Blue Whale App: What is it and what should I do?

Yesterday evening I was at a Newmarket Parent Network event featuring Jennifer Kolar, Child and Family Therapist and founder of Connected Parenting . The evening was an excellent reminder to parents that the best way to help your students through anxiety, stress, and basically any of the woes of adolescence is to ensure your kids feel deeply loved and understood. In particular, Jennifer suggested the “Mirroring strategy” whereby you get into the mindset of the person to mirror their own emotions by paraphrasing, or summarizing. She advises, “Connect before you Correct.” Great advice for educators as well!

It was there, that my friend Bessie Valsis, co-founder of the Bully Free Alliance of York Region asked me if I had heard of the “Blue Whale” app.

The app, supposedly with its origins in Russia, consists of several challenges which culminates in the final challenge: the user is supposed to commit suicide.  A quick Twitter search led to information about a suicide in Naoirobi, Kenya connected to the game and it is clear that the more people learn about this, the more information and misinformation about it will start to appear on social media sites. Truthfully, as of right now, there aren’t too many legitimate news sources talking about it.

This is always tricky territory for me. If I talk about it with adolescents, it may likely incite curiosity and a desire to learn more about the app to try it out. After all, as Jennifer reminded us yesterday, adolescents do not have a fully developed frontal lobe, and are sometimes apt to make very questionable decisions. To NOT talk about it, may be just as problematic because you don’t know what the kids are thinking.

I tentatively asked my own girls this morning what they knew of the app. My daughter in grade 11 knew all about it as someone in her friend group had found out about it and researched it. My younger daughter had no idea what I was talking about.  We talked about the fact that it would likely never even be available on the App store here because of regulations, but as I have learned, there is always a way to access if someone wants it badly enough.

The fact is, any child who feels loved and is mentally healthy would not look twice at such a game.

My daughters’ advice: let teachers know to listen carefully and address it only if it seems to be a concern. This is good advice. I am grateful that I have developed a relationship with my kids which allows us to talk about things like this.

I would add, that the best reponse to negative is always positive. Perhaps take some extra time today to ensure that your child feels loved and understood. Instead of yelling about homework or the dishes, have smile a tickle or a hug ready. Or as Kolar suggested last night, some baby pictures to reminisce about.

As educators, we sometimes spend more time with kids than parents do. Perhaps take a few extra minutes in your class today to ensure that every student feels like you care about them (if you don’t already make a point to do this). This is tricky I know if the student’s behaviours drive you nuts, but as Jennifer Kolar reminded the parent group last night, these are the kids that need to feel loved the most.  Or perhaps try a Tribes activity or a Restorative Justice technique that you have been meaning to implement but just haven’t had the time. Perhaps today is the day that everyone writes their name on a piece of paper and it gets folded up into an accordion and passed around so that everyone in the class can put one positive comment on it for every student in the class.

Or you can tap into the #YouMatter hashtag or have your students share what is terrific about today (#TerrificTuesday) or tomorrow (#WonderfulWednesday) or you can share what makes your class unique and the students special, while inviting another class via Twitter to share as well.

If and only if conversations about the app seem to  gets out of control in your class and in your school (aka students seem to be caught up in reading about it or talking about it), would I go further. Perhaps students feel like they would like to launch an awareness campaign or you may want to have an inquiry provocation like, “What causes people to engage in Extreme behaviour?” (sports, parkour, etc..) and make that a part of the discussion. Ask students to research some of the Wellness initiatives happening at the school or community to support students at risk. Tap into the Semicolon EDU movement or #BellLetsTalk Or better yet, ask students what ideas they have to bring awareness to the issue. It’s definitely a good idea to also talk to your principal or see if there is any direction from the District if the app continues to get media attention.

It may blow over or it may blow up.

For the next few days, my plan is just to LISTEN and show all the students who walk in the door to my Library Learning Commons a little extra empathy and caring.

Even if this app is a non-issue, I think the approach and the advice might still apply to any problematic app that comes along?

2 thoughts on “Blue Whale App: What is it and what should I do?

    1. jencasatodd@gmail.com Post author

      Good to know and definitely a good thing. Think some of the advice might still apply no matter what problematic app might come along.

      Reply

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