Learn more about "catfishing" - using a false identity online for networking or bullying purposes - and how you can protect teens from this behavior.

Imagine being a lonely, angsty 14 year old. You don't trust your parents enough to confide in them, and you can't talk to your classmates because you're being picked on at school every day. Where do you turn for friendship, love, and acceptance?

Many teens in this situation turn to websites that foster connection with strangers:

  • Social sites such as MeetMe
  • Mobile phone apps such as Meet24
  • Chat and instant message applications
  • Question-and-answer sites such as ask.fm
  • Popular, established social sites like Facebook at Twitter

All of these sites are places where kids can meet new people, make new friends, and even fall in love - or so they think. The risk to kids in this situation, of course, is that they could connect with people who have sinister intentions.

We're not just talking about online predators, however. There's a new kind of threat to kids on social networking sites: catfish.

Catfish: What are they? Who are they?

"Catfish" is a slang term for people who create fake social networking profiles, and "catfishing" is the process of befriending strangers online while using a fake or stolen identity.

A variety of people can be classified as "catfish," and while not all of them have malicious intent, some of them do. Some teens, for example, just want an alternate identity to network with because of self-esteem issues. Others want to hurt their peers because of jealousy, a desire for revenge, or simple cruelty.

Catfishing and Bullying

Sadly, the bullying form of catfishing is one we have seen with increasing frequency over the past few years. Several teens have committed suicide after a "catfish" in their school or community targeted them for abuse. Many more have experienced the pain of being deceived, abused, and teased after falling for the deceptive moves of a "catfish."

Here are three suggestions on how to keep your teens safe from catfish:

1. Know all of the websites and mobile apps that your teen is using to network with others. A stunning number of adults have no idea what sites the teens in their life are visiting. Strictly monitor your teens' computer and mobile device access, and consider using monitoring software to keep track of what sites they are visiting.

2. Encourage your teen to connect only with people they know in real life. Help your teens build relationships with people at school, at their house of worship, or in the community so they won't become lonely and feel a need to search online for friends.

3. Keep your teens from disclosing personal information on social media sites. Personal information such as full names, personal photos, addresses, school names, interests, and so forth give catfishers opportunities to build rapport with unsuspecting kids.

By helping your teen foster relationships with real people and closely monitoring their internet usage, you can help lower the risk that your child will be reeled in by a catfisher.