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International: Blue Whale Challenge

Savannah Reams Greene Publishing, Inc.

We live in a world dominated by the internet. Social media rules our lives, slowly yet steadfastly pulling us further away from reality with every swipe through our news feeds. The internet is a city as vast as space and, as it happens with any bustling, immersive, and massive community, crime begins to seep through every crevice. Sadly, children and teenagers are some of the most targeted victims, due to the fact they are so deeply immersed in this raging sea of “snap stories,” “insta pics,” and “hashtags.” However, as a parent, guardian, or teacher, knowledge is power. We must now patrol two worlds, with virtual reality requiring more vigilance than we believe.

Recently, a Georgia teen named Nadia committed suicide. In all accounts her suicide was unexpected, bewildering, and devastating to her loved ones. It wasn't until her brother began looking for signs, that they discovered a sobering secret.

Nadia was an artist. Before her death, she had begun to sketch eerie portraits of blue whales in her journal. On one picture in particular, Nadia wrote the words: “I am a blue whale.” Another of Nadia's sketches was of Rina Palenkova, a Russian girl who committed suicide in November of 2015. Desperate for answers, Nadia's brother began to search the internet.

He quickly discovered something known as “Blue Whale.” Blue Whale is an online suicide challenge which originated in Russia several years ago. This “game” claimed the life of Rina Palenkova, the young lady pictured in Nadia's journal, as well as dozens more throughout Russia, South America, and Central Asia. The same challenge is what led to Nadia's demise. The game involves a series of daily dares which are sent via an online curator. The dares start out small, such as being instructed to draw a blue whale. However, as each day progresses, the challenges become more dangerous and often involve self-harm. After each challenge, the participant must send a photo of the completed task for proof. As one would conclude, the final challenge is ultimately suicide.

Nadia's death was the first known to occur in the United States in relation to Blue Whale. However, since her death in May of 2017, there has been another teen suicide reported in Texas as recent as July of this year. The suicide is also under investigation in regards to its ties to Blue Whale.

This is just one of many dangerous online activities children and teens are exposed to. It is important to know the signs. Do your research, stay up-to-date, and establish a presence in the world of social media. Stay involved in the lives of your young ones. It is worth the inconvenience, eye rolls, and objections when parents, guardians, and even teachers begin to closely monitor their online habits. Most importantly, check in on your child. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are common among children, teens, and young adults. It is perfectly okay to talk about it, research it, and seek treatment. There are many stereotypes, prejudices, and misconceptions about mental illness which often stop many from seeking guidance. Couple untreated mental illness with a virtual world which often preys on the minds and insecurities of our youth and you've created a monster. Let's work together to strike it down.

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