As a child, were you ever told by your parents not to speak to strangers? Did they warn you against accepting sweets, chocolates and other treats from people you don’t know? Most of us heeded to these warnings, and we were wary of strangers who smiled at us or tried engaging us in small talk, for none of us wanted to fall into the hands of a kidnapper! But how many of us extended some of these rules for application in the virtual world? How many of us refrained from using chat-rooms (they were so much in vogue back then!) and never spoke to strangers about things we were not comfortable discussing even with our closest of friends? What made it so easy for us to bare our deepest, darkest, most intimate secrets with some random stranger sitting in some other corner of the world?
For all of us, especially during our adolescent years, the World Wide Web was a friendly place – it gave us a chance to find answers to questions grown-ups did not want to address; talking to people all across the world gave us some much-needed thrill; and we never realized when we became a generation that started preferring the virtual world to the real world, and somewhere, subconsciously, delivered this learning to the children and teenagers of today.
Back then, who would have thought that one fine day, the ever-so-friendly World Wide Web would give rise to a phenomenon such as the “Blue Whale”, and be responsible for so many teen suicides in different parts of the world.
Unless you’ve had your head under the rocks for the last couple of weeks, I am sure all of you know about the “Blue Whale” challenge. Recently, in Mumbai, it was alleged that a fourteen year old boy committed suicide due to the “Blue Whale” challenge, and there have been other reports as well that seem to indicate that the “Blue Whale” has pretty much spread in India.
Government bodies are urging for a ban of the “Blue Whale”, but they fail to understand that they cannot ban something that’s not an app or a game that’s played on the computer or gaming-device. The “Blue Whale” does not even exist as a website. How can they, therefore, propose banning it?
The “Blue Whale” is nothing but a sick phenomenon. It may have been started by Philip Budeikin of Russia, but today it has gone viral and is being used by predators from across the world to play with the minds of vulnerable adolescents. Budeikin started the game to rid the world of “biological waste”, but it is time now to move past that and realize that the “Blue Whale” did not kill the teenagers – people did! It’s sad but true – there are people out there targeting children and teenagers with low self-esteem and driving them further into a downward spiral until they’re forced to commit suicide and end their lives; and these people could be anywhere scouring for vulnerable children on social media, in public forums, on strange websites hosted in murky corners of the web, or even in the ‘Comments’ sections of popular websites like Youtube. Once these people identify their intended victim, the communication takes place through chat-groups where the teenager is presented with challenges that border around different degrees of self-harm, and includes suicide.
Since the “Blue Whale” is not an app or a game that has to be installed, the only way you can ensure that your teenager is not playing it is by talking to them about it directly, and making sure they avoid it. Educate your children about cyber-safety, and how the rules of not speaking to strangers should apply in the virtual world as well. Of course, in today’s times, it cannot be altogether avoided, but at least tell your children not to reveal personal information to strangers on the internet, especially if the information can be misused in any form. Help them identify a trusted person in the real world with whom they can share all that’s on their mind – it could be a friend, a parent, an educator, or a mental health professional – instead of just revealing it all over the web.
The internet is a beautiful place and it’s useful too. But it is dangerous as well. It was used by some to create the “Blue Whale”; and it is up to us now to do the best we can to defeat the phenomenon, both, in the real and in the virtual world. We must strive to make the world a better place especially for those vulnerable teens who cannot see that despite all of the darkness, there is still light.