GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An internet challenge that’s making the rounds on social media sites is linked to teens committing suicide.
Two families, one in Texas and the other in Georgia, blame the “Blue Whale Challenge” for their children’s deaths.
Here’s how it reportedly works: Once a teen agrees to play the game, an anonymous person called an administrator gives 50 tasks to be completed and chronicled on social media platforms in 50 days. It starts as listening to a certain song and escalates to self-mutilation. The last task challenges the teen to commit suicide.
The Gonzalez family of San Antonio spoke to a local news station after their 15-year-old son Isaiah hanged himself and filmed it on his phone.
“I want them (parents) to go through their (children’s) phones, look at their social media, ’cause if they’re on that challenge already, they could catch that happening,” Isaiah’s father, Jorge Gonzalez, urged during an interview with KSAT.
He explained that the administrator began manipulating Isaiah once he made contact:
“They tell them, ‘If you say anything, we’re going to come … to your home and we’re going to kill your family.’”
There are conflicting reports about how a teen begins the challenge, who exactly is behind the tasks or if the challenge has its own website. European news outlets have reported that the game started as early as 2013 in Russia and is blamed for dozens of teens deaths overseas. But now schools around the U.S. are sending letters home to parents warning them about the challenge.
While researching this report, 24 Hour News 8 searched “Blue Whale Challenge” as a hashtag on the photo-sharing site Instagram. A warning instantly popped up that read in part, “Posts with words or tags you’re searching for encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death.”
But the user can dismiss the warning, and immediately a feed of photos that include self-harm and daredevil jumps several feet in the air pop up.
24 Hour News 8 spoke to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan about the game and its real-life dangers.
“So many times these sites might be focused on psychologically manipulating kids and their minds and this particular one is extremely dangerous,” executive director Christy Buck said. “We have to be paying attention every day to what sites kids are visiting. Have a conversation, watch for a change in their behavior, where they’re going, if they’re becoming isolative or secretive … You are the parents.”
Buck acknowledged that it’s an delicate balance of give and take when it comes to openly communicating with teens and young adults about what they’re looking at online, but it’s a conversation that has to happen.
“Loving your child means taking actions that they may not like,” she said. “This is dangerous to our children, what’s out there, and they need to learn. We’re the teachers.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255