This is an anecdote in a typical American backdrop. Though now in the elite or higher middle class nuclear Indian families we get to see such things happening.
A busy corporate executive couple had a 5 years old son. He was feeling left out and frustrated as he did not see his parents for most of the days. They were busy or traveling even during weekends. He was becoming a loner, introvert, attention-seeking and demanding. Somehow he was managing himself well by ensuring that he does not disturb his parents when they were home.
Once he asked his father, “Dad, what’s your salary?” The father was shocked with his unexpected question. He was uncomfortable to respond. He diverted the topic and avoided a reply but this time the son was aggressively persistent in asking the same question again. “Dad, how much do you earn?” Finally, father angrily snapped at him “$20 / hour, OKKK???” and banged the door of his bedroom as he rushed inside.
The young kid ran to his bedroom, jumped on to his bed and removed his piggy bank, shook it open to remove all the dimes and pennies that he had saved over these years. He started counting them and soon rushed back to his father’s room. As he knocked the door, his Dad also realized that he had unnecessarily shouted at his son upon his innocent question. He calmed down and opened the door. Seeing his son lifting his hands towards father’s face. “What’s this?” the father asked. With teary eyes, the son said, “Dad, these are twenty dollars. Can I have your One hour please?”
This topic came to my attention by sheer accident. I never thought I would write on “The Blue Whale Challenge”. My discussion with two of my friends made me realize the gravity of the situation and how important the concerns were, and how costly it could be to ignore it.
I met Sonali Patankar and Unmesh Joshi, caring and concerned parents, at least 5 years ago. They were both volunteering for an NGO, Ahaan Foundation (AF) on a project called Responsible Netism (RN), a non-profit initiative promoting cyber wellness and responsible online behaviour among children and adults since 2012. They have successfully sensitized 8.5 lakh children and adults in over 800 educational institutions since 5 years about online safety. The study on topics like online trends among children, the impact of online games on aggression and violence have proved to be an eye opener and have authenticated their intervention and purpose. Their experience has provided substantial evidences to prove that children are very creative yet the most vulnerable users of the internet while their parents, being inexperienced and unprepared, are unable to deal with online distress.
Unmesh and Sonali recently came to discuss their forthcoming conference on “Psychology of Cyber Crime” planning to be held in January 2018. While we were discussing the agenda of the conference, we started talking about the most infamous game, the “Blue Whale”, which has caused tremendous chaos and panic worldwide. Sonali informed that Blue Whale was the topmost word searched on the internet in India over the past month; Kolkata, Guwahati, Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru are the top five cities where people have Googled the Blue Whale Challenge and related content.
I requested Unmesh and Sonali to provide more information which I thought of sharing with you. Here is what RN team has shared:
From July’17 to October’17, the reported deaths due to Blue Whale have caused tremendous panic in parents and a great buzz among kids to explore it further. The hype unfortunately showed horrifying results, throughout Responsible Netism’s (RN) sessions in schools. Kids from Std III onwards wanted to know more about the Blue Whale, how it was played, where it was available. This also led to children innovating and curating their own challenges under the pretext of Blue Whale for gaining fame and attention among their peers and seniors. Having any access, leads, information, building curiosity, accepting dares, proving to their surrounding / peer group about their strength and the challenge soon became a matter of pride, one-upmanship and instant gratification.
RN team received over 350 cases of self harm inflicted by kids across the city. Upon verification, they realized they knew a lot about the dark web, the black market and had a lot of access to drugs, and many such deadlier challenges online. The fear is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Children were referred to counselors for intervention. Super hyper parents caused more panic than constructive action. RN team felt these were the most irresponsibly reported incidences by some sections of media. Though as per the Juvenile Justice Act, no personal information about children committing suicide under 18 can be displayed or shared, some of our media channels took pride in depicting every minute detail along with enactments of the horrifying scene on how these children were affected. RN team’s appeal to not glorify the Blue Whale fell over deaf ears.
A family friend who is also a mother of a 5 year old kid appreciated that we are trying to bring the subject to focus. However, she had the following comments.
I quote –
“There are so many factors that somehow tell me that this game is either a hoax and is being widespread to cause unrest, or there is something else that’s happening which we have no clue about.
Firstly this so called game is a whole program which cannot be downloaded through the any app. You cannot find this game online, the admins find you and send you links.
What I’m not understanding is how are such small kids be able to go through all these stages?
These are some of the comments and questions asked by parents. Please find the response from RN team below
- It is not a game that one can be invited to play.
- The media has certainly hyped it up to increase their TRPs.
- There is no forensic evidence of the game.
- There are very many similar or worst games available online that we are not aware of.
- Children have access and are extremely smart about sharing such information. They know a lot more about the black market and dark web than any of us do.
- They are too young to understand the impact or consequences of their online behaviour. Worse is that they have no one to clarify their doubts, hence self-exploration is the only option left for them.
- Most articles only talk about the stages of the challenge and are of no use whatsoever. Such links also increase the hype, curiosity and related searches online.
What we need to do is to be proactive. Avoid spreading panic. Be alert, be aware. Communicate with children. Teach them to say no to what they think is wrong and be firm. Assure them of unconditional love and acceptance through your behaviour.
ACTION PLAN AND INTERVENTION:
The situation is indeed extremely alarming and hence needs intervention. We believe there will be many more such games and challenges to come, it has now become essential to prepare ‘caregivers’ to protect children, and equip them to protect themselves. The need to balance mental and psychological well-being was strongly felt in shielding children from further damage. Mental health professionals, parents, teachers, organizations working with children need to gear up to address issues concerning children’s psychological well-being in the digital era.
To build a 360-degree perspective on the issue, team Responsible Netism initiate dialogue and action by creating a platform titled Cyber Care Givers, to empower the stakeholders with strategies to overcome this digital mayhem.
Objectives of the initiative :
- Understanding the world of online games
- Intervention strategies of prevention – reading early signals
- Intervention strategies during crisis
- Building constructive support systems leading to collective and positive action
For further details please contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org Mobile: 8433701077
Together, let’s prepare our children to face real-life challenges and issues….be Responsible Parents, Responsible teachers, Responsible Society as we become Responsible Netizens.
Every child is saying to his/her parents only one thing, and that is –
समझना चाहते हो….तो बस
(If you really want to understand me, then just love me.)
Was reminded of the last few lines from Shri. Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s awesome poem “Hai aandheri raat” –
क्या हवांएं थी की उजाड़ा प्यार का वह आशियाना,
कुछ न आया काम तेरा शोर करना गुल मचाना ;
नाश की उन शक्तिओ के साथ चलता जोर किसका?
किन्तु ए निर्माण के प्रतिनिधि तुझे होगा बताना;
जो बसे हैं वो बिछड़ते हैं प्रकृति के नियम से,
पर किसी उजड़े हुवे को फिर बसाना कब मना है?
है अंधेरी रात पर दिवा जलाना कब मना है? (२)
Kya hawayen thi ki ujada pyar ka wah aashiyana
kuch na aaya kaam tera shor karana gul machana,
Naash ki un Shakti-o ke saath chalata jhor kiska
kintu aye nirman ke pratinidhi tujhe hoga batana
Jo base hain we bicchhadte hain prakriti ke jad niyam se
par kisi ujade huwe ko phir basana kab mana hai
Hai aandheri raat par diva jalana kab mana hai. (2)
Unable to translate the poem, hence these quotes-
“Always seek out a seed of triumph in every adversity.”
“When something bad happens, you have three choices:
you can either let it define you,
let it destroy you or
you can let it strengthen you.”