“There is no substitute for parents”, for it is the parents’ influence—for good or bad—that forms the child’s character and this phenomenon becomes more pronounced when families are disrupted by newer technologies.
At times you come across gentle cab-drivers who are adept at drawing you into a nice conversation. Last evening, tucking into an Ola cab, I turned on the music… and as Kishore is cracking his vocal chords to drawl … Koi hum dum na raha koi sahara na raha(no soul-mate exists anymore nor is there any support) /…/Shaam tanahaai ki hai aayegi manzil kaise (in this lonesome evening how am I to find my destination)… the driver having pulled onto the highway, holding the wheel in one hand, coolly posed a question:“Shaeb, what is this blue whale? They say it’s a game but then why a game to lead to death?” Bemused by it, I had no alternative but to confess my ignorance.
Next day morning Hindu greeted me with the news: “Girl ‘playing’ Blue Whale jumps into lake, rescued” from Kalyana lake, Jodhpur. Prompted by this poor girl’s crazy pleading with the police “to let her die”, coming to the office, straight I went to my young ‘gadget-aapajan’ and asked her to tell me all about the bizarre ‘Blue’. Staring at me in surprise, and of course, holding her quizzical smile back, she said: it’s an online game. This game of 50 days preys on teens. Its curator gives each participant a set of escalating challenges to perform. It begins with the curator asking the teen: “Carve a razor ‘f57’ on your hand, and send a photo to curator”. On producing the evidence, he would be asked to “wake up at 4.20 a.m. and watch psychedelic and scary videos that curator sends him”.
As the participant thus advances to the next stage, he would be asked to execute and report back weird acts like: “Cut your arm with a razor along your veins, but not too deep, only 3 cuts, send a photo to the curator; Draw a whale on a sheet of paper, send a photo to curator; If you are ready to ‘become a whale’, carve ‘YES’ on your leg. If not, cut yourself many times (punish yourself); Task with a cipher; Carve ‘f40’ on your hand, send a photo to curator; Type ‘# i_am_whale’ in your VKontakte status; You have to overcome your fear; Wake up at 4:20 a.m. and go to a roof (the higher the better); Carve a whale on your hand with a razor, send a photo to curator; Watch psychedelic and horror videos all day; Listen to music that ‘they’ (curators) send you; Cut your lip; Poke your hand with a needle many times; Do something painful to yourself, make yourself sick; Go to the highest roof you can find, stand on the edge for some time; Go to a bridge, stand on the edge; Climb up a crane or at least try to do it; The curator checks if you are trustworthy; Have a talk ‘with a whale’ (with another player like you or with a curator) in Skype; Go to a roof and sit on the edge with your legs dangling; Another task with a cipher; Secret task; Have a meeting with a ‘whale’; The curator tells you the date of your death and you have to accept it; Wake up at 4:20 a.m. and go to rails (visit any railroad that you can find); Don’t talk to anyone all day; Make a vow that ‘you’re a whale’; Every day (from task 30-49) you wake up at 4:20 a.m., watch horror videos, listen to music that ‘they’ send you, make 1 cut on your body per day, talk ‘to a whale’, and finally ‘Jump off a high building. Take your life.’”
Now, hearing her recital of the acts, I could not but blurt out: “Which boy/girl would be volunteering to undertake these scary deeds?”
“That is the hitch”, coolly replied my gadget-wizard: “the game is goading vulnerable youngsters into it and finally to kill themselves”.
“Hey! Even if one is goaded into it, won’t you think he or she being through a few of these senseless tasks would naturally roll out of it?”
“Yes, if only… but the curator/hacker threatens to kill him/her [participant] and his/her family. So, once, entered, he/she had it.”
“Oh! my god, it is really scary. Something needs to be done immediately. Then, what the hell the government is doing?” screamed I.
Reassuringly, my friend said: “Yes, our government has already directed internet platforms such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft, and Yahoo to immediately remove any links leading to the game. But the question is: will it stop it? For, it’s not a downloadable game, application or software. So, nothing much can be achieved by banning it. Being a social media phenomenon, it enters social media networks from secretive groups, and unless social media entities where the relevant hashtags associated with the game are through get in on the act, I am afraid, it may go on.”
A little alarmed by what she said, I stammered: “You mean there is nothing much that one could do to protect the kids from the onslaught of this game!”
“Oh! No, that’s not what I mean.” She hastened to say, “I only mean that banning is not the answer. The real answer lies with parents. They have to actively do what they alone can do to save their children from the jaws of the game.”
“Like what”, is my immediate question.
Oh! she appears to be fully loaded with the answers: “Look, we are passing through a change in the patterns of family life. Earlier it was a self-contained unit. Girls and boys learned the tricks of living from their mothers and fathers. Importantly, they found engaged in one or the other family activity that was challenging and rewarding—it made them feel important too. Along with these skills, children acquired a set of goals and a sense of morality from their immediate role models: parents. But today, fathers are working far from them and only see them in weekends. Mothers too, having given up their traditional roles, spending much of their time away from home. With the result, children are drifting off like a rudderless boat.”
Stopping at it for a while and looking into my eyes, perhaps to check if I am with her or not, she then landed right on the problem: “See, it’s at the age of 13-14 that every boy and girl enters the stage of sexual maturation: adolescence. Physical changes in the body have a tremendous effect on their total personality. It is the time when they abandon childhood dependencies and ways of life so far lived, of course, for good. But this does not come without a conflict and confused feelings: moodiness, loneliness and self-doubt rule the rostrum. Boys enter the ‘gang’ stage: full of adventurous play and fantasy, become secretive about life outside home. Girls behave either as ‘tom boys’ or like ‘little woman’—for instance: ‘Ma! periods kya, aate rahata hai’.
“They swing between dependence and back; fearful one day, over-confident the next day; moody, conservative, oversensitive, never quite sure what one wants—often as though wanting quite opposite and irreconcilable things. That way, the child is still unstable, moody, unpredictable, battling with adult authority and with himself. Over it, today children are expected to succeed in every act of them. He/she soon realizes that success wins acclaim and failure invites reproach. A child who cannot meet parents’ expectations begins to lose his self-confidence, loses the feeling of self-worth. This mad competition tends to land the children in depression. Even they may feel alienated.”
Grasping for breath, I whispered, “Oh! My god, you sound so terrifying. You mean to say… teenagers too suffer from depression? Before you answer that let me first ask you one question that is bothering me since sometime: See, net is after all anonymous, right? One doesn’t know who the game’s Administrator is, nor do Administrator know who the player is… except IP addresses? They do not know each other personally. And, I am sure, this is well known to the teenagers too, right? Then, how to believe that these smart kids are trapped into this dirty game of suicide by mere threats? You know… I am just not able to stomach this! You must answer me this first.”
“Hum! You have a point there! That could have been one of the reasons why the psychologists, reacting to the suicidal deaths, wondered, if the game per se is the drive behind the suicidal deaths. Perhaps, they mean that the root cause lies elsewhere: their frustration, or disenchantment with life, or alienation. Sometimes, it is the low esteem that craves for peer approval, which drives a teenager to take risks, for it makes him/her feel as though he/she is a part of something that is bigger than himself/herself, or a mere act of seeking fun with the gadgets not fully realizing where it could lead…it could be anything that even the boy or girl do not know of. Here, it is important to bear in mind that India is ranked among the top 10 nations with a high suicide rate. That aside, the rates of undetected depression, particularly among the teenagers are said to be high in the country. These underlying realities force the nation as a whole to exercise more caution when reports of ‘Blue Whale’ nature rocks us.”
“Reality being that nebulous, what it essentially calls for is: parents to consciously lavish their time and ingenuity on child rearing. They should know where their wards are while away from home, what they are doing, with whom they are spending, without of course intruding into their privacy. They must watch for their wards’ ‘gadget-hygiene’, more by practising gadget-hygiene themselves, rather than by talk. They should keep an eye on their wards’ net-surfing activities – and mind you, discretely.”
“Parents must talk with children not to them. Talking to children means telling them how we want things done, expressing a demand for obedience—for instance, saying: “Don’t waste time on the net; Oh! no, it’s time for bed, etc.” On the other hand, talking with children would mean jointly attempting to solve a problem; improving a given situation—that makes teenagers feel creatively engaged in the family matters … would feel they too contributed their might for the family. It means sitting with them to talk over the problem such as Blue whale, letting them express their opinion and listening to it, and steering them through reasoning out of the problem. Such talking with them not only make the children feel that they are very important to their parents but also enables parents to gain ward’s cooperation to talk out issues that are bothering them and explore ways of handling them. Remember, cooperation has to be won, it cannot be demanded and without child’s cooperation nothing can be resolved fruitfully.”
Interrupting her talk, I questioned: “To talk with the children about Blue whale don’t you think parents need to know all about it? And today the digital-divide being what it is, particularly, between parents and their wards, how effective parents could be in their articulation/reasoning?”
“True, that’s a big challenge! Yes, they have to necessarily invest their time in learning about technology. And remember this is not the only challenge: Since adolescents are known to seriously struggle to come out of the grip of parents, they would resist the intervention of parents—will not be receptive to any help from parents—no matter how knowledgeable they are about the latest technology. They may even vehemently resist their help too. In such situations, parents have to necessarily explore alternatives. Here, a teacher, or a close relative like chacha, maama or dada, daadi, etc., may come handy to act as a coach/role model.”
Taking a deep breath, she stressed: “Finally, what matters most in overcoming such threats is: how cohesive/harmonious the family is? If the family is a close-knit unit, even Ma can innocently ask the ward to explain her about the Blue Whale game if he/she has heard of it. And as the conversation progresses, she can air her alarm and caution her children not to fall prey for such temptations.”
“In the same vein, if the family is in the habit of sitting every evening for a chat over children’s day at school, etc., parents could easily notice changes if any in the disposition of their children—can certainly spot the child if overtaken by such moods as sadness, and if it is persistently noticed accompanied by disruptive behaviour that is interfering in their social activities, interests, homework, etc., Ma, guessing the problem of the child passing through depressive illness can immediately seek professional help. Such assembling and free collegial discussions can also help parents to gauge their children’s net surfing habits too.”
“Oh! my god, it looks as though my generation of parents were pretty lucky …. Any way coming to the point, what you want to say is that parents should trust their adolescent’s essential goodness and must bear the responsibility for their adolescent child’s healthy transformation into a matured adult.”
“Yeah! And that said, I would also like to stress that parents must: watch their child closely. If they find any unusual changes like moodiness, unusual silence, lack of interest in class-work, etc., should discretely look at the gadgets being used by him/her for surfing the net. Ensure that there are no logins relating to the Blue Whale game and if there be any: first, stop him/her from accessing net from any device; two, arrange for immediate professional counselling to the boy/girl; three, seek the help of cyber-security police for sanitizing the gadget for, it is said that the links to the game cannot be deleted by ordinary users. And must act swiftly.”
“Yes, that’s more important… and the first one to attend to, perhaps … thank you for your time and all …”