Blue Whale Challenge Encourages Self-Harm, Suicide
What parents need to know about social media trend
A Texas teen meets a stranger through social media.
The boy is challenged to complete 50 tasks in as many days. Each time the challenge becomes more dangerous to the teenager, ending with him taking his own life, while live streaming to social media.
It sounds like a horror movie or a hoax, but at least two sets of parents say it’s frighteningly real.
The Blue Whale Challenge begins with something seemingly harmless, maybe a little scary, like watching a horror movie. Each task becomes more dangerous, including drinking bleach or cutting themselves.
Schools from across the United States are warning parents about the challenge.
An article in USA Today said children are finding out about the game through social-media channels like Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and texting.
Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds and 90 percent of those who took their own lives had a psychiatric disorder.
“The Blue Whale Challenge is dangerous because it preys on children who are already vulnerable,” said Lisa Elliott, Ph.D., manager of the Psychology Clinic in Denton. “At this age, so many teens are already willing to do anything to feel like they are a part of something or to be included. This challenge plays into many of those desires.”
When talking to your children let them know they aren’t in trouble, but you want to discuss something you’ve heard in the news recently.
For kids in elementary school, ask them if they have seen anything online or heard anything lately that concerns them or scares them. There’s no need to bring up the Blue Whale Challenge directly to them.
For middle-school aged children, follow their lead to see if they want to discuss the challenge.
For older teens, be more direct and ask them about the challenge. Tell them you are aware of the challenge and you are concerned about it.
“I’m concerned about this culture of suicide right now,” Elliott said. “Suicide is not a trend. It’s not something that kids can be a part of and everything will be Ok. It’s final and scary. We have to talk to our children and let them understand there’s nothing interesting, sexy or cool about suicide. It’s not only the end of your life, but leaves all of your family and friends devastated.”
While talking to their tweens and teens, Elliott asks that parents also take the opportunity to reinforce to their kids that even if they hear of it at school happening to a peer, they should let an adult know. Reports have said that friends were aware of what the Texas teen was doing, but no one said anything.
Elliott says it’s also important for parents to let children know they are there for them and available to talk. If your teen is troubled, explain that whatever is troubling them will pass in time.
“Being a teen is a very difficult time,” Elliott said. “It’s sometimes hard to understand that the things that seem so important to them at that time will not matter in a couple of years. To them, it’s all about the present. So if they break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend or didn’t get chosen for a team or picked on by others, it sometimes seems like there’s no tomorrow. That’s when parents need to be there most for their child. Sometimes, it’s just about listening.”
Parents are advised to search hashtags such as #BlueWhaleChallenge on the social sites their kids use and do not let the children erase their history.
Parents can ask their child if they have ever had any extreme feelings of sadness or thoughts about hurting themselves. If current feelings about wanting to hurt themselves are acknowledged, parents should let their therapist or psychologist know right away. If they do not have a therapist or psychologist, or they are not available, they should be taken to a local mental health facility or hospital emergency room for an evaluation.
Warning signs of teen suicide include:
- Increased use of alcohol/drugs
- Preoccupied with death (writing, drawings)
- Talking about feelings of hopelessness
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Telling loved ones goodbye
- Decline in performance
- Giving prized possessions away
- Isolating and withdrawing
- Acting highly anxious or agitated
- Acting reckless and taking risks
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating
- Dramatic changes in personality and/or appearance
Keeping up with social media is not easy if you’re a parent.
As quickly as you get a handle on whatever device or outlet your child’s looking at, something new comes along. Usually your kids know about what’s new in social media long before you ever do.
But that doesn’t mean parents should give up. It only means they have to do the best they can and it’s not just monitoring the technology that’s most important.
“There’s not one ‘silver bullet’ that can help with all of the various ways that children can consume content and/or engage technology,” said Aaron Wishon, AVP, Chief Information Security Officer at Cook Children’s. “Kids are smart and if they want to, they will figure out a way around just about anything. I think what’s most important is engagement and an on-going conversation about expectations between parents from the time they are younger kids to teenagers.”
There are so many different options for getting online. From gaming consoles to tablets to smartphones to computers at school, devices and Internet access are available everywhere. Monitoring tools that will simply not cover all the bases. Parents have to be aware of the various ways their kids can access material online. For instance, kids can easily do web searches and access online content from an XBOX by using the built in browser.
“While there are many parental control software packages and services on the market today, there isn’t any one solution that works for all circumstances. Parents should do a lot of research before purchasing any sort of monitor tool.”, said Jim Stalder, Chief Technology Officer at Cook Children’s. Rather than look to technology solutions, Stalder says it’s important for parents to establish rules at home about online use, including:
- Using game consoles and computers out in the open so actions are harder to hide
- Reviewing children’s app purchase history.
- No phones at meals or after 8 p.m.
- Device charging outside of bedrooms
- Turn notifications off
- Each child should have his or her own accounts.
- Create good passwords – never share passwords with friends.
Sorry kids, but Stalder isn’t one for your privacy. Although it’s not perfect, Stalder says parents can take these steps to protect their kids against unsavory characters online.