Most people have heard of Russian Roulette. But now a lesser-known game emanating from Russia is a new threat to children and teens across the globe – including Connecticut.
The Blue Whale Challenge has come ashore, becoming popular enough that some school districts in Connecticut are addressing it, sending letters home to parents warning them of the risks associated with this online “game” in which participants are assigned challenges that become increasingly risky over a 50-day period.
The challenge begins with seemingly benign tasks like watching a scary movie or waking up at unusual times, but becomes increasingly dangerous by instructing participants to do things like hang from roofs or cut themselves. The final challenge encourages suicide.
The Blue Whale Challenge comes on the heels of controversy surrounding the Netflix series “13 Reasons,” which some critics say glorifies suicide and has become extremely popular among kids and teens, who can access both the Blue Whale Challenge and the “13 Reasons” through their iPhones or other devices.
“The challenging thing is that they are only a few clicks away for many kids,” said Laura Saunders, child and adolescent psychologist at the Institute of Living. “There is a way to review your child’s viewing history to stay on top of what is going on, or you can ask intermittently, ‘What are you watching?’”
In fact, Saunders recommends that parents take a curious approach, such as asking their children if they are aware of the game or topic in order to start a two-way conversation. If the answer is “yes,” she then recommends talking to them about how dangerous risky behavior can be, to not “follow the crowd” and to never think that suicide is the answer to anything.
The Blue Whale Challenge, which some say gets its name from a belief that blue whales voluntarily beach themselves in order to end their own lives, has been linked to at least 16 deaths in Russia. Philipp Budeikin, 21, is being held in a St. Petersburg (Russia) jail on charges of inciting those schoolgirls to kill themselves.
Saunders said diabolic games like this can stir emotions among vulnerable populations, especially people who have experienced significant bullying, feel isolated, have struggled with depression, had suicidal thoughts or have harmed themselves in the past.
“Those are the kids we need to be most concerned about,” she said, adding that parents should also watch for changes in behavior and ask their children questions about their friends on a regular basis.