SEATTLE — — It’s called the “Blue Whale Challenge” and it allegedly targets teens on social media platforms. At least two families say the game has led to their child’s suicide.
As part of this ‘challenge,’ the teens reach out to game administrators, called “curators”, by using specific hashtags. The “curator” is said to give players daily tasks that range from harmless to horrifying –watching scary movies, cutting themselves and taking pictures of themselves in dangerous situations.
After 50 days of dares, the user is allegedly told to kill themselves. At least two families say the game led to their child's suicide; a 16-year-old Georgia girl and a 15-year-old boy from Texas.
The 15-year-old, Isaiah Gonzalez, was found dead in his bedroom this weekend. Next to his body was the teen's cellphone, streaming his death on social media. The teen's family says Isaiah sent pictures of himself completing the dares to his friends, but they thought it was a joke.
“In this age of likes and followers, kids are a lot more vulnerable to following these challenges because they want to be on that social media cutting edge with their friends and fans and followers,” says Kim Estes of Savvy Parents Safe Kids.
Estes says parents must be watching their kids’ social media platforms. And beyond that, dig deeper. Talk to them about these online challenges and the dangers behind them; get their perspective and understand their feelings.
“You know what? Play dumb. Say, 'Hey, I hear this thing on the news. I know we’re kind of behind in the times. What is this?' And ask them to explain it to you. Don’t go in from the position of you’re doing something bad because that’s going to cause them to really pull back, but ask them to explain it to you,” says Estes.
If you see your child using any of these hashtags, it's a warning sign they could be playing the game. Some social media platforms are also taking a stance. For instance, if you search the hashtag "blue whale challenge" on Instagram, a warning pops up, offering help for people who may harm themselves.
“Any time a social media pillar, which Instagram is, stepping forward and saying, hey, we’re not validating this, we’re concerned, that sends a huge message. I think parents have the best chance by keeping those conversations going and don’t wait for your teen to come to you,” says Estes.
It’s still unclear where this alleged social media challenge originated; various websites say it reportedly started overseas. But Estes says the bottom line is that it’s trending and kids know about it and we need to talk to them about it sooner rather than later.
Savvy Parents Safe Kids offers these seven cyber security tips for kids: http://savvyparentssafekids.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Cyber7-Online.pdf