Isaiah Gonzalez had dreams of joining the military. His father served and Isaiah often talked about following in his footsteps. Now, that dream will never happen.
Earlier this month, the 15-year-old died by suicide.
“We had no signs of anything, what was going on with him,” said George Gonzalez.
The family believes Isaiah took his own life because of a deadly challenge that is spreading across the internet. Isaiah livestreamed his own suicide as part of the game.
“It could happen to any family,” George said. “It’s why we are urging parents to look at (their kids) social media.”
The “Blue Whale Challenge” is a made up of 50 challenges the participant is asked to do. The tasks get increasingly difficult and dangerous as the game moves along. In most cases, kids are asked to harm themselves along the way, all leading up to the final “suicide” challenge.
“It is sad that a person went to this length to hurt other people,” said Morgan Phillips of Teen Lifeline.
Kids are asked to post pictures of their completed challenges and tag their friends, encouraging them to participate. Isaiah sent pictures to several friends but they all thought it was a joke.
“They blew it off,” his sister Scarlet Cantu-Gonzalez said. “If one of them would have said something, one of them would have called us, he would have been alive.”
So far, there are two cases involving a suicide connected to the game here in the U.S. The game, which originated in Russia, targets kids who are lonely, depressed and often looking for some sort of connection.
“The challenge is their way of building a relationship with someone,” said Phillips.
A “curator” guides the participant through the 50 challenges and providing support and a twisted sense of permission when the challenges involve cutting or self-harming.
“Having a person telling you it is OK and encouraging you is a definite risk factor,” said Phillips.
Educational instructors and suicide prevention organizations are very concerned about the game and its targeting of the vulnerable and depressed. Child experts are urging parents to speak with their kids about the game. They are also suggesting parents look for the use of hashtags like #BlueWhaleChallenge and #BlueWhaleCurator.
Some ideas on keeping kids safe in this digital age include:
Have an open dialogue and talk to your kids about online safety and what they are looking at. Inform them that there are risks associated with conversing or interacting with people online.
Use the parental controls on your kids’ phones or laptop. This will keep them from accessing inappropriate online content and websites.
Pay close attention to your kids’ online activity and how they are acting. If you notice a change of behavior, you may want to have a talk about how they are feeling or what’s going on in their life.
Representatives at Teen Lifeline have not heard of any kids in Arizona taking part in the challenge but that does not mean some aren’t. The organization received almost 6,000 suicide calls last year. In the U.S., there are 5,240 suicide attempts every day by kids in grades 7-12.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, you can call Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN.