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How to Protect Your Child from Being Catfished
The phenomenon known as "Catfishing" has become more prominent. Here are 7 tips to help protect your child from this hoax.

The internet is a powerful tool that requires safety and education.

Online bullies like to feed on the emotions of people online. Teach your children not to post if they’re depressed, lonely or sad.”
The term "catfish" comes from the 2010 movie in which a young New Yorker named Nev Schulman has an online relationship with a woman on Facebook. Turns out the woman fabricated her entire life on the social network, and when Nev finally made plans to meet her in real life, he realized that everything she told him was a lie.

Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o had a similar online relationship with what he thought was a 22-year-old woman named Lennay Kekua. "Lennay" was really the young man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. According to Te'o, throughout 2012, Kekua (via Ronaiah) played with his emotions as "she" fabricated traumatic events in her life, including a car accident that left her in a coma, a diagnosis of leukemia, and eventually her death. Whether or not Te'o was in on the hoax is still up for debate.

As the truth of the story continues to unravel, Te'o's story spotlights a catfish scenario: someone set up a fake online profile with the specific purpose of wanting to have an online relationship with another person. It’s also a case of cyberbullying, or what some state laws refer to as cyberharassment, simply because someone used digital communication to purposefully inflict emotional harm to another.

While Te'o is a young adult in college, children are especially susceptible to being catfished. Here are the seven things every parent needs to know and do if they are concerned about their child becoming a victim of a catfish hoax.

1. Online dating is meant for adults, not teens. Dating at the right age should always and only involve people your teen knows in real life, never with someone they met online.

2. Keep your child's emotions in check. Online bullies like to feed on the emotions of people online. Teach your children not to post if they’re depressed, lonely or sad.

3. Keep the desires offline. Talking about wanting to date, or talking about being single, makes your teen an easy catfish target.

4. Beware of networks that push relationship status. Recognize that adult-intended networks, whether Facebook, Skout, or others, place a focus on relationship status and push members into flirting via site functions such as "look at me," "get lucky" or "own me." Instead, introduce your children to social media sites built for kids, which focus on youth interests, creativity, engaging activities and friendships, instead of dating.

5. Limit your child’s social media friends to only those they know in real life. If they don’t know them, they shouldn’t be on their friends list.

6. Keep identifiers off the grid. Teach your children to never give out personally identifiable information—this includes their phone number, their home address and their full name.

7. Avoid offline connections. Don’t allow your children to talk on the phone with someone they are friends with online, unless you both know that person in real life.

Mary Kay Hoal is a nationally recognized expert on children’s social media and online safety. She is the founder and president of Yoursphere Media Inc., which focuses on the family and publishes the kids’ social network Yoursphere.com - sign your kids up today!  Mary Kay also offers parents Internet-safety information at YoursphereForParents.com. She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, TIME, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay is a contributor to ABC's 20/20 as their family Internet-safety expert. For more information visit www.marykayhoal.com.

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