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Know! The Trending Online Suicide Game - Blue Whale Challenge (8/7/17)
There’s yet another online trend catching the attention of tweens and teens around the world. It’s called the Blue Whale Challenge. But unlike some of the fun, harmless challenges we’ve seen in the past, the Blue Whale Challenge poses dire consequences. To win this game is to take one’s own life.
This social media game that is being accessed through Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook began in Russia and has made its way into multiple other countries including the U.S. The basis of the challenge is that an anonymous “group administrator,” otherwise known as “the curator,” hands out 50 tasks to selected players that must be completed, documented and posted during a 50-day period. The tasks start off small but become increasingly more harmful, with players being asked to wake up at unusual hours to watch disturbing videos, self-cut in the shape of a whale and take selfies while hanging off the highest rooftop they can find. In the end, the only way to “win” the Blue Whale Challenge is to die by suicide.
It is being debated whether this challenge is real or just a viral hoax. However, police nationwide aren’t taking chances, and are sending warnings to parents and school administrators following the suicides of two U.S. teens whose deaths appear to be connected to the Blue Whale Challenge.
In July 2017, fifteen-year-old Isaiah Gonzales was found hanging in his closet with his cell phone propped up nearby where he had been livestreaming his suicide. According to his family, Isaiah was a happy kid who showed no signs of depression. He had recently joined the ROTC program at his Texas school and was gearing up to start his sophomore year in high school. The family had not heard of the Blue Whale Challenge until after their son’s death. In addition to the suicide video, they found other photos of the teen documenting acts of self-harm on his cell phone – connecting back to the challenge.
A second teenage death in the U.S. is also being linked to the Blue Whale Challenge. A sixteen-year-old Georgia girl, whose family is choosing to keep her name private, committed suicide in May 2017. Her death, like that of Isaiah’s, came as a shock to family and friends. Following her death, her older brother discovered the link to the Blue Whale Challenge. He found a sketch his sister had drawn of a girl with a name beneath it in Russian. It turned out to be the name of a 17-year-old girl who posted a “goodbye” selfie moments before committing suicide in Russia in November 2015 – that traced back to something called the Blue Whale Challenge. The brother then remembered the picture of the blue whale taped next to his sister’s mirror in her bedroom. As he continued to look through her sketches he found pages of whale drawings and magazine cutouts with the words “I Am a Blue Whale” pasted over them, accompanied by drawings indicating self-harm, suicidal statements and multiple entries written in Russian. The family said they had no idea their daughter knew Russian.
As an adult, we wonder why any youth would get involved in something like this in the first place, knowing the consequences. For one thing, we must consider the tween/teenage brain and where it is in development. Logic is not at the forefront. Curiosity is likely a large factor for seeking out this challenge, but depression and desire for acceptance may play a role as well.
As for what keeps a youth in the game, even after the stakes rise to dangerous levels? Psychological manipulation for one. Former players also say the “curator” threatens blackmail and harm to them and their families if they don’t complete the assigned tasks.
As parents, we’re shaking our heads in disbelief and wondering what we need to do to prevent our child from getting involved in something so awful. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to stay ahead of all social media trends that may impact our youth, so the most important thing we can do to protect our children is to talk them.
Initiate conversations on the topic: Share the dangers of online challenges such as this; encourage them not to follow the crowd and not to feel pressured into doing anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Create an open, trusting environment: Provide them with opportunities to talk to you, then listen without judgment. Make sure they know that no matter what situation they may find themselves in the virtual or “real” world, including something you may find inappropriate, you are there to help them through it.
It is also important to monitor your children’s social media activities: Three hashtags that signal this particular game include: #BluWhaleChallenge, #CuratorFindMe and #I_Am_Whale.
Heavy.com, a New York-based digital media company, posted an example List of 50 Tasks. While tasks may vary or change over time, being aware of the types of signs to watch out for can only be helpful.
Sources: TheCourage.com: Parents, you need to know what the ‘blue whale challenge’ is right now. July 14, 2017. FoxNews.com: Sinister ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ blamed for Texas teen’s death. July 11, 2017. Heavy.com: Blue Whale Challenge – List of All 50 Tasks. July 12, 2017. SafeSmartSocial.com: What is the Blue Whale Challenge? May 19, 2017.
*Please note that the original list of 50 tasks came from Reddit.com and may or may not be authentic.
Know! To Pause, Breathe, Think, Act (7/24/17)
In the previous tip, Know! The Effect of Peer Presence, we discussed the fact that the mere presence of peers can lead a young person to take risks he or she wouldn’t normally take on their own, and that the main culprit is the adolescent brain and its underdeveloped self-control center. In addition to parental supervision and extra caution when allowing your tween/teen to gather with friends, experts say we can help our children curb those impulsive tendencies by encouraging greater self-control.
How do we do that? One strategy is to teach our sons and daughters to activate their internal pause button when a situation calls for it, allowing for a more mindful response as opposed to an unthinking reaction.
Here’s an example scenario to share with your child: You are at a teen party (with my permission). The parents are home and there is no alcohol or other substances allowed. Then a few older teens show up with a secret stash of alcohol and offer it to you. These are peers you look up to and really want to connect with, but you know the “right” thing to do would be to turn down the offer. The parents monitoring the party are unaware of the alcohol brought in and you know that if you so choose, you can likely get away with having a drink. What do you do?
Step 2: Press Pause – Hit that internal pause button and allow everything to stop momentarily
Step 3: Take a Deep Breath – A quick shot of oxygen to the brain will allow you to become more aware of your present situation; the more awareness you have in the present moment, the more likely you are to make a better decision
Step 4: Think – There is no need to react immediately, just think for a moment and consider the potential outcomes
Step 5: Act – Hit the “play” button; now you can respond or take action more mindfully
While this five-step process may seem like an eternity, it will play out fairly quickly. Teaching your child to give themselves a few extra seconds before reacting however, can make a huge difference.
Keep in mind that as your child grows and develops, his or her level of self-control will also depend a great deal on you. Your temperament, your parenting style, and your display (or lack) of self-control will greatly influence your child. Though you cannot change your basic temperament, you can change certain aspects of your personality – if needed – to improve parenting. Structure promotes self-regulation in children. Adopting more of an authoritative parenting style, meaning high warmth toward your child, yet clear and consistent rules and follow-through on consequences, will also help your child with self-control.
This learning process will continue throughout adolescence, and will naturally improve as children get older. However, you can help them build this skill by providing them with safe opportunities to practice self-control. As your child strengthens this ability, you, in response, can gradually loosen the external controls.
Sources: Nadya Andreeva: 5 Amazing Benefits of Deep Breath – Breath is Life. Huffingtonpost: Healthy Living - Breathing Exercises Could Help Teens Be Less mpulsive. July 2013. ParentMap: How to Encourage Self-Control in Tweens and Teens. Adapted from Wise-Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials of Successful Tweens and Teens by Laura S. Kastner, Ph.D., with Kristen A. Russell, ublished by ParentMap. Kelly Pietrangeli: Tiny Buddha: Think Before Reacting How to Use Your Mental Pause Button.
Know! The Effect of Peer Presence (7/10/17)
- Talking regularly with youth about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs reduces their risk of using in the first place.
- Know! encourages you to share this Parent Tip with friends and family.
- Learn more atpreventionactionalliance.org
We all know the heavy influence peer pressure can have on a tween/teen, especially when it comes to risk-taking behaviors like drinking, smoking and using other drugs. But are you aware of the impact the mere presence of peers can have on an adolescent’s decision-making, without any coercing or encouragement at all?
Psychologists from Temple University were curious to know why it is that otherwise good kids seem to make poor decisions when they are among their peers. In seeking an answer to this question, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on teens, college students and adults to determine if there are differences in brain activity when making decisions alone versus with their friends. What they found is that, “teen peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward,” which may explain in part why youth are at greater risk for bad behavior when their friends are watching.
To test how the presence of peers influences risk-taking, the researchers had the various age groups individually engage in a simulated driving game, where the goal was to reach the finish line as quickly as possible, offering cash prizes as incentive. The participants had to make decisions about obeying traffic signals; they could, for instance, slow down as they approached a yellow light and get delayed, or race through it and risk crashing, which would cause an even longer delay. The youth and adults each played four rounds, half of which they played alone. For the other two rounds, they were told their same-sex friends who accompanied them to the study, were watching them play in the other room.
Among the adults and college students, there was no significant difference in the decisions they made regardless of friends watching or not. However, the teens ran about 40 percent more yellow lights and had 60 percent more crashes when they knew their friends were watching. The part of the brain that is associated with reward activity also increased in teens when they knew their friends were watching. In other words, the typical teenage brain seems to view it as high risk = high reward.
Laurence Steinberg Ph.D, an author of the study and psychology professor at Temple University says these findings give a new view on peer pressure, since their peers were not even in the same room as the participants. Simply knowing their friends were watching caused the teens to take risks they otherwise would not have taken on their own.
It is important to know that while the brain reaches maximum size between ages 12 – 14, it continues to grow and develop through a person’s early 20’s. One of the last brain regions to mature is the prefrontal cortex; the control center for looking ahead and sizing up risks and rewards. The limbic system (which is responsible for emotional responses) however, develops earlier. The relationship between the already developed emotional center alongside the under-developed self-control center sheds light on why teens act on emotion before thinking it through.
While this study was only virtual, it falls in line with real-world data that shows that car accidents among young drivers increase when other teens are in the car. But this study is not just about teens making decisions behind the wheel. Dr. Steinberg says it is about parents needing to be aware that groups of teens need close supervision.
“All of us who have very good kids know they’ve done really dumb things when they’ve been with their friends,” Dr. Steinberg said. “The lesson is that if you have a kid whom you think of as very mature and able to exercise good judgment, based on your observations when he or she is alone or with you, that doesn’t necessarily generalize to how he or she will behave in a group of friends without adults around. Parents should be aware of that.”
Psychology Today. Laurence Steinberg Ph.D: You and Your Adolescent - How Peers Affect the Teenage Brain. Posted Feb 03, 2011. From Scholastic and the Scientists of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Teens and Decision Making: What Brain Science Reveals.