We often talk about online predators and stranger danger with our kids and teens. But that's not the only risk.
A few years ago, the term catfishing entered the public consciousness with the movie and spinoff MTV show, documenting how some people were creating fake identities and hurting others who mistakenly thought they were someone else.
When I first heard about the young adult novel Identity Crisis by Melissa Schorr, I was excited that a book was going to educate our teens about this form of online identity impersonation.
What I wasn't prepared for was the emotional roller-coaster I was sent on. This work of fiction has the ring of too many true stories we have all followed in the news.
The story is written in alternating voices of two teenage girls, one who is the victim of a catfishing prank, and one who is the perpetrator.
There is Annalise, with looks that everyone is jealous of, and Noelle, the quiet follower who deep down knows right from wrong, but doesn't want to risk losing her status from the so-called cool clique. Even if it means being cruel to Annalise.
When I use the word cruel, well, these girls take it to a whole new level. Maybe brutal and malicious should be the words used to describe how they created a fake romance online, just to toy with Annalise.
Let's face it -- many of us are from a generation that could never imagine creating a fake persona with a simple click of a mouse or tap of a keyboard, in order to intentionally harm someone.
Identity Crisis delves into offline difficulties, too, from job loss, fear of parental divorce, slut-shaming, fandom, body image issues, sibling stress and other issues that compound their virtual lives.
This gave me an upfront and personal view to how teens feel, what they do and how they react to situations. I almost couldn't stomach how vicious these kids were -- however this is exactly how some teens are today and it's why both parents, teacher and tweens/teens need to read Identity Crisis. There are many important lessons that can be learned.
When you watch the Catfish TV series, you can often see the pain on the faces of those who discover they've been duped. Here, this type of behavior is brought down to those at a high school or even middle school level.
Do tweens and teens really know how mean they can be? Do they actually know the hurt it can cause when what sets out to be a juvenile prank ends up being a painful emotional scar that can last into adulthood?
Is anybody for real anymore online? Do they have real feelings? Do they understand that people bleed when you cut them, and words can carry a lifetime of weight on someone's shoulders? Where, exactly, are teens learning this behavior from?
These teens take their virtual lives, as well as their school popularity, very seriously. Parents need to be aware of just how far their kids will go to get what they want -- and it's not pretty.
When you read this book, you can actually feel the hurt that both girls are experiencing. Afterwards, you will come away with a new sense of empathy -- and want to be sure that no one ever does this to someone you love.
•No one is immune to being duped online. Implement your social wisdom.
•Perfect book for both parents and teens to read and discuss.
•Consistent offline chats about online life helps your teen make better choices.
•Things aren't always what they seem, chat with someone offline before you post about them online.