“Silence is sometimes the most powerful scream!” ~Anonymous
Last few weeks, we have been reading of some shocking incidents of teen suicides due to the strong emergence of the online game called the ‘Blue Whale challenge’. Teenagers who seem depressed and lonely are falling easy prey to this fast-growing, horrifyingly dangerous challenge. It has taken the parenting and schooling fraternity in India and globally, completely by surprise. By the time they realize the gravity of the situation, it’s too late for them to intervene and help their children stay away from it.
What is the Blue Whale challenge?
The Blue Whale Challenge is an online game known to have originated in Russia. It targets teenagers through a social networking site by identifying certain hash tags and search words used by the innocent kids. Once they sign up, they are assigned an anonymous curator who gives a daring task for every day, spread over 50 days. These tasks range from waking up in the middle of the night to watch scary movies, sending photos of self-harm with a knife or a needle, not speaking with anyone all day, speaking to the other participants (known as whales), to climbing a crane or ledge, all in the process of inflicting pain upon themselves.
If the teenager is reluctant or wants to back out of the challenge, the curator threatens by saying that all their information lies with them or harm will be inflicted on their loved ones. The teen even has to post photos of some tasks on their social platforms as proof and use dedicated hash tags. Then on the very last day, the teenager is asked to jump from the top of a building and commit suicide. The curator derives pleasure by completely brainwashing the victim into taking his or her own life.
Why do teenagers fall prey
Most of the teenagers have their share of problems and insecurities. It has its physiological relation with their hormones and is a healthy part of growing up. But in some cases, the intensity of emotions and feelings in a teenager is far beyond what is considered to be normal. A deep sense of failure in all aspects of their life, a profound feeling of being ignored and of very poor self-esteem leads some teenagers into depression. They become so vulnerable that they tend to seek validation from an external environment. The online media serves as the perfect outlet for them to vent their feelings of despair and helplessness.
Finding like-minded people to associate with fills them with hope even if it means latching on to self-destructive traits. Their need to belong to a group and seek approval is simply so strong, they are willing to do just about anything. The virtual world allows them freedom of actions and thought unlike the restrictions present in their real world. No wonder then, such a challenge that incites excitement at every stage fills them with a false sense of purpose. As they complete each tasks assigned, they gain a sense of achievement. It fills them with instant, magical success, something they have been craving for long.
Signs to watch out for
How frustratingly helpless a feeling it must be for parents to see their children take their own lives! Did they not see any warning signs in their teenagers’ behaviour? Were they so disconnected from their children to know what’s going on in their minds? Or were they too busy to look out for the activities their teenagers were busy pursuing?
While we may not be able to decipher completely the complex minds of our young adults, we can surely watch out for some alarming signs:
- Spending way too much time online, on phones or laptops, and on social media
- Staying aloof from family members at home
- Cut marks on their body
- Secrecy about who they are chatting with or what they are doing online
- Seemingly outraged or upset after using the internet
- Unwilling to go out socially or interact with friends
- Too excited or too withdrawn
- Reluctant to talk about anything
Too much media coverage on the Blue Whale Challenge has raised concern as well as panic amongst parents and schools alike. But the focus needs to shift from this hype over the suicidal game to addressing the root cause of the problem – teenage depression.
Also watch: What is the Blue Whale Challenge