware of a concept called “sadfishing,” especially as social media becomes a larger part of your child’s life. “Sadfishing” refers to posting overly emotional or sad content on social media to get attention or sympathy from others. This behavior can have a negative impact on your teenager, so it is important to be aware of it and address it if necessary.
What Is Sadfishing?
In 2019, journalist Rebecca Reid popularized the term “sadfishing” concerning an incident involving Kendall Jenner. The incident involved Jenner posting about her struggles with acne on Instagram and receiving a large amount of sympathy and support from the online community. However, it was later revealed that the posts were part of an advertising campaign for the acne medication brand Proactiv. This led to criticism of Jenner for using her struggles with acne to promote a product and gain attention.
Reid referred to Jenner’s actions as “sadfishing,” which is posting overly emotional or sad content online to gain attention, likes, followers, or sympathy. Reid accused Jenner of exaggerating her struggles with acne to benefit from the attention and support of the online community. This behavior is often criticized as being manipulative and insincere.
After the term “sadfishing” gained widespread recognition, people began accusing others of engaging in this behavior when they made vulnerable posts that seemed inauthentic. However, not every emotional post on social media is intended to gain attention or sympathy, and it can be difficult to know the true intentions of a person’s post without asking them directly. In fact, some people, particularly teenagers, may make genuine and heartfelt posts about their emotional struggles on social media.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” and “13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do,” notes that teens are still in the process of learning how to express themselves and may use social media in ways that adults may not understand. While it is not necessarily wrong for a young adult to post about their challenges in an advertisement or to raise awareness about an issue, it can be difficult to predict how their followers will interpret their vulnerabilities. Some may offer support and positive
interactions, while others may respond negatively and even accuse the person of “sadfishing,” which can further harm the individual’s emotional well-being.
There’s nothing wrong with a young adult posting about their challenges in an advertisement or raising awareness about an issue. However, it’s difficult to predict how their followers will react to their vulnerabilities. While they may receive support and positive feedback, they could also face negative responses and accusations that could further worsen their situation. It’s important to be mindful of this when sharing personal or emotional content online.
Social media posts have almost replaced personal diaries. Teens are posting about their emotions publicly to observe the responses and reactions of others.
Signs Your Child Is Sadfishing
It can be difficult to know for sure if your child is “sadfishing” or if they are genuinely expressing their emotions on social media. Here are a few signs that may indicate your child is engaging in “sadfishing”:
- They post excessively emotional or vulnerable content on a regular basis.
- They seem to be seeking attention or validation from their followers through their posts.
- They post about their problems or challenges in a way that seems exaggerated or untrue.
- They seem to be using their emotional struggles as a way to gain popularity or followers.
According to Morin, “sadfishing” may be a sign that a teenager is seeking more attention, either because they feel they are not getting enough positive attention from their peers or because they are struggling and don’t know how to effectively communicate their needs. It could also be their way of testing others’ loyalty and seeing who cares about them based on their responses. However, there are warning signs that a teen may be in distress and need immediate help from a mental health professional. For example, if they make statements like “Everyone would be better off without me,” “Life is so pointless,” or “I have nothing really to live for or look forward to,” it could be a sign that they are considering suicide.
Other signs of suicidal thoughts may include deepening depression, feelings of hopelessness, preoccupation with death, and feeling worthless or trapped. If a teenager who doesn’t typically post emotional or dramatic content suddenly starts doing so, it could also be a sign that they need professional support. Additionally, parents should be on the lookout for talk of self-harm or suicide, as well as substance use, as these may indicate that a teenager is struggling with depression. If you suspect that your tween or teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for help from a trained counselor. In case of an emergency, call 911. For more mental health resources, you can refer to our National Helpline Database.
Talk to Your Child About Their Online Behavior
It is important to have open and honest conversations with your teenager about their emotional social media posts. Ask them about their thoughts and feelings, and listen to their response without judging or trying to solve their problems.
Try saying supportive things like “I/We understand what you’re going through” or “That sounds really difficult.” Avoid minimizing their experiences or making dismissive statements like “Get over it” or “That doesn’t sound that bad,” as these can be hurtful and cause your child to stop communicating with you. Instead, try to show empathy and understanding toward your teenager’s emotions. It’s important to be there for your child and support them, even if you don’t fully understand their feelings or experiences. Validating their emotions and offering a listening ear can go a long way in helping them feel heard and supported.
It’s important to remember that for some young people, posting about a difficult experience or challenging emotions can be empowering. While it’s okay to encourage healthy ways of sharing their feelings, such as using direct messaging or posting in an online support group, it’s also important to recognize the courage they have shown in reaching out for help, even if social media may not always be the most effective way to receive support. Encourage your child to seek help from trusted adults or mental health professionals if they are struggling, and continue to offer your support and understanding.
It’s important to remind your tween or teen to think carefully about what information they share online, as not everyone may respond in the way they had hoped, which could lead to them feeling worse. It may be helpful to connect your child with a mental health expert who can provide support for any problems they may be facing and teach them healthy ways to cope with strong emotions.
As a parent, it’s also a good idea to have ongoing conversations with your child about social media and the risks of “sadfishing,” or sharing emotional content online for attention. Discuss the potential consequences of such behavior, both positive and negative, and encourage your child to find alternative ways to interact with their peers.
Morin suggests that parents have ongoing conversations with their children about social media and the risks of “sadfishing,” or sharing emotional content online for attention. These discussions can help parents and kids understand the potential consequences of such behavior, both positive and negative, and explore alternatives for interacting with peers. It’s also a good idea to talk about how to get help and support when needed. By having these open and honest conversations, parents can help their children navigate the complexities of social media and find healthy ways to express themselves.
The Risks of Sadfishing
Creating emotional posts on social media carries the risk of being cyberbullied, which can be especially harmful to a vulnerable tween or teen.
If they are made fun of or called names for expressing their emotions, it can cause them to feel even more depressed, anxious, or worthless. They may also feel that nobody takes them seriously or cares about their struggles if they are accused of “sadfishing,” or seeking attention through emotional content.
According to a survey, these accusations can further harm young people with mental health issues who are not receiving the support they need online. Additionally, making emotional posts on social media can make a tween or teen more vulnerable to online predators, who may seek out vulnerable individuals and try to establish connections with them.
Online predators use the information shared on social media to build trust and establish a connection with their targets. Once a connection is made, they may try to move the conversation to a private message where they can gather personal information or request images. These actions are often a precursor to exploitation. It’s important for parents to be aware of these tactics and to talk to their kids about online safety. Helping your children learn to recognize and protect themselves from online predators can go a long way in keeping them safe online.
Parents to watch some Signs of Online Predator Grooming:
Here are some indicators that your tween or teen may be interacting with an online predator:
- The person is much older than your child and seems to be overly interested in them
- They try to get your child to keep their relationship a secret
- They try to get your child to send them photos or meet in person
- They ask your child personal questions or try to gather information about them
- They try to make your child feel special or flattered
- They try to get your child to engage in risky or inappropriate behavior online or offline It’s important to have open and honest conversations with your child about online safety and to be aware of who they are interacting with online. If you have any concerns, it’s always best to speak with a trusted adult or seek help from a mental health professional.
How to Prevent Sadfishing
It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from online risks by restricting their access to technology or forbidding them from having social media accounts. However, these actions do not teach kids how to safely navigate the online world and may isolate them from their peers. Instead, it’s important to teach kids how to use social media responsibly, including how to practice good digital etiquette, be mindful of their digital footprint, and regularly clean up their accounts.
Parents should also talk to their kids about how to identify and cope with their emotions and where to seek help when they are struggling. Consider discussing the appropriate times and places to make emotional posts online, and direct your child towards online support groups and other safe spaces where they can be authentic and connect with others.
If your child does make an emotional post on social media, try to have an open and supportive conversation with them about their feelings and help them find the resources and support they need. It may also be helpful for your child to have a private journal or online space where they can write about their thoughts and feelings.
A Word From Us
It can be challenging for parents to stay up-to-date with a multitude of ways that young people use social media, but it’s an important aspect of parenting. Social media, smartphones, and other technologies are deeply integrated into the lives of teenagers, so it’s crucial to stay informed about what your kids are doing online. Use their posts and online experiences as opportunities to teach them about responsible technology use and online safety. Staying in tune with your kids’ online activities will help you support and guide them as they navigate the digital world.
While it may be tempting to forbid your child from using social media in order to “keep them safe,” this approach can actually do more harm than good. It’s important for kids to learn how to use social media responsibly and with purpose, as they will likely continue to use it in adulthood. Instead of restricting their access to social media, try to use these situations as opportunities to teach your child how to set boundaries and use social media in a healthy and mindful way. By guiding them and helping them develop good online habits, you can better prepare them to navigate the digital world safely and confidently.