Blue Whale Suicide Challenge is Claiming Teens’ Lives
Challenges and teens have gone hand in hand long before the invention of mobile phones or social media. The party game “truth or dare” has been played for centuries, dating back to ancient Greeks. Today, social media introduces these dares to entirely new audiences, causing challenges to go viral. For many teens, peer pressure combined with FOMO (fear of missing out), makes it very difficult to not only participate in but also to seek out some of these viral challenges.
Challenges can be found for almost any interest or desire, with some of the most viral ones listed below:
- Pop culture fads — Mannequin Challenge
- Charity — ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
- Jimmy Fallon fans — Whisper Challenge
- Humor —Try Not to Laugh Challenge
- Eating — Hot Pepper or Cinnamon Challenge
- Health risk — Salt and Ice Challenge
The Blue Whale Challenge takes health risk challenges to a whole new level, since to “win” the challenge a player must commit suicide. There is much speculation if this challenge is an urban legend, an internet hoax, predators praying on impressionable teens, or a very real viral threat.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE BLUE WHALE CHALLENGE?
The Blue Whale Challenge is a social media game that involves victims completing an increasingly dangerous daily task over a 50-day period. The only way to “win” the game is to die by suicide.
WHAT HAS BEEN REPORTED
- Many law enforcement officers, parents, and teachers are very concerned this is a real game that is gaining momentum.
- Teens that are interested in joining the challenge post using the hashtags #bluewhalechallenge, #curatorfindme, #i_am_whale on Twitter or Instagram to connect with a group administrator, curator or taskmaster.
- If selected, a curator sends a daily challenge that can range from watching a scary movie in the middle of the night, self-mutilation, drinking bleach or standing on the edge of a roof.
- Targeted 10 to 14-year-olds players are required to send daily photo evidence to their “group administrator” to prove that they have completed each specific task.
- To win the game the player needs to complete the last task and commit suicide.
Reddit has posted a list of the 50-day task list that a number of people obtained from individuals playing the game. So far, the Blue Whale Challenge is being blamed for over 100 teen suicides across the globe.
The true impact of the loss of teens’ lives due to playing the Blue Whale Challenge is difficult to measure, but one in five teenagers in the U.S. seriously considers suicide annually, according to data collected by the CDC. The American Psychological Association states that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. Since the alleged interaction between curator and victims occurs on social media, linking specific deaths to the Blue Whale Challenge is difficult to stop unless parents can view online activity on their child’s phone.
Even how the Blue Whale Challenge has gotten its name is up for debate. Some hypothesize it is from opening lines of Russian rock band Lumen’s song “Burn.” According to Bloomberg, the lyrics reference a “huge blue whale” struggling to “break through the net.” Another explanation is the mythical story of blue whales purposely beaching on land to die.
TWO US TEENS’ DEATHS LINKED TO THE BLUE WHALE CHALLENGE
The first American death currently being investigated is 15-year-old Isaiah Gonzales, who was found hung in his closet. Next to his body was a cellphone propped up on a shoe, live streaming his own suicide. His family recently gave an interview to ABC’s San Antonio, TX Affiliate KSAT. Jorge Gonzales, Isiah’s father, tragically had a conversation with their son about the Blue Whale Challenge and Isaiah told his father that he had heard of it, but would never participate.
After his death, Isaiah’s family discovered he had been sending pictures of the completed Blue Whale tasks to his friends and even told them that the final task would be suicide. Isaiah’s sister, Scarlett Cantu-Gonzales, said, “They [his friends] blew it off like it was a joke and if one of them would have said something, one of them would have called us, he would have been alive.”
The Gonzales family is now speaking out to raise awareness of the Blue Whale Challenge and asking parents to be proactive about what their children are doing online. “I want [parents] to go through their phones, look at their social media,” Mr. Gonzales said. “If they’re on that challenge already, they can catch that from happening.”
Isaiah’s story is not the only American child potentially linked to the Blue Whale Challenge. Earlier this week, a Georgia woman told CNN that her 16-year-old daughter had killed herself as part of the challenge, but asked that their names not be used.
Nationally, the Associated Press reports that educators, law enforcement officers, and parents have raised concerns about the challenge, though these two back-to-back deaths mark the first allegations in the United States about deaths directly linked to the online game. Internationally, suicides in Russia, Brazil, and half a dozen other countries have already been linked to the challenge.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Peer pressure – especially when it relates to social media – can make it challenging for kids to say no to not joining viral challenges. Many times, young people feel they have no option other than saying yes to be accepted. Parents need to remind children it’s not okay for friends to pressure them and they can still be accepted by their true friends even if they don’t go along with the crowd. Especially if the act is something that makes them uncomfortable or involves self-harm.
Below are some helpful suggestions for parents on how to talk to kids about peer pressure and suggestions to give to kids on how to say no, provided by Childline.
See all the suggestions here.
The Blue Whale Challenge is a tragic reminder of the many dangers and vulnerabilities that children face using various social media and apps online every day. It is important for parents to be the first and last defense in keeping their kids safe online, but sometimes (like in the case of the Gonzalez family) having a conversation is not enough. To be vigilant, parents need parental control software like Net Nanny to receive alerts when their children search for content that is inappropriate such as suicide, drugs, violence, or porn.