Thursday, September 21, 2017

#BlueWhaleChallenge: An Unworthy Cause for Death

I have spent one goosebumpy hour online reading about the Blue Whale challenge! We are inundated with so much info on an everyday basis that it is hard to keep up. We are vaguely aware of a lot of things around us. But then it's hard to ignore when something comes closer home. Someone I know has had a death in the family in a very blue whale style though investigations are still on. But something like this set me and the spouse thinking and we really sat up to read about it. And the details are gory, depressing and scary, to say the least. Writing this post is as much a catharsis for me as it is to try and put together information about this accursed game that's driving teenagers to end their lives - for no worthy cause.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge? 

The Blue Whale Challenge - simplified here - is a 50 day challenge where the curators of the game assign one task each day - all of them self destructive in incremental degrees. The last task is to end one's life. Sick, isn't it? Now, who's the brain behind this amazing shit? Phillipp Budeikin is the mastermind behind this game who confessed in court, when arrested for the suicide of teenage girls in Russia, that he was just "cleansing society" by getting rid of "biological waste" Although there are more admins apart from him who run this game for teenagers.

It is established that the most vulnerable stick around beyond the first few tasks. And the admins use psychological manipulation to goad the players on since they know that those who continue are weak victims. One boy who was saved from ending his life described his experience. He vouches for the pressure one feels and is compelled to carry out the orders. If you look at the list of tasks - which makes me all knotted in my stomach - you'll see that the task for Day 30 to 49 is waking up at 4.30 am and watching scary videos that the curators send to the players. Day 50 is to jump to your death in the wee hours of morning. And I don't think it is hard after this onslaught of destructive material to get a sleep deprived, confused teenager to fling to his/her death!!

Why teenagers?

Well! There's been a 13 year old who was found dead and the Blue Whale screen was open on his dad's phone!! You be the judge! Psychologists vouch for the fact that this demographic is the most vulnerable.

“It has been observed that some teenagers have very low self-esteem, and rely significantly on peer approval. For them, the external environment becomes a source of inspiration, which is why they are willing to do anything to (project) a certain image,” said Sameer Malhotra, director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.

There can be more reasons like rebellion, lack of focus and interest, boredom, curiosity and teenage angst to drive them towards such games which can seem thrilling.

Why is it hard to ban it? 

Like everything else on the internet, it is hard to contain even this dangerous thing. Here are a few reasons why it is hard to ban it - ban the blue whale challenge - and also a list of the tasks involved. Be alert and the lookout for anyone who might be carrying out these to catch up with the symptoms.

Why is this so twisted? 

Let's cut the chase and come straight to what can we do? If you have kids, especially in that age group, this threat is real!! And I might sound a bit stern here and I am willing to incur parental wrath for this. Before I go on to actual steps one can take, one thing that baffles me is that no one in the family or social circle notice anything amiss with these kids. The task list is life altering even for a mature adult. I can't imagine a teen-year old person going through it and be normal. Some kids were using the parents' phones to play it. (The case of the 13 yo testifies to this) What kind of parental supervision would that be after giving kids the power of technology which can turn fatal in ignorant hands?

The first thing I'd blame is the unrestrained access to internet and gadgets that kids have today. Yes, one needs to keep up with the times. But if it is at the cost of those every kids, I think it is time to think again, reassess what we want for our kids. Teenagers are confused now more than ever. There is just too much going on and the pressure to keep up is immense. And what better than to play a game on a dare that all their friends are playing too! This can be their golden chance to prove to everyone they are worth something. Self esteem issues taken care of!

What signs to look for?

The challenge lasts long enough and has enough self destructive tasks that I don't think it can go unnoticed. Here are a few signs to watch out for:

Cuts on the body
Waking up at unearthly hours
Being cooped up in one's room
Increasing secrecy

What can we do?

When there's chaos around the best thing to do is to simplify. And good old times where members of the family sat together for meals and caught up with each other. Internet free conversations between people who should know whats happening in each others' lives.

Find constructive, offline activities for teenagers. This is a time when they can develop precious life skills like speaking, writing, painting, photography, cooking, calligraphy - there is no dearth of hobbies one can develop interest in.

The times of autocratic parenting are over. Kids respond better to friends than controlling parents. Keep track of what your kids are upto. Look for the signs, just in case. Keep an eye on their online activities. If they get the validation and confidence they need from parents, they wont look for it elsewhere.

Teachers at school have an equal responsibility in guiding the young. Parents and teachers should actively read up on what affects youth so that they can help curb such things. Peer pressure begins in school and is the best place to get addressed.

The self esteem of kids needs to be collectively raised. Giving up their life for an unworthy cause is just insane. They might as well fight the enemy at the border and die a martyr. Find the right means to channel their boredom or sense of worthlessness. There are countless worthy causes one can devote time to - 50 worthwhile tasks coming up in the next post.

Cybermum, who creates awareness among parents about cyber threats to teens and suggest ways to keep them safe online, has the following tips

Every time I blame technology for why kids grow up so soon in today's times, I have parents defending the role that online access plays in making kids smarter. If you ask me, I'd prefer a dumb kid who's alive than a smart, tech savvy kid who is....

For now, my heart goes out to the parents of this teenager who died yesterday. They must have brought the little one in their arms and 17 years later carried him out on their shoulders. A burden that will never lighten - not in this life time! We live in hard times and pay dearly for it. But I am confident that this can be prevented. We all need to be aware and take steps that are in our control. Read up, spread awareness, be alert.

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