It was only a few weeks ago that we heard of the now notorious Blue Whale game for the first time in India. At the time, we breathed a collective sigh of relief that this is not something that we have to tackle in our country, yet. Nevertheless, we warned our family and friends about this and began to worry about our children, praying that we do not miss any signs when it comes to our own families.
And then the reports came of a suicide of a teenager in Mumbai; and the rumour mills started working overtime connecting this to the global horror of the Blue Whale phenomenon. Of course, there were counter rumours too, which denied any connection between the two; but warned us, anyway, about being vigilant when it comes to our children and their activities.
Some say the suicide was a result of the teenager playing the Blue Whale game online, while others say Blue Whale is not a game at all - it isn’t some app that you can download or a game you can play online - but a challenge that people take up online; something similar to, say, The Ice Bucket Challenge; only, where the Ice Bucket Challenge was for good, The Blue Whale is a sick, sadistic game where the perpetrators play with the minds of innocent and vulnerable youngsters.
Well, an online game or an online challenge, the threat, though, is very real and there is something we definitely need to do about this.
Are we asking the right questions?
So far, we have only heard of teenagers falling prey to this sick game. When a suicide occurs or when an attempt is foiled, we collectively wonder as to how it is that parents, teachers, friends of the child missed the signs! But we don’t stop to think, that if the perpetrators have succeeded in making a child take such drastic steps, how persuasive would they be; and more importantly, how long have they been at this? Yes, we know from information available online, that this is a game that takes about fifty (50) days to complete from start to end; but if you really think about it, the root of the problem lies far deeper than any of us realise. And that is, that we aren't asking the right questions.
Is it not right to ask why a teenager, who should be playing outdoors, breaking his arm playing tennis, hurting himself playing soccer; and otherwise raising hell, was sitting in his room with a laptop, talking to some sicko, letting him manipulate him? Is it not important to ask why he was ‘used to’ spending time online when he has projects to finish, books to read, movies to watch (on TV, with the volume NOT muted), friends to make trouble with?
Who is at risk?
The first step to solve a problem, is to identify the root of it. Irrespective of whether you play this game on an app or through accepting challenges in a chat room, the fact is, children who are online are susceptible. Even more so, are children who are openly ready to chat with strangers online.
Broadly, there could be two reasons for this:
Broadly, there could be two reasons for this:
- the child is lonely, seeking friendship on the Internet (maybe because he/she is being bullied at school, or has problem with friends, or has no friends at all, and feels extremely alone as even parents do not seem to have to for him/her); or
- the child thinks that he/she is a big risk taker who ‘knows what they are doing’ (because they think they are alone and without any friends (with not even parents on their side); and that they have to tackle their problem themselves by going out of their comfort-zone and testing their own limits)
Both these cases are scary and children in both these situations are at risk when it comes to sick online challenges like the Blue Whale.
So what can we do to beat the risk?
Rationing on the Internet
Where do these sick perpetrators find vulnerable children? Online. So the first rule of thumb, then, is no internet for children. Period. Yes, it may sound archaic. Maybe our teenagers may scream, “Not fair!” But sadly, it has to be done. Young children do not need internet access anyways; but if they need to access the internet for school projects or such, then it is important to set limits on how much time a child spends online and keep tabs on everything that he/she does.
It is a risk, not a matter of pride, that our child knows a lot about phones/tabs!
Many times children ask for our gadgets and we are only too happy to let them use them. We even marvel at how much they know more than us at such a young age. But parental pride can also be experienced in other ways, urging the child to do something else that is also difficult at their age, rather than letting them have a free rein to do with our gadgets as they please.
Monitoring and supervising our children’s activities on the internet
A lot of children love to play games on mobile phones/tabs. A lot of these games offer in-app purchases. And several of these urge them to upgrade, try out another new game brought out by the same company and so on. So it is important to make a rule that there won’t be any games allowed online where parents are not watching the child every step of the way.
No talking to strangers
We parents always tell children, even in our own neighbourhood, to not to talk to strangers, right? Well, it is important to make them understand that this applies in the online world too. They have to understand that personal information is just that, personal; and no stranger on the internet, no matter how friendly he may seem, should be privy to it.
We can save our children, they just need to know it
The first question asked when a child succumbs to these sick online games, is “what were the parents doing?” as it should be. Because, no matter how busy we are, this is one risk we cannot afford to take. So it is extremely important to make time for our children, and even more important, to build that confidence in them, that we are there for them.
Do you remember smoking that first cigarette, and not telling your parents about it? Of course you do! (well, if not a cigarette, there was something else for sure; but we have all kept secrets from our parents, haven’t we?) Well, it is time to rethink. In our own interests, and in the interests of our children, it is time to let our children know, that we are going to be cool about anything they do, just so long as they come and tell us. Yes, there will be consequences, yes there may even be punishments, but it is important to build a rapport, a trust in our relationship with them, that in spite of it, they come and talk to us.
The time has not come, to be a friend to our children. A friend our children can trust. A friend our children can rely on. By raising our kids as buddies, as friends, by answering their awkward questions without flinching, we can build their confidence that parents are someone they can turn to when they feel like talking about anything, absolutely anything under the Sun!
Because as I see it, it is only a tide of friendship that can beat this Blue Whale.
What do you think?