Home >Technology >Gadgets >Blue Whale Challenge: What can parents do?

Teenagers committing suicide on Facebook Live or leaving behind a suicide note as a post—cyberbullying could be one of the factors behind this new trend, feel experts.

A manifestation of this trend can be seen in teenagers getting persuaded to join private social media groups where a new dare is given to them every day. Blue Whale Challenge is one such game, which started in Russia on a social network called VKontakte.

The game is reportedly responsible for over 130 suicides in Russia already and is also believed to be behind a recent case of teen suicide in Mumbai. Participants have to complete a dare and upload selfies or videos to prove that they have completed the task assigned. The game starts with simple challenges such as taking a walk in a deserted alley at night, but soon veers to more risky tasks such as cutting up a body part, etc.

Dr Shubha Madhusudhan, clinical psychologist at Fortis Hospitals Bangalore, points out that teenagers undergo hormonal changes. “Hormones take over their intelligence. Even if parents are loving and available for them, they will want to do something thrilling. Also, social media has gained so much popularity that children want to become famous through social popularity. They want a lot of attention so they indulge in this popularity stunt," she says.

What makes matters worse in games like Blue Whale is that the creators of the group do not allow participants to leave. Hence it is important that parents teach their children about safe online behaviour. Users, especially teens should exercise more caution before sharing any personal information such as their address on their profile because this gives cyber criminals a chance to bully and threaten them. Also, users should be more careful before joining vague groups, as their online footsteps can be tracked.

A study by Centres for Disease Control in the US, published in December 2016, suggests that suicide is contagious and people in the age group of 15 to 19 are up to four times more likely to be affected by the suicide contagion than people in other age groups. The study attributes the suicides partly to social media but points out that underlying mental health issues have a major role.

According to Dr. Harsh Shetty, child psychiatrist at LH Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, any teenager who suddenly becomes very quiet, acts aloof, shows an inclination to be alone, talks about leaving home or death, should be immediately taken to the closest available mental professional.

Dr. Shetty says that DGP—drugs, games and porn—addiction is a rampant and children usually begin getting obsessed at the ages of 10-12. Cellphones usually serve as the conduit. “Usually when studies get difficult, children tend to gravitate towards the Web and get enticed into all the wrong stuff. So if you notice any trouble with homework or difficulty with studies, support your child instead of scolding them," he says.

It is a good idea to trust children but keep your eyes open. Begin by teaching gadget hygiene to your child. Give them lower-end phones (they need phones for communication and security purposes only) and limited balance prepaid cards, he advises, adding, “never give gadgets as gifts, and do not use gadgets as a means to calm a child or keep them busy".

Dr. Madhusudhan says the ideal way for parents to keep children away from games like Blue Whale and other hazardous temptations is to invest more time with teenagers. Always keep a close watch on what your adolescent does on their social media sites and the internet. Addressing the root causes of behaviour of your kids and talking to them about such dangerous groups and what harm they can cause is also one of the ways to deal with it, she says.

Children should be taught that they can still be accepted even if they don’t go along with the crowd. Counselling the teenagers on sensitive topics will help in differentiating between right and wrong, she adds.

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