Catfishing: Teens Falling for Fake Online Identities

February 26, 2016
Two people talking at a reception desk

We have all heard about the online phenomenon known as “catfishing" from the documentary and MTV show Catfish.
What we don’t hear a lot about is how our own tweens and teens are masking themselves virtually and in some cases, harming each other emotionally.
It is shocking the extent some teens will go to—creating fake online personas and often emotionally harming someone else, in order to seek revenge or for other motivations.
“Teens need to be aware that not everyone online is for real, or has your best interests at heart,” says Melissa Schorr, author of the new YA novel on catfishing, Identity Crisis. “There are many reasons someone could be an online fakester. Because they have a secret grudge against you. Or a crush on you, but don’t think you like them back. Or they are just bored and trying to provoke a reaction.”
Some teens are creating fake profiles to hide their online lives from their parents, Schorr says, while others create them to seek extra attention. One Twitter account holder pretended to be suffering from a terminal illness to solicit the attention of her celebrity crush, emotionally upsetting the many teens following the account. 
Are we living in such a society that our children lack the empathy to understand that this type of behavior is not acceptable—or simply mean?  
Sadly, parents today are often too consumed in their own problems—or too busy believing their child would never be involved in such a scheme or behavior. 
What does your teen need to know to protect themselves?

  1. No one is immune to online scams such as catfishing.
  2. Don’t assume everyone online is who they say they are. Teens should check with mutual trusted friends before confiding in a new cyberfriend.
  3. Frequent offline chats about digital life will help teens make healthier online decisions.
  4. Novels are another great way to open up dialogue. If your teen seems to have grown tired of lectures, try putting a topical book like Identity Crisis into their hands, and let them draw their own conclusions. 
  5. Studies show that teens spend a majority of their time online (up to 9 hours a day). Parents need to take this very seriously. Slow down your life and learn more about their cyberworld. 
  6. One survey found 25% of teens met their boyfriend or girlfriend first on social media, without knowing them beforehand in real life. Make sure your teen is especially wary of romantic relationships forged online. 
  7. Many of these catfishing scenarios are motivated by unrequited love, or to make a crush jealous. 
  8. Be aware of these signs that someone is an online faker: Do they never give a physical address? Are they never available to Skype or FaceTime? Do they have few other friends and few tags? Are their posts made at times unlikely for their physical time zone?
  9. Tell teens: No matter how old you are, if you are being harassed online, tell someone. Report it. Block them. 
  10. Role models matter. What is your own online behavior? Teens mimic the actions of adults for acceptable online conduct. 

Sue Scheff is an author and nationally recognized parent advocate and family Internet safety advocate. She founded Parents' Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) in 2001 and for over a decade has been helping families with at-risk teens. Her specialty is educating parents on the daunting industry of teen help and assisting them to locate safe and quality residential programs. Her books include Wit's End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen and Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet.

For more from Sue, check out: Sue Scheff Blog | Twitter | Facebook

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