The Blue Whale suicide game and the risks to teenagers

The Blue Whale, known as the suicide game that started in Russia, has been associated with up to 130 teenage deaths in Russia

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Jul 09, 2017
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Are you worried about your child or someone close to you getting caught up in the risks presented by the Blue Whale game? The Blue Whale is an online game that originated in Russia and has been associated with self harming and ultimately seeking to encourage players to commit suicide.  This has led some to refer to it as the suicide game. It is feared that up to 130 deaths in Russia are linked to the phenomenon, although these claims are disputed. Also referred to as the "Blue Whale Challenge", it encourages users to complete a series of tasks over a 50 day period. There are fears that the game's contagion could spread to the UK with police and teaching bodies issuing warnings about the risks posed by the game.

The teenagers who are selected for cyber bullying are often vulnerable and are, therefore, at greater risk of being manipulated and exploited. Teenagers often worry about their appearance, their weight and whether they are cool and so can be vulnerable to being bullied. They often seek approval from others to satisfy their feelings of esteem. Children who suffered disorganised attachment whilst growing up are particularly vulnerable to exploitation since they often struggle with poor social or emotional regulation skills and usually find it difficult to form and sustain solid relationships.

Whilst not wanting to minimise the danger or to downplay the potential risks I would caution against getting too worried.  The UK is not Russia. There is an absence of social mobility and economic opportunity amongst young Russians (particularly for those outside of elite circles) growing up in a post communist society, and perhaps living in a high rise block from the Soviet era in a grim part of middle Russia. The suicide rate in Russia is high and Unicef reported in 2011 that the country has the third-highest teen suicide rate in the world. We can't even be certain that the game actually caused the deaths or that these deaths would have occurred in the absence of the game.

access to a smartphone is a portal to the outside world with high potential for encountering inappropriate material

The trouble with setting boundaries around technology more generally is that parents have knowledge of pre internet behaviour. Young people don't have a baseline behaviour of something other than the internet, it is as if it has always been here. Engagement with the internet is not optional for them. For young people the internet and specifically social media engagement satisfies prime drives for survival and to affiliate. However, we wouldn't allow children to go to a public park unsupervised but some teenagers are given unsupervised access to a smartphone, which is essentially a portal to the outside world with high potential for encountering inappropriate material. Most, however, will be fine and will have developed sufficient levels of resilience to cope with cyber bullying or inappropriate suggestibility from others.  But just like with alcohol and food there will be a small proportion who will develop problem behaviour with technology and will be susceptible to manipulation.

the key is to try to help them achieve a balanced level of engagement with technology

Whilst I have downplayed the risks associated with the Blue Whale game in the UK I would, nevertheless, suggest that parents remain vigilant about the risks presented by this and other online games. They can become more proactive in the active monitoring of their children's web usage. Parents should keep lines of communication open with their children as they will need someone, who they can trust,  to turn to if they encounter any problems online, or in the real world for that matter. The key is to try to help them achieve a balanced level of engagement with technology and to ensure that their activity takes place within a safe environment. They can learn to say no and to only share information and content that they are comfortable with. Try to agree terms and conditions with your child around appropriate device time and above all don't allow devices in their bedroom.

See also

The NSPCC has useful guidance for parents for keeping children safe online.

Any child worried about peer pressure or online worries can contact Childline on 0800 1111

Go to the profile of Noel Bell

Noel Bell

I have spent the past 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. I am integrative in my approach and tune my work to the uniqueness of each individual I work with.

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