Schools Heads Warn Of ‘Sadfishing’ Social Media Trend

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Social media trend. Teenagers make exaggerated claims about emotional problems to generate online sympathy

A new report from HMC (the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference), a professional association of heads of private schools, has highlighted a worry social media trend among troubled youngsters.

The report is based on interviews with 50,000 pupils in the UK, and it found that a social-media ‘trend’ is leaving troubled young people with genuine mental health problems.

The trend is called “sadfishing” and is where people make “exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy.”

Sadfishing trend

The report warns that this trend means those youngsters with real problems are often overlooked or even bullied.

“School children are becoming more tech-savvy, and are more likely to manage their own use of technology with responsibility and common sense,” said the report. “But troubled teenagers are increasingly seeking comfort online, from strangers as well as friends. Whilst some find solace, others report feeling worse after being accused by fellow users of ‘sadfishing’ and attention seeking

According to the report, “sadfishing” is being reported by young people as a growing behavioural trend which they are finding hard to manage.

“This is a social media phenomenon that emerged after celebrities, such as the American media personality Kendall Jenner, were accused of posting exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and draw people onto their sites,” said the report.

Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) found that young people with genuine mental health issues who legitimately seek support online are nevertheless facing unfair and distressing criticism that they are jumping onto the same publicity bandwagon.

“In some cases, this rejection can damage their already fragile self-esteem and even result in them becoming more vulnerable to sexual ‘grooming’ online,” the report warned.

And it found that a growing amount of alarming online behaviour remains hidden, as victims are increasingly reluctant to confide in adults.

The report also found that the number of platforms on which people can anonymously bully or threaten others with virtually no chance of being identified is on the rise.

And it says that teenagers are also losing faith in the repeated but often unfulfilled pledges by tech firms to make the internet a safer place.

“Mobile technology and social media are now an inescapable aspect of the landscape of the lives of the young people that we care for in our schools,” said Chris Jeffery, Chair of the HMC Wellbeing Working Group.

“Given the nature of that technology, trends are fast-moving and it is crucial that educators and parents have regular insights into how young people are using their devices,” he added.

Snowflake generation?

There have concerns about the impact of social media on youngsters, but critics say the issue is more to do with the ‘snowflake generation’, than real issues.

Yet parents have long been concerned at the amount of time that children are glued to their screens. In February 2018 the additive nature of technology was highlighted in a campaign called ‘The Truth about Tech’.

But there is a conflicting studies about digital safety.

In June the advertising industry’s biggest players joined forces with tech giants and major brands in what they called the first coordinated effort to combat dangerous content online, in an effort to improve digital safety.

But in May this year a major study from Oxford University concluded that the amount of time that teenagers spend on social media has a tiny impact on their life satisfaction.

The study involved 12,672 youngsters aged between 10- to 15 years old, and it concluded that “social media use is not, in and of itself, a strong predictor of life satisfaction across the adolescent population.”

Those findings came after the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) concluded earlier this year that there was “not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age.”

In 2018 Apple CEO Tim Cook urged parents to stop children using social media. He has banned his nephew for example from using social networks.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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