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The 'Blue Whale' Suicide Challenge Is No Joke

Jenn is perhaps best known as the author of the popular parenting blog Breed ‘Em and Weep (2005-2012). She’s written for many magazines, newspapers and websites, including Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, and The Boston Globe. Jenn’...

Here's what parents need to know about the disturbing online challenge that's harming kids

If you have a tween or teen who struggles with depression, anxiety or self-harm, you need to know about the latest social media "challenge" that's preying on vulnerable kids.

The "blue whale" suicide challenge is making its sinister way through the internet masquerading as a scavenger hunt-type game with a very dark twist. The challenge — supposedly originated in Russia by a man wanting to "cleanse society" — requires kids to complete a series of tasks, including slicing the outline of a whale in their skin and waking up in the middle of the night to contemplate death.

Bloomberg describes the phenomenon and its supposed origin:

"The name apparently comes from a song by the Russian rock band Lumen. Its opening lines are, 'Why scream / When no one hears / What we're talking about?' and it features a 'huge blue whale' that 'can't break through the net.' By posting on social networks using certain hashtags or joining to certain groups, teens — usually between the ages of 10 and 14 — get spotted by 'curators,' who, after vetting the potential player, set up to 50 daily tasks leading up to the ultimate one, suicide. The tasks involve cutting oneself and taking other risks. For the last 10 days, the player needs to wake up at an appointed early morning hour, listen to music and contemplate death. Those who get cold feet and want to leave the game receive threats, often that their parents will be killed."

Yes. You read that right. It's a game that you can only win if you end your life. And in a culture where suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens, we can't afford to turn a blind eye to this madness.

More: Is there a link between cyberbullying and suicide?

"But my kid knows better," you might say. "My child would never do that." Think again — online "pranks" have caused numerous children to take their own lives.

One 17-year-old Instagram user, @lolcamhs, posted about the insidious nature of the blue whale challenge in a post that's gotten over 101,000 views:

Fortunately, warnings have been showing up on various U.S. school websites and Facebook pages for several weeks now encouraging parents to pay close attention to any reference to the term "blue whale" in their children's speech or online. And Instagram created its own automatic warning that appears for anyone searching for #BlueWhaleChallenge.

Some sources, however, insist that this challenge is not for real and should be filed away under fake news.

While it may be tough to discern how much of a threat this is, the fact is that there are many, many vulnerable kids out there who could take this "challenge" seriously.

As Barbara Greenberg — specialist in adolescent psychology — told Yahoo:

"This should not be referred to as a game. Basically, what happens is that depressed kids are led to believe that they are playing a game — when in fact they are dealing with mental health issues. I am not a parent blamer, but this is further reason why parents need to monitor their kids' behavior. Depressed kids who are isolated are susceptible. Parents should monitor changes in behavior."

Many on social media have expressed horror and shock that "suicide challenges" like this exist:

So what can we do as parents about these disturbing social media "challenges" — real or not?
We need to be talking to our kids about suicide, as painful and difficult a subject as that is. We need to keep the lines of communication open, and ask them — without panic or judgment — what sort of upsetting social media games or challenges they're seeing online.

The American Psychological Association offers helpful guidelines for talking to kids about suicide and suicidal ideation. The toll-free suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) provides support for anyone — whether or not you're struggling with suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is.

The Trevor Project also offers numerous resources for suicide prevention.

And if your kids are struggling with depression or thoughts of ending their own lives, many who resist help or phone hotlines might feel more comfortable texting with a trained crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line (simply text START to 741-741).

Blue whale or no blue whale, too many of our children are hurting deeply. And the more we can support them, the more able they'll be to resist the darkness that they'll invariably encounter — again and again — on the internet.

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