It can feel like there's a new social media "challenge" threatening our kids every time we turn around. Some are dismissed out of hand by the experts just as soon as they hit the airwaves, while others are verified as health hazards right from the start (remember the cinnamon challenge, anyone?). But the so-called Blue Whale suicide challenge lies in that in-between area that leaves parents uneasy.
Supposedly born in Russia, the challenge -- also sometimes referred to as a game -- is said to give kids a series of tasks, akin to a scavenger hunt but with a much darker twist. It all goes down via social media, and the tasks include things like cutting a whale into your skin (hence the name of the challenge) and waking up in the middle of the night to think about death. The very last task on the list requires the kids to kill themselves.
Suicide is no joking matter, so it's no wonder parents are worried about this one.
Warnings have been popping up on American school websites and community Facebook pages for weeks now, telling parents to be wary of any reference to "blue whale" in speech or on social media.
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And even Instagram itself has crafted a warning that appears for anyone who searches the term #BlueWhaleChallenge:
On the other hand, there are a number of sources that say this challenge is one that falls in murky territory, if not securely in the "fake news" category.
It's not that hard to believe something like this could take hold -- or reach our most vulnerable kids. We're all too familiar with deadly social media"games" like the duct-tape challenge. And, of course, it's too often that we read about social media–related suicides, like the 11-year-old boy who reportedly took his own life after his girlfriend played a cruel online prank on him.
Even if your kids haven't heard about it yet, they probably will soon, as rumors spread and kids start addressing it on social media, in one way or another.
As of writing this, the following video has 77,775 views:
I know I uploaded this on my story but had to put it here because the stupidity is real. No offence is meant by this video if you're considering suicide please reach out for help. You all deserve to live happy lives. Personally I think this blue whale challenge is the most disgusting and fucked up thing on the internet. Please please don't play this game! Anyone who wants to play it must be vulnerable and in need of serious help. This video isn't meant to offend anyone I just want to put my point across in a light hearted manner. Much love to all my followers and I'm always here if any of you need to talk. âï¿½¨ðï¿½ï¿½¹ // âï¿½ï¿½ðï¿½ï¿½³âï¿½ï¿½ #suicideprevention #bluewhalegame #bluewhale #bluewhalechallenge
And posts like this are popping up:
Whether or not the Blue Whale is "real," adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Beauty: "This should not be referred to as a game. Basically, what happens is that depressed kids are led to believe that they are playing a game -- when in fact they are dealing with mental health issues." She adds, "I am not a parent blamer, but this is further reason why parents need to monitor their kids' behavior. Depressed kids who are isolated are susceptible. Parents should monitor changes in behavior."
So what can parents do in the face of these rumors?
Even if we can't suss out their veracity, we can talk to our kids. We can ask them what they're hearing at school and what they're seeing online. We can encourage them to be open with us if they do see something about the so-called game.
And we can talk to them about suicide.
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Whether there is a blue whale challenge or not, it's an inroad to a conversation every parent should be having anyway. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, and yet there are warning signs to watch for and things we can do.
Don't know where to start? The American Psychological Association has guidelines for talking to kids, and the toll-free suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) offers support not just for those who are struggling themselves but folks who don't know how to help someone else. You can also check out the wealth of resources offered by the Trevor Project on preventing suicide.
It always better to be vigilant -- and to be safe, than sorry.
If you or someone you know has expressed suicidal thoughts, please let them know they are not alone. Text START to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at www.sprc.org.