Good Question: What is the Blue Whale Challenge?
COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - It's not clear where it started or why. But, teens are playing something called the Blue Whale Challenge and it can have deadly results.
The game is a series of 50 tasks. Each one builds to something more intense, ranging from something as simple as listening to a certain kind of music, to committing an act of vandalism, to cutting yourself.
The final challenge suggests the person playing the game commit suicide.
"50 risky, reckless things that ends with suicide? It's horrendous. But, it happens," said Dr. Robert "Skip" Valois, a professor of health and behavior at USC's Arnold School of Public Health
Although the origins of the challenge are somewhat murky, some say the online game started in Russia two years ago, Valois says something very serious is happening.
He says some teens can easily fall victim to the power of suggestion. Things like critical reasoning, impulse control and decision-making skills don't full develop in the human brain until people are in their mid-20s.
"They don't know what they're getting into at the beginning. Or they might think they do," said Valois. "But, with their processing being limited because their brains aren't fully mature, they get to a certain point where it's, oh boy, I'm really in this now and I don't really want to get out because I want to be cool, I want to be accepted. I want to complete the game."
Earlier this month, San Antonio teenager, Isaiah Gonzalez, hanged himself in his bedroom closet. Police say the 15-year-old propped up his cellphone on a shoe and broadcast his death on Facebook Live.
His family blames the death on the Blue Whale Challenge.
People can seek out the game through social media. An anonymous puppet master known as a curator issues the challenges and requires evidence, like pictures or video, to prove it's been completed.
Gonzalez's family looked into the game after finding pictures on his cellphone. They also say participants can be threatened.
"They tell them, if you say anything we're going to come to your home and kill your family," the teen's father, Jorge Gonzalez, told a Texas TV station.
Behavioral experts like Dr. Valois say the game is a call to action for parents.
"You've got to snoop around. You've go to look in their phones," said Valois. "You've got to look in their notebooks. You've got to rifle through their backpacks. You've got to be your own little Sherlock Holmes."
Setting ground rules can help. Experts suggest a few tips:
- Limit your child's access to social media
- No phones or other devices in the bedroom, only in places where they can be monitored
- Have access to your children's accounts
- Talk to your children about current events and technology
Valois adds taking a "It won't happen in my house" doesn't work. Parents need to take an active role.
And if anyone from a friend, teacher to a coach notices changes in a young person's behavior and thinks they're heading down a dangerous path, speak up.
"I think if you see something you say something," said Valois. "It might be better at the end of the day to have someone mad at you because you reported on something their kid was doing that didn't seem just right and save them, than to say, geez, I should've made that call."
If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, you can reach the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.