Why teenagers fall for Blue Whale Challenge and other violent online games

Parents, beware you might be responsible for your kid's mobile addiction.

In the recent times, we have been hearing a lot about teens committing suicides after falling prey to the deadly online game called The Blue Whale Challenge. But there is no concrete evidence to prove that these suicides are an outcome of this lethal online game. In fact, we reported about a 17-year-old committing suicide by jumping off the roof of a seven-storey building in Andheri, Mumbai, after falling prey to this online game challenge. However, recent reports have emerged after forensic analysis and decoding his mobile phone data that it was an outcome of a failed relationship and not because of Blue Whale Challenge.

We can t ignore the number of deaths that are happening in the name of this deadly game. To understand what makes a teen end his life in the pretext of completing the challenge and taking such a drastic step we spoke to Dr Sanghanayak Meshram, psychiatrist and sexologist, Mumbai. He says, I am not sure how this Blue Whale Game is reaching out to teens. There isn t any information or proof that this game is the reason behind the deaths. In fact, we are ignoring the problems lurking in the lives of young adults and teens while focussing too much on this game teenage depression. Nobody speaks about teenage depression much, but it exists. These suicides look more like teenage depression leading to suicides than a challenge that makes them commit this act. Here are eight signs of teenage depression that everyone should know.

Blue Whale Challenge is not the only game that we fear which makes teens vulnerable, recently some teenagers in Delhi s Pathways School got involved in a Snapchat Slap-Bet Challenge in which the boy subjected to the act suffered 25 percent hearing loss. So, what is it that thrills kids to take such destructive challenges and bet, why don t they resort to rational thinking while committing such acts? We unravel the answers with Dr Meshram and try to analyse the psyche of these vulnerable kids.

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What makes teenagers take such deadly online challenges and games in the name of fun and entertainment?

Dr Meshram: The words used in such online games destruction, challenge, bet, mission completion or task completed are words that send in a sudden adrenaline rush among vulnerable teens and gives them an instant high. There is very less that they have around them to evaluate their self-worth so these challenges (when they complete it successfully) make them feel empowered, provides satisfaction, gives them a sense of accomplishment and is a major reason why they get hooked on these games.

Can these games lead to loneliness and depression?

Dr Meshram: Yes, in the long run, it makes them lonely, depressed and incapable of expressing thoughts and feelings. When this happens many teens and young adults are unable to pull themselves out of the dark pit they pushed themselves in, albeit unknowingly. This is the most vulnerable phase, when loneliness can be so overwhelming that they might see death as soothing. This is why we urge people to talk and look for help rather than dwindling in their loneliness. Here are signs that a teenager could be suicidal.

What makes kids opt for dangerous games like Blue Whale instead of harmless games like Sudoku puzzles?

Dr Meshram: It is not like it happens overnight. A child s upbringing and activities he takes up during early childhood influences these actions. In a fast paced life where both parents are working, a child is often left behind to be taken care by a nanny or grandparents and most often than not, television becomes the prime mode of entertainment. At a tender age, they visually grasp what s been given without much intellectual stimulation. Soon this habit moves towards an addiction with phones and iPads. Their world starts revolving around these virtual realities. Most of them get fixated with online games and strategies. If you analyse these games they spell violence right from the start. You emerge out victorious only if you kill a monster; kill the opponent, save yourself from jumping in front of a running train, etc. Completing the game and going a level-up makes the child feel superior which is like an achievement in his lonely world. So violence becomes a norm for entertainment, for accomplishment and rejuvenation.

Don't kids get afraid of taking on such deadly challenges?

Dr Meshram: I have personally not counselled any child or parents who have fallen prey to this Blue Whale Challenge. But what little information we have on the net about this game states that the game was invented to eradicate biological wastes which translate into vulnerable beings. Too much dependency on online games and less socialising makes one lonely and depressed. This is the time when one yearns to be a part of something that instils some sense of association in him. At this tender moment if such a challenge comes up there is this irresistible urge to take it up and be a part of a community which falsely gives a sense of belongingness.

Why and how did kids lose the enthusiasm of outdoor plays and become satisfied living in their cocoon?

Dr Meshram: We majorly blame digitalisation for this. There was a time when, if a kid wanted to play, say, cricket he had to go from one house to the other, gather few kids and then start the game. There was this dependency which helped to instill leadership qualities, plan strategies and improve communication. But a mobile or iPad becomes an easy way of entertainment and communication relying on just self for ideas and opinions. There are no arguments or differences of opinions. In the beginning, it feels good as you call the shots, but in the long run, this very satisfaction spells doom for a youngster.

How to control this online addiction in teenagers

Dr Meshram: For young kids, you can scold them and snatch the mobile away, but you cannot do the same with teenagers. If you try to enforce or argue with them it can backfire. Sometimes, they can become violent too. So start slowly and then gradually help your teen to quit the addiction. Here is what you can do:

Opt for a no digital hour: Plan this, few hours of the day when every member of the family has to keep the mobile aside and talk. The dinner time suits to be the best to practice this.

Lead by example: Don t use mobile excessively when at home or when there isn t a need for it. Your kid will learn how to stay away from the temptations of the digital world by your actions.

Don t give up: Once you try to minimalise mobile usage, there would be withdrawal symptoms like anger outbursts, tantrums, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, etc. Remember this addiction does similar things to the brain as any other vices like smoking and drinking. So, the initial days are going to be harrowing but as a parent, you need to be consistent.

Give a healthy alternative: If you are going to ban mobile phone use, give your kids something better to do, like a thrice a week hobby class which will help to divert attention and garner interest in something more fruitful.

Stop night time mobile browsing: Of all the times, this is the most dangerous one. Most of the destructive online activities happen at night, like watching porn, sending nudes, etc. It is the time when a teen can be sexually active too and fall prey to online grooming scams and predators.

Communicate directly: Talk to your child looking right into the eyes. This helps to instill confidence and faith in the child that he is cared and loved, something that keeps them from falling prey to the promises of the virtual world.

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