Pune: The death of a 14-year-old boy from Mumbai on Monday has exposed the dark side of the Internet and the vulnerabilities of teenagers and youngsters on social media.
Psychologists and cyber experts from the city are of the belief that monitoring social media activities of children and effective communication with them is the only way to stop the spread of deadly Internet games.
The death of the teenager is being touted as the first possible victim of the Blue Whale Challenge, which originated in Russia and invented by 24-year-old Philipp Budeikin in 2013.
Ban will backfire
While the State government and chief minister is seeking a ban on the game, cyber experts have said that it would not be possible to ban the game and that the ban will only have negative repercussions.
“The game is specifically targeting teens between the age group of 12 to 16 years. It is a general notion that when something is banned, we find another way to access it. Calling for a ban on the game will only make children more curious about the Blue Whale Challenge and prompt more teens to play the game,” said Niranjan Reddy, Cyber Security Expert Founder and CTO, Netconclave Systems.
Reddy said that to contain the spread of the Blue Whale Challenge, parental guidance is a must.
“If the parents can pay a little bit of attention to what their children are doing and what their Internet habits are, we can prevent further deaths due to the Blue Whale Challenge.”
“Instead of announcing a ban, there is a need to spread awareness about this game in schools and institutions, stating the ill effects of the game and how it could lead to loss of life,” he said.
Social media’s exposure
Speaking about the impact of social media’s exposure on children, Consultant Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Managing Consultant - Jehangir Wellness Center, Jehangir Hospital, Niloufer Ebrahim said, “Social media exposure is unavoidable today and younger people are bound to be more involved because it is a part of their lives. The problem lies in the furious pace at which it is changing and evolving. Before you’ve gotten used to one aspect of it, another lands up. Usually, people barely have time to think or analyse what is attracting them and why.”
“Secondly, the need to conform is always higher in teens and young adults. This includes the attraction to novelty, secretiveness, excitement brought about by possibly forbidden or dangerous things (substance abuse is an example).”
She added that there is no aspect of social media that is bereft of challenges to the mind and spirit. “I’m not surprised at the impact, mostly negative, that it is having on young minds,” Ebrahim said.
She further said, “I’ve always been of the opinion that parents are not vigilant enough. We need to remember that our children are always a few steps ahead and we need to be on our toes. Yes, depressed people may be more likely to take risks, even at the cost of their well being and safety, such as risky riding or driving and imbibing substances. Inner discipline is inculcated by parents and the society, but today, we are a society in flux, more materialistic and lost in the morass of irrelevant foolishness in the name of culture, instead of focussing on what really matters. We’ve also become desensitised to violence and abuse, including self-abuse.”
Precautions by parents
† Consultant Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Managing Consultant - Jehangir Wellness Centre, Jehangir Hospital, Niloufer Ebrahim says that parents and teachers need to focus on more human aspects of development than solely marks and numbers.
† Friends need to understand that real friendship is about support, not taking advantage of weaknesses, challenging their pals and goading them into acceptance of foolhardy and lethal misdemeanours.
Psychologist Niloufer Ebrahim questioned how we are just learning about the Blue Whale Challenge if it has been around.
"Should we as parents be more aware of our children? Do we communicate enough other than chasing after marks and percentages? Are our home atmospheres getting more toxic, inducing young people to seek escapism?" she questioned.
"These are fertile, easily influenced minds. We cannot prevent all fatalities, but yes, we can be more vigilant, have better communication with our young people, and gauge if they are unhappy, lonely, too keen on peer approval, people pleasers, suffer from low self-esteem, pleasure seekers and daredevils," Ebrahim said.