What To Know About Teens And 'Sadfishing'


Having teens in this day and age, with social media is front and center in their lives at all times, means I have to stay afloat on what’s going on. This includes (but is not limited to) all social media platforms and ways of communicating with people, the latest terms and abbreviations and what they mean, how often my kids are on their phones, and what their friends are posting.

Sounds like a full time job, right? Yeah, it kind of is. I learned some tricks of the trade throughout the years so I’m not sitting down for hours upon hours stalking their social media. Believe me, I tried that and found out what was actually happening. I had my nose in a device each day trying to figure out what was happening in their lives rather than spending time and talking with them.

A few shortcuts: If my teens are acting strange it’s because something is up. I try to talk to them first, but if that doesn’t work, yes, I’ll snoop in their phones and it will go a bit further than just checking out their social media posts.

My son was having a lot of trouble a few years back. He was anxious, depressed, and couldn’t stop getting in trouble at school. He was hanging out with one boy all the time and didn’t seem to have an interest in broadening his friend group. After a little snooping, I saw his friend was posting a lot of pictures of him smoking pot on his Instagram. There were also a lot of posts about him skipping school and how much he hated his life and the world in general. He was getting quite a lot of attention for it, too.

While I realize this may have been a cry for help, I had a feeling his problems were leaking onto my (very empathic) son. He was having trouble separating their two lives and I had to step in and do it for him. I did this by only allowing them to hang out under my roof when I was home so I could at least keep an eye on the situation and try to spread some positive light on the situation.

Our teens are so impressionable. I’d say my young adults are more influenced at this age than I’ve seen them at any other age.

I realize this isn’t true of all kids, but it certainly is with a lot of teenagers I know. And since they spend so much time on their phones, you better believe they are influenced by what they see on that screen — even more so, I’d say, than they are when they see something in person.

If you haven’t heard of the term “sadfishing,” you aren’t alone. According to Your Teen Magazine, It’s a new term by writer, Rebecca Reid.

In short, it’s basically when someone posts a really sad picture (sometimes they are crying, or have a really sad look on their face) while telling an emotional or heart-wrenching story or event that happened. Sometimes these things are true and, well, sometimes they are simply to get some attention.

While many of us feel stories like this have their place — who hasn’t related to a mom posting a picture of herself just barely holding it together to let the world know how damn hard this job actually is? — there are those who are doing it simply to get attention or sympathy.

It’s becoming common among teenagers to do this on their social media platforms. Everyone loves an affirmation, so it’s tempting to post something depressing so that their peers chime in with comments; this type of post often gets a lot of engagement, and for teens who place a lot of weight on the number of “likes” and views they get, it can be intoxicating.

As parents, we should know if our teens are putting a cry out for help or simply dabbling in an online pity party.

Even if they are acting completely normal and seem happy in your presence, a social media post about depression or anxiety definitely warrants some deeper digging. Parents magazine reports, “When a teen is posting song lyrics that are blatantly depressing, sharing about how hopeless their life is, or even referencing self-harm and suicidal ideation, they want your attention—whether it’s a conscious desire or not.” Jelena Kecmanovic, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Arlington, Virginia tells Healthline that all posts where your kids are crying for help should be taken very seriously, and your children shouldn’t be punished.

Real or contrived, this form of sharing (especially if it isn’t accurate) can be very influential and toxic to the teens who are on the other end of it. Like all other behaviors, sadfishing can be contagious. Not to mention that if their peers pick up on the attention-getting nature of the sadfishing post, they may get humiliatingly called out for simply wanting attention.

The best way to handle it is to talk with your child one on one and get them professional help if they are struggling with thoughts of hurting themselves, according to Parents.

The bottom line here is that there’s something new to keep track of all the time. It’s our job as parents to stay on top of it and realize social media is a huge outlet for many of our kids. Just because we don’t understand it, or we wouldn’t post something like that doesn’t mean we should sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen.

We can have a talk with our teens about the effects of posts like this, and how they can attract people who want to prey on their emotions, without shaming them. We can also show them we are there for them and can get them the help they need — but it’s important they aren’t exaggerating their emotions to simply get attention from outsiders.

Like all other things in the parenting world, this social media monitoring is a balancing act, and all we can do is our best.