Blue Whale Challenge: Online 'game' pressuring teens to complete dangerous dares

A sinister online game is pressuring venerable teens to complete dangerous dares—blamed for suicides around the world, now gaining traction here at home. Channel 7's Elisabeth Armstrong looks into the Blue Whale Challenge.

The recent statement from the Carlisle School District, following the suicides of two students, references the Blue Whale Challenge. Over the past few weeks, Channel 7 has also received e-mails from concerned parents asking about this dangerous online game.

Students in Arkansas schools are talking about the game, as reports circulate online about dozens of teens at home and abroad committing suicide after getting involved.

Channel 7 could not verify whether those teen suicides were directly linked to the Blue Whale Challenge. But after whispers about the game surfaced in chat rooms online, teens immediately started talking. They say they're seeing adults reach out to vulnerable students on social media, encouraging them to complete fifty dares.

"They will have you do challenges like don't sleep, carve a blue whale into your arm, watch horror movies all day,” explains one YouTuber. "They get kids to self-harm and commit suicide," says another.

Some say the challenge is just an online rumor. Others say it's real: a hashtag search reveals depressed teens actively try to join. Some also saying they were manipulated: what started as a fun game of dares escalated into self-harm.

So Little Rock therapist Allison Atkinson with Southwest EAP says, this is a good time to teach kids to spot when something isn't right: "Connecting how to hone your gut instinct, how to trust what you know, how to tell if someone is being dishonest or trying to trick you."

She recommends giving teens tips to spot red flags, telling them if any of these things happen, that person could be trying to deceive you:

  • When an adult asks you to do something they should know how to do.
  • When they tell you something you wouldn't feel comfortable repeating at the dinner table.
  • When someone you don't know approaches you with information or odd requests

“There's not a class we all sit down in at school that teaches you about internet safety, about bullying, about how to have good awareness." So Allison says it's important that parents talk to their kids about these issues and teach them to ask for help if they get into a sticky situation.

"You're their parent, you're there to protect them and that you'd much rather them come to you with questions, then feel like they don't have an outlet to ask that or they have to figure it out on their own."

Allison adds that depending on your family's dynamics and your child's age, it can be important to monitor their social media as well.

When monitoring your own children’s activities on the internet what are some warning signs you can look for that they may need some guidance:

  • Increasing secret behavior related to online activities such as changing the screen abruptly when someone enters the room, using privacy filters and deleting browsing history
  • Contact from persons you are unfamiliar with directed at your child at home or at school such as letters, calls or gifts
  • Frustration or obsession related to being allowed to use the internet
  • Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities or withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Downloaded content from external sites that is inappropriate or hidden.

She says it can be difficult for a teen to ask for help--whether that's getting into a situation or dealing with depression. So it's important for parents recognize warning signs if something isn't right with their kids. Here are some things to remember:

  • A sudden change in behavior or personality is worth monitoring.
  • Often depression and anxiety manifest as frustration and anger in children and teens.
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