The internet is a place of as much wonder as it is dangerous. If there’s anything we have learnt over the last few weeks, it is that the dark side of the internet isn’t limited to underground forums or parts that are near impossible to access. The Blue Whale challenge which has claimed the lives of a number of children worldwide, is a game that preys upon young impressionable minds and eventually leads to their death.
The game is a series of 50 challenges that must be completed over 50 days, with the last one being to kill yourself. Complete the Blue Whale challenge and you win. Each player is assigned a moderator to assign the task for the day and often talks the “players” through the process of executing the challenge, including the last task. Reports have stated that once the game has begun, players are not allowed to withdraw. Some reports state that moderators ensure compliance by letting the players know that if they exit the game, the moderators will send someone for them in real life. It is a scary place for a child, but the real question is, what exactly would push someone to go seeking for this kind of an adventure?
This is probably the hardest hitting factor, but at the end of the day, parenting style plays a major role in how the child sees himself or herself with respect to the world. Today it is not common place for both parents to be working, resulting in the child mostly having to pre-occupy their time with smartphones and tablets. The significantly reduces social time with the parents (with respect to time spent with a smartphone/tablet). With children spending more and more time on digital devices with lesser and lesser oversight, it is easy to see why a child would easily be ensnared in a game that promises to put all the spotlight on the child. In the words of Blue Whale challenge creator, Peter Budeikin, through the game, children are given “what they didn’t have in real life: warmth, understanding, connections.”
The mental health taboo
For some reason, India still considers seeking help for mental health issues a taboo. As a grown adult can often be looked down upon for admitting he is seeking the help of a mental health professional, for a child to even think of something like this is taboo. Often, kids will complain of sadness, depression, hopelessness and instead of talking to them, helping them cheer up or even consider having a professional speak to them, we will discount their feelings as those instigated by the tumultuous hormones. Or we tell them “you are too young to be feeling these emotions and hence, you are wrong to feel such feelings.” The Blue Whale challenge, with its manipulative moderators offers the players the validation teenagers tend to seek, along with the opportunity to be a part of something that is bigger than the individual, bigger than them.
The safe haven of schools
Schools are as integral a part of shaping a child’s psyche as parenting. Many studies have shown the impact being bullied in school has on adult personalities. As I was growing up, there was always someone in a classroom who felt isolated. I was at one point one such kid too. While I turned myself to the library every time I was alone or not included in class activities, kids today turn to the internet. It is very critical for teachers, school counsellors and even the staff in general to keep an eye out for individuals who get left out of social engagements. If a group of kids is purposely ostracising a fellow student, they are giving this young mind a reason to seek social approval and acceptance somewhere else. This is precisely the behaviour that moderators of the Blue Whale Challenge prey upon. Peter Boudeikin proudly said that “ he thinks of his victims as ‘biological waste’ and told police that they were ‘happy to die’ and he was ‘cleansing society’.
Over the last decade, psychologists worldwide have noted that people are increasingly turning to external sources of validation. Pair that with either social or domestic isolation and you have the perfect candidate for the Blue Whale Challenge. It is extremely important, for the safety of your loved ones, that you communicate with them regularly and openly. Keep a tab on their emotional state and in case they do confess to being in a not-so-ideal mental state, encourage them to seek help from a professional. If we are not embarrassed from visiting the doctor when we fall sick, then why should we shame or be ashamed of getting help for our mental well being?