Info parents need to know about the Blue Whale Challenge

You might be hearing a lot of sound bites lately about the Blue Whale Challenge, the social media trend being connected to teen suicides. Even if you are sure your kid would never participate in this or any other hazardous challenge, you can’t know what they’ll see online. So we gathered up info to help you address the topic with your kids.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge?

The Blue Whale Challenge is often referred to as an online “game,” but this is certainly anything but. It reportedly began in Russia a few years ago and has been linked to dozens of teen suicides across the globe.

The Blue Whale challenge has garnered more attention here after reports by CNN and the Washington Post linked it to teen suicides this month in the United States. So far, there are no reports in Illinois.

How does it work?

Individuals, typically teens or tweens, contact an online curator or “group administrator” using specific hashtags through social media, including Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

The curator gives kids tasks, often involving risk or self-harm, and demands videos or photos as proof of completion of the tasks. The challenges lead up to the final task, which is suicide. The player “wins” by taking their own life.

Once kids start playing, the curator makes stopping difficult with threats and cyberbullying. Kids think suicide is the only way out.

“Over the course of 50 days, the individual is systematically brainwashed. ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ turns into ‘you jump, now,'” Dr. Loretta Brady, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., said in a news release. “What strikes me about this, as a clinical psychologist, researcher of technology and ethics, and parent to children between 5 and 19, is how quickly they escalate intimacy, competence and intensity.”

Who is responsible?

Filipp Budeykin, a Russian suspected of being one of the early curators, was sentenced this week to 40 months in prison. It’s unlikely that his conviction will end the challenge, though. Experts expect many copycats now that news about the challenge is trending.

What can you do?

  • If your kids know about the challenge, ask them to clue you in. Having them educate you is often the best way to start a true conversation and get their perspective. They’re far more receptive to that approach than they are to parent lectures.

“These kinds of conversations are increasingly important the older our children get. Even as teenagers, they still don’t know what is right and good to believe, what is right and good to do, what is right and good to defend,” Brady said in the release.

  • Share your family values often and keep the conversation going. Stay informed about trends online and ask your kids to share info.
  • Suicide is a tough topic, but it’s important to discuss it with your kids. Talking about this challenge could be a way to start that dialogue. Talk with them about what they should do when they feel depressed or despondent or are having suicidal thoughts.
  • Remind your child that you are always there for them and that you love them, no matter the mistakes they might have made online. Help them make a list of trusted adults they can confide in.
  • Pay attention to their behavior and don’t be afraid to seek help if you see changes that concern you. You can find a list of warning signs on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention here.
  • Make sure your kids know what to do when they see something inappropriate online. Review the difference between reporting, which is important to do if they see someone may be in danger, and tattling.
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