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a whale's tail

Author’s note: This post was particularly difficult to write, as we do not want to alarm families or cause panic, but we do feel a responsibility in helping parents raise their level of social media and digital literacy. Please be aware that this post is not intended to give rise to fear but to encourage you to be vigilant in communicating with your children in loving and godly ways — allowing and encouraging communication to flow both directions.

There is a game (or challenge) that is reportedly circulating online that we want to make parents aware of. Please note that no one has been able to determine if the game actually exists, and we have no reason to suspect that anyone at FRCS has or is participating in the challenge. However, students across the country are learning about it, and so parents need to be aware, too, so that they can increase their own online literacy and have intelligent and meaningful conversations with their children about it.

The “game” is known by many names, but is most often referred to as the Blue Whale Challenge or Blue Whale Game. It purportedly began in Russia and is believed to have first appeared about two years ago when a 17 year old named Rina Palenkova posted farewell selfies on a Russian social media site shortly before committing suicide; the photos went viral, drawing attention to her supposed involvement in something called Blue Whale. While there are no confirmed suicides directly connected to the challenge, someone in Russia, a 21-year-old psychology major named Philip Budeikin, has been detained in connection with the game.

Some reports suggest that the game was used as a shock tactic to increase revenue for an online site and was never intended to groom teens for suicide. And yet the alleged creator of the game, Budeikin, claims to have encouraged 15-17 teens to kill themselves, though even this “confession” cannot be substantiated.

However, there have been two suicides in the U.S. in which families and some law enforcement are concerned that there may be a connection to the Blue Whale Challenge. We don’t know if they are copy cat suicides fueled by this internet myth, but their families believe the Blue Whale Challenge is real and that their children/siblings participated in it.

Supposedly, teens who are contemplating suicide put out feelers in search of a game curator through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram (Instagram has even included a warning message for those who search for or post hashtags associated with the challenge, encouraging them to seek help). Once contacted by an curator, the teen is given 50 tasks to complete over the course of 50 days — tasks vary but appear to range from drawing a whale to watching horror movies to cutting oneself. Participants are asked to post photos of themselves completing the tasks as photographic evidence. On the 50th day, the task is to commit suicide. Participants who attempt to back out are reportedly threatened by the curator with threats against both themselves and their family.

So What Should You Do?

Whether or not this game is real, there are two important lessons parents can learn from this internet legend.

First, talk to your children about how to deal with strangers online. Teach them how to filter what they read and learn online. Provide an open line of communication so that they can openly talk to you and ask questions. Be a resource for your children, helping them learn to navigate and discern their social interactions both online and offline. And model for them what responsible digital citizenship looks like.

Second, there are warning signs that parents, teachers, coaches, etc. should be aware of when it comes to suicide. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 34 (and the third leading cause in children ages 10-14). This game, if it does exist, is not the real problem. Teens who seek out a curator have already been contemplating the act, so there will likely have been warning signs. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is no single cause for suicide, but there are warning signs and risk factors. Become familiar with these signs and factors and be on the lookout for them. Be involved in your child’s life while still allowing him/her room to grow and flourish. Talk to them and let them know that you are there for them. Make sure they know where to turn for help.

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