What is Sadfishing? 8 Tips to Talk to Your Teens About It

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October 29, 2020

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Table of Contents

You may have heard of catfishing, but now a more serious issue of ‘sadfishing’ has surfaced. Sadfishing is when someone posts something sad or emotional on social media to get attention. The real issue is that some of these posts may actually be a real cry for help.

Sadfishing can lead to:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Feelings of depression
  • Self-harm
  • Grooming by predators

Sadfishing in the news

The Wall Street Journal headline: Sadfishing, predators and bullies: The hazards of being'real' on social media
‘Sadfishing’ is when influencers play up emotional troubles to boost likes. Teens who emulate the behavior attract predators and bullies. The Wall Street Journal
The Sun headline: Sad for it. 'Sadfishing' is the toxic social media trend where celebs including Kendall Jenner use their misery to get likes. We all know people who are guilty of attention seeking on social media, but this trend can turn toxic
People who go ‘sadfishing’ often deliberately hold certain details back, in order to entice their followers in or, in some cases, make the problem seem bigger than it really is. The Sun

8 experts share ways to talk to your students about sadfishing on social media

In this SmartSocial.com guide, eight experts share ways to talk to your students about sadfishing on social media. A common theme is many teens get bullied on these posts making them feel even worse. So it's important to make sure you’re following your kids on social media and monitoring what they post.

1. Share the consequences of sadfishing with them

Adi Donna headshot
Adi Donna

Adi Doanna, Founder, Cozy Down Home

The reason why teens or students post on social media regarding their emotions and negative feelings is because they expect others to understand and sympathize with them. They suffer from loneliness or have low self-esteem, so they engage online to seek attention from others and gather reassurance.

However, this strategy tends to backfire for them at times because of people who use social media to manipulate others and veer towards narcissism. It is because of people like these that innocent students get accused of “sadfishing” and get bullied instead. This impacts their mental health greatly and makes them feel more depressed and lonely instead.

Comfort them and tell them you understand what it's like to feel lonely, depressed, or even abandoned at times. However, it is not okay to put their emotions online and seek others' sympathy as they won't ever understand them like their family.

Explain to them that people like to make fun of others, no matter how genuine their emotions may be. They like to use someone's weaknesses against them. So, it is better to keep themselves away from such troublemakers and instead physically talk to you (the parents) or close friends about their problems.

If anyone makes them feel a certain negative emotion, talk to them. It is always good to resolve problems. If they feel like that isn't working either and are still not feeling better, then ensure that you can always go to a therapist.

As parents, it is recommended to keep your bond with children as friendly as possible. Keep room for open communication; your child shouldn't be scared to come and talk to you and feel more comfortable fishing for others' attention. You should be their go-to person, if not their friends.

2. Predators look for vulnerable teens online

Josh Ochs headshot
Josh Ochs

Josh Ochs, Founder, SmartSocial.com

Predators can groom kids by searching for those who are sadfishing. They can find an emotional post written by a tween or teen and start to groom them by reaching out, offering support, giving them attention, and trying to gain their trust.

This is why it’s always important to be on all the same apps your kids are using. Your best weapon of defense to protect your children online is knowing what they’re doing and who they’re talking to. Remind them they can always come to you, or a trusted adult, if they are experiencing a problem or feeling sad.

SheKnows.com headline: What is 'Sadfishing" & is your kid doing it?
'Predators use many manipulative tactics to groom victims online, and this can certainly include sadfishing as they keep up with the latest online trends among teens and are often very adept at mimicking their language and behavior,' warned Chris Hadnagy, founder and executive director of Innocent Lives Foundation. 'They use the information shared to gain their trust and get them to open up, once the connection is made, they usually encourage the conversations be moved to a private chat where they will continue to look for ways to solicit personal information/images, etc.' SheKnows.com

3. Observe your teens behavior at home to see if it matches with what they’re writing online

Anna Nielsen headshot
Anna Nielsen

Anna Nielsen, Marketing Director, Our Good Living Formula

Sadly, sadfishing is more than a trend for teens. In the stage of their life where they're finding their identity and seeking to belong, publishing emotional posts online is one of the easy ways for them to get attention from their peers.

However, it can be tricky to judge whether a person is sadfishing or just genuinely asking for help. As parents, we should be wary about signs of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal tendencies. Observe your teen's behaviors at home compared to his behaviors online. You might get some insights as to whether they're just exaggerating or if you need to step in.

Of course, the best way to nip this in the bud is to talk to your teen. Don't scold him or her outright for sharing his or her emotions to the public - this might just fan the flames. Instead, sit your teen down and tell him or her that it's okay to come to you for help with any personal problems. And if he or she is not comfortable talking to you with some issues, explore the possibility of seeing the school counselor or a therapist.

4. Follow your kids on social media and always check for FINSTAs

Muhammed Mateen Khan headshot
Muhammed Mateen Khan

Muhammed Mateen Khan, Digital Marketing Strategist, PureVPN

Students who open up about their emotional or mental health struggles on social media were left feeling disappointed for the lack of support they get. Some even get bullied for their posts. In both instances, the negative response they get from their peers can damage their already fragile self-esteem.

If you’re worried your kid is sadfishing, be sure you’re following them on any social media platforms they have, which also means keeping an eye out for any FINSTAs—secondary Instagram pages that kids keep more exclusive.

As with any issue, online or IRL (in real life), the best defense is a good offense. Parents should have constant conversations about safe and healthy digital activity, and they should consistently monitor their child’s behavior both online and in real life. If you notice a sudden change in your kid’s behavior, do not write it off solely as teenage angst. If you catch your child sadfishing—or doing anything online that concerns you—resist the urge to freak out and punish them. Whatever the issue, your teen needs to know that they can come to you when they are in trouble.

5. Find alternative outlets for your teen to share or vent

Sabrina Romanoff headshot
Sabrina Romanoff

Sabrina Romanoff, Clinical Psychologist, Northwell Health

Teens may exaggerate their sad feelings online because they value the supportive feedback they receive. Studies have shown that individuals who engage in a higher degree of self-disclosure on social medical tend to experience a twofold beneficial effect, as they are not only able to share their inner experiences, but also increase the level of intimacy and connectedness to their fellow users.

Parents can help by first identifying how their children’s needs are being met by their social media use behaviors. Parents can help shape behavior by providing an alternative outlet for their kids to get their needs for support and validation met without the negative consequences of social media-based disclosures.

6. Follow your kid on social media and talk with them offline about what they post online

CJ Xia headshot
CJ Xia

CJ Xia, VP of Marketing & Sales, Boster Biological Technology

Sadfishing is really dangerous for students. Students of a young age are suffering from depression. Due to the lack of awareness and attention of parents, students become the victim of sadfishing or go sadfishing themselves. In both situations, students suffer because they can't interact with their parents or close friends properly and take the help of others to gain sympathy. It affects their studies as students can't pay attention to their studies. When parents do not support their children, it creates a distance between them, and children choose the wrong way to resolve their emotional problems.

Parents should help their children by openly talking to them about their problems in a friendly manner. Ask them if they look stressed or uncomfortable about a certain situation or if their mood is terrible. 

Parents need to know about sadfishing, and for this, they should keep an eye on their children's social accounts and follow them. They should constantly ask about their children's digital activities, and if your child posts sadfishing comments don't punish them, but politely handle the situation and show them the right path.

7. Create an open communication channel with your child

Lewis Keegan headshot
Lewis Keegan

Lewis Keegan, Founder, SkillScouter

Teens usually go sad fishing online because they want to gain attention and garner sympathy from people on social media. They do this because doing so makes them feel important and loved. These kids have to understand that sad fishing on social media is inappropriate and people might just think that they are simply fishing for attention instead of gaining sympathy.

Parents should always be open to talking with their children about their problems and what they are going through. Make your child feel that they can talk to someone who actually cares rather than posting their problems on social media.

8. Make sure your child doesn’t make a habit of sadfishing

Clovis Chow headshot
Clovis Chow

Clovis Chow, Founder, TimeOrganizeStudy

Posting online is dangerous for students because sadfishing may become a habit for them. They think that feeling sad, being sad will help them gain attention. In future, these negative feelings may propagate and lead to depression.

Furthermore, students who engage with sadfishing may be bullied even though their feelings are genuine and they are really seeking help. In this case, there is a higher probability students may develop self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

Parents should regularly communicate with their child so as to form that habit and make their child more comfortable with sharing. This way, the child is more willing to share their troubles when in need and most importantly, feel safe doing so.


Social media is not a safe place for students to regularly air out their feelings nor compare themselves to others. Talk to your kids about sadfishing, warn them about the dangers of oversharing online, and always make sure they know there is an open line of communication with you.

The suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 increased by nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is preventable and with the rising rates, it’s increasingly important for parents to talk to their children about difficult subjects like sadfishing, suicide, depression, and anxiety. If you are worried about their online or offline behavior, consider having your student talk to a guidance counselor or mental health professional. 

Read our blog on how to talk to your kids about suicide and depression

If you know a teen that may need support, encourage them to contact Teen Line: Text Teen to 839863 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-TALK.

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