Have you heard of the Blue Whale Challenge? The online world is abuzz about this frightening underground social media “game” that challenges teenagers to commit outrageous and harmful acts, leading up to suicide. The game has allegedly caused some teenagers to kill themselves. There are also other, equally dangerous, games and challenges circulating the internet. What exactly is the Blue Whale Challenge and what can parents do to protect their children?
The Blue Whale Challenge
Reports of the Blue Whale Challenge have mostly come from Europe. The idea is that teens are challenging each other to commit a series of increasingly daring and destructive acts, leading up to suicide as the last stage. The game apparently began in Russia, where more than 100 teens allegedly committed suicide after playing. The details regarding the Blue Whale Challenge are vague and it’s still not clear that this is something real or an online urban legend. However, with this type of internet meme, even something that starts out as a myth or prank has the potential to become all too real. There’s little doubt that social media and other online activities can contribute to teen suicide and other, less drastic problems.
Dangerous Online Challenges
While we need more information before verifying whether or not the Blue Whale Challenge is an actual phenomenon, the internet has already produced its share of dangerous challenges. Teens and preteens are especially susceptible to this kind of group behavior. For example, a choking game recently claimed the life of a 12-year old boy in England. This is an online challenge where kids encourage one another to deprive themselves of oxygen in order to induce euphoria. Needless to say, this is potentially lethal. The “choking game” doesn’t appear to be organized in any way, but it’s the kind of internet meme that can easily spread among impressionable children and teenagers.
Many dangerous online challenges are even less organized than the choking game. They can simply occur in the course of a discussion or group chat. However, as teens tend to spread content quickly, it’s all too easy for such an action to go viral. Some of these sound fairly harmless or even amusing until you consider the potential consequences. The duct tape challenge, for example, involves placing duct tape all around oneself or a partner or taping them to a pole. There are numerous YouTube videos illustrating this and encouraging others to participate. A teen recently suffered a brain aneurysm after doing this.
How to Protect Your Children
Parents are understandably concerned about the dangerous of the Blue Whale Challenge and other destructive online games and challenges. What can you do to protect your children from getting involved in such activities? Here are a few guidelines.
Pay Attention to warning signs of depression or suicidal tendencies. These include social withdrawal, signs of drug use, changes in eating habits, lower grades in school, and drastic personality changes. None of these signs necessarily means that a child is about to commit suicide. However, if you notice such behavior, it’s important to find out the cause.
Ensure that your children’s accounts are always set to private. On social media networks, settings should be kept to private so only friends can see their content.
Teach your kids not to click on strange links or attachments and to never reveal personal information online.
Parents should be aware that there are many hashtags on Instagram alone for #bluewhale related references. We were happy to see that Instagram is issuing a strong warning before allowing users to click on any of the hashtags. Take a look:
Always use a trustworthy parental control. As a parent, you have the right and responsibility to monitor and discuss what your children do online. Parental controls like Netsanity can help make this easier. Talk to your children. Parents may feel uncomfortable discussing issues such as online challenges and teen suicide. If you discuss such issues regularly with your children, you show them that you’re open to talking. This is also a great time to educate them about the dangers of what may seem like harmless fun.
Discussing these dares are a great way to teach risk assessment, and problem solving. Walking your children and teens through the challenge, and why it’s a bad idea, means that next time they’ll be able to recognize a dangerous challenge when they see it. As parents, it is more important than ever that we teach our kids how to set boundaries. One of the most important boundaries comes in the form of how they use their social media accounts.
Also published on Medium.