We’re living in the information age and while that means we’re all virtually connected, it can also mean we’re disconnected in reality. This dark truth takes some parents of teenagers by surprise only after it’s too late.
Kids —and parents — spend more and more time on their devices, not always talking openly with each other in the way that’s necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.
Unfortunately, it’s all to common for kids to get bullied online or to get drawn into other harmful social games. But parents often don’t know about it until after something happens. Apparently, there’s a new such game taking root in Russia and elsewhere that hides behind a peaceful-seeming whale.
Russian authorities started investigating the sick practice after it appeared to be linked to the deaths of 130 young people. The “Blue Whale” challenge is supposedly named after that majestic animal because blue whales sense when they’re dying and swim up to the coastline to beach themselves, as if choosing death freely.
Likewise, the goal of the challenge is death, chosen “freely.”
Kids on social networks get invited to participate in the game with a warning from an “administrator.” If they agree to play, they can’t leave the game until they’ve finished it. If participants want to stop “prematurely,” the administrator allegedly threatens to expose all their data and go after their families too.
Once the players accept the terms, the administrator gives them one challenge per day for 50 days. Some are innocent enough, such as not speaking for an entire day or getting up at midnight to watch a horror movie.
Others, however, are harmful and dangerous, like cutting the image of a whale into one’s own skin. And then comes the last challenge, the denouement of this creepy, manipulative operation: in order to “win” the game, the participant has to commit suicide.
The case of Russian 15-year-old Yulia Konstantinova shocked her whole country: she ended her life by throwing herself off the roof of a 14-story building. She left messages on her social media profiles that included a picture of a blue whale next to the words “The End.”
There have also reportedly been cases of this game taking a toll in United Kingdom, Brazil, Columbia, and Chile. Yet again, it’s essential that parents stay informed and have the tools to protect their children in an online world that changes faster than ever.
The end of April saw a 15-year-old girl in Barcelona, Spain, admitted to a psychiatric hospital after her parents discovered that she was involved with the game. Apparently, she’d been instructed to commit suicide on the train tracks, but fortunately her family intervened before she could.
Depressed or troubled teenagers are particularly vulnerable to this vicious, predatory online abuse, since they may be searching for the comfort of belonging to a group and any way to get positive feedback.
For parents, it’s more important than ever to stay involved in their kids’ lives. And both teenagers and parents need access to help and support whenever there’s a risk of online bullying or abuse!