I walked into my junior high student’s classroom a few
minutes early for our session. She was absolutely beaming, surrounded by a
group of giggling girls who were passing her phone around excitedly. I
overheard bits of the conversation. “A
boyyyy?!?” I teased, walking over to the group. My student grabbed her
phone from her friend and thrust it into my hand, starry eyed. I quickly
scanned the Direct Message (DM) conversation on her Instagram account.
Immediately, I was alarmed. Before I could ask any questions, her friend
announced, “They met on Instagram and
they’re gonna have a date!” It was clear to me immediately from the DM
conversation that this was no junior high boy my student had been communicating
with, it was a predator.
Catfishing- predators luring children and teens through
social media- has become more and more prevalent. Movies have been made on the
topic, it’s on the news and parents are encouraged to talk with their teens
about online safety. However, motivated by this teen, I’ve found very little in
terms of actual resources and strategies on this topic. After acquiring social
media packets from several schools which are sent out to families, and asking
colleagues to do the same, the overarching message from schools to parents is more
about online bullying between peers. Only one packet mentioned catfishing or
predators outside of the student body. From what I observed, parents should
proactively seek the most up-to-date information from resources beyond their
child’s school. Here are the safety and privacy settings for Facebook (not
frequently used by students today), Instagram, Snapchat, and Musical.ly(an app
that almost all of our students are using).
While all students are susceptible to catfishing, perhaps our
students with hearing loss are even more so. This student has friends and a
close family support system but many students with hearing loss feel isolated
and may be more naïve. I was able to see just how this person had lured my
student but also convinced her friends. When I intervened that day in class, my
student justified her discussions with this stranger because although she
didn’t know him, “he’s following all my
friends so someone must know him…” The other girls all agreed that this was
logical. A peer chimed in with, “But
look- his profile picture is clearly an 8th grade boy,” which
began a conversation about the ability to Google Image and create a fake
account. Becoming more desperate, another girl commented, “He wants to meet to get to know her better. It’s actually really
romantic.” I asked who the most romantic boy in their grade was. The girls
all giggled, started imitating their classmates, commenting on how none of them
are even remotely romantic. “Exactly.
Junior high boys are not romantic. They don’t want to be alone with junior high
girls- they’re afraid of junior high girls,” I said. Another red flag. The
group got quiet. My student agreed to talk with her parents, knowing that I
would be talking with them too since this was a major safety issue.
Motivated by her experience, this teen is now taking action.
She’s met with her school counselor and has begun the task of spreading the
word. “I’ve seen the showCatfish but nobody told me this was real!” Below
are links to some resources that we have found. Rather than being fearful, the
counselor and I hope to empower my student through education, awareness and
activism. Her situation ended in the very best way possible- she is safe, her
friends and classmates are safe, and she has an opportunity to prevent this
from happening again at her school. It may not be in my job description to be promoting
social media awareness but sparked by this experience, I’m willing to take this
project on with my teen.
Includes advice and tips for parents and teens on current social media trends: