top story

Blue Whale Challenge raising concerns for school officials, parents on the Suncoast

  • 0

 SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - In the age of social media, it's common to hear about challenges that many people are involved in to prove something.

Now, there's a new one that's raising concerns.

"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem," says Manatee County Schools Student Services Coordinator, Kathy Haugan.

 It's a problem many parents are being warned about as the so-called "Blue Whale Challenge" makes its way across the United States, and it's a game your teen might be playing.

"It's a 50-day challenge and students are given different tasks to do with the last task encouraging them to kill themselves, commit suicide," said Haugan.

 That online virtual game asks participants to complete a wide range of tasks ranging from watching a horror movie, to carving a whale into their forearm and even urging players to jump off a bridge.

To win the challenge, suicide is the final task.

One Sarasota parent says she's had a recent run-in with a similar, but less deadly game her son was playing.

"I noticed he was in multi-player mode and I noticed he was playing with somebody we don't know," said Elizabeth Priestley.

"I stopped him and I said we cannot have this app because this is playing with people we don't know. So I think even little things that seem innocent, we have to keep track of them."

Haugan says the game hasn't made it's way into Manatee County Schools, but it is rumored to have been introduced to two schools in Alabama, prompting educators to now warn parents about their child's social media use.

"You should know their password, check what type of sites they've visited in their search history, you should be able to monitor all kinds of things on their text messages," says Haugan.

It's unclear who was behind the challenge, but there was an app available in the Apple store and Google Play store and social media platforms are now taking notice.

If you try to look up the Blue Whale Challenge on Instagram you'll see a notification asking how they can help and prompting you to a suicide hotline.

However, you can still find a wide array of posts on Twitter about the deadly game with plenty of photos to accompany it.

 Haugan says there's symptoms you should keep an eye out for.

"Changes in activities, eating patterns, sleeping patterns, people they hang out with, if they change friends or if they become increasingly socially isolated."

This new app isn't the only thing encouraging your child to take their life.

Haugan says recent shows like "13 Reasons Why" are adding to the glorification and increase of suicide she's seen over the past decade.

"Suicide is the number two cause of death in students age 10-24 but that said it's also the number one preventable cause of death," says Haugan.

It's preventable with a simple conversation, something both Haugan and Priestley say can make all the difference.

"We're seeing it can be a matter of life or death even something that really seems so insignificant," said Priestley.

Haugan says, "If people have a concern please let someone know, don't just let it go."

Online reports claim that several participants in foreign countries have committed suicide due to the game, yet no verified reports have been linked to the U.S.