'Sadfishing': parents warned about worrying new social media trend

Photo: Kendall Jenner / Justin Bieber / Instagram
Photo: Kendall Jenner / Justin Bieber / Instagram 

Just when you think you've got your head round the pros and cons of social media for teens and tweens along comes a brand new trend to get to grips with. 

Parents are being warned that 'sadfishing' – posting about feeling down in order to attract sympathy (come on, we've all got at least one Facebook friend that does this on a regular basis) can backfire spectacularly. 

A British on-line wellbeing group, Digital Awareness UK, interviewed 50,000 kids aged from 11 to 16 about their use of technology. They found that those in need of genuine support are either disappointed by the response or end up feeling worse when others accuse them of attention-seeking. 

One Year 7 student told researchers that when he posted on Instagram about problems at home a lot of people had liked and commented. The following day, however, some schoolmates accused him of sadfishing. "Sharing my feelings online has made me feel worse in some ways but supported in others," he said. 

Digital Awareness UK warns that while over-sharing and attention-seeking are universal behaviours (as I said, we all have at least one Facebook friend who is regularly sadfishing) the school environment can magnify the response. 

Celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber have made headlines for sadfishing, with Jenner coming under fire recently for teasing fans she would soon be sharing the "most raw story."

Momager Kris Jenner told fans to 'prepare to be moved' but it turned out to be a deal with a skin care company and the model opening up about her 'debilitating' experience with acne. Many looked upon it as a stunt for attention and financial gain and soon after the term 'sadfishing' entered mainstream use. 

More recently, Bieber was accused of playing the sympathy card after sharing with his 119 million followers on Instagram that: "It's hard to get out of bed in the morning when you are overwhelmed with your life."


So, what do parents need to do?

Martine Oglethorpe is a speaker, writer and counsellor, helping parents, students and teachers in the digital world. She tells me that if parents believe their child is overstating an emotional problem online it could be a cry for help. 

"It may be that something else is going on or that there is some reason they are needing that attention," she says. 

Martine's advice is to focus on connecting 'in real life'. "Monitoring a child's behaviours and wellbeing in general is still going to be a better option than trying to follow everything they are doing or saying online.

"But like all challenges to this world, we should focus on our connection with our child and talk to them about what needs are being met for them online that may not be being met in real life," she explains. 

Martine doesn't think that sadfishing will become the next big thing in social media. However she does say that when it comes to young people and mental health we need to tread carefully. 

"Where young people are concerned we want them to reach out to appropriate people to help with any mental health issues they may have and sometimes online spaces provide the outlet and the connections they may need or don't have access to in real life," she says. 

She continues: "In reaching out to others online however, we are also inadvertently reaching out to a whole range of people who may not have your best interests at heart." 

Another downside, notes Martine, is that young people might be so wary of being accused of sadfishing that they don't reach out for help when they really need it. 

Perhaps the biggest risk of sadfishing (for both kids and your Facebook friend) is that old tale of the boy who cried wolf. 

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