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Centerstone Comic Book Warns Teens About Online “Catfishing”

Centerstone has released its fourth superhero-themed comic book for students. Spark: Caught in the Net addresses the dangers of “catfishing”—the act of luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. It is available now for distribution to schools throughout 58 Tennessee counties and can also be read online and reprinted.

This new, free comic is part of a series of graphically illustrated comic books developed by the company’s Prevention Services division and targeted to teens. The newest comic book’s focus on “catfishing” adds to the existing collection on topics adolescents face, such as bullying, sexting and underage drinking.

Spark: Caught in the Net introduces two female high school students—Kilobyte and Mirage—who meet in foster care. Each possesses unique high-tech powers, but their impressive skills don’t translate very well to online safety. When Mirage sneaks out of her home to meet up with a boy from the internet, his charm quickly fades in person, and the lies about who he really is lead to great danger. Fortunately, superhero Spark swoops in to save the day and teach an important lesson in decision making and the vulnerability of teens on the internet.

“You were able to see what can happen by just trusting some random person online,” the hero says.

This new comic marks a first-time creative collaboration between Centerstone’s Prevention Services and Therapeutic Foster Care divisions. Both teams work daily with adolescents throughout Tennessee, promoting improved mental, physical and emotional health. Roddy Fernandez, a Therapeutic Foster Care program manager at Centerstone, wrote the story having enjoyed other Spark comics. He saw a clear connection between foster kids and superheroes.

“From Batman to Spiderman to Superman, it’s almost a prerequisite that superheroes have been orphaned or lost regular contact with their parents,” Fernandez said. “This felt like an opportunity to address an important issue. I’ve seen too much ‘catfishing’ in the history of children who have come into our care, often younger teens who were drawn in by older men online. Kids need to develop good judgment and have a steady filter to determine what’s safe and sensible. I hope this story will help some with that.”

Prevention specialists at Centerstone will distribute Spark: Caught in the Net during classroom presentations and to teachers at schools that have signed up to participate. The comic will also be distributed at various school and community events—including Wizard World Comic Con in Nashville where Spark will make a special appearance—and among Centerstone foster families and outpatient child and family counselors.

“We are thrilled to partner with our Therapeutic Foster Care team on this story,” said Ashleigh Hall, Prevention Services program coordinator at Centerstone. “Roddy and his team members brought a fresh perspective to this important work, and it was fun inviting students in Tennessee to help us nail down the look and language for this comic.”

The publication of Spark: Caught in the Net was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Adolescent Health, grant number TP1AH000081-01-00; its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS.