Recently, two new teen trends related to suicide have been getting parents worried sick in Singapore.
You might have heard of the Blue Whale game, a suicide challenge where teens who join on social media are assigned tasks to complete over 50 days. These tasks start off tame with challenges like watching horror shows, but progress to dangerous orders such as self-harming. The final, 50th task is reportedly to kill oneself.
Another troubling content that has been going viral is 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series released in March. The series revolves around Hannah Baker, a teen who explains why she committed suicide in a set of chilling cassette tapes.
Why Singapore parents are worried
Many of us might believe that being more open about teen suicide, rather than hushing it up, allows us to protect our teens better. But the way 13 Reasons Why handles this sensitive topic has led many parents to advise steering clear of the show.
For one, it features a graphic death scene where Hannah slits her wrists and bleeds out in a bathtub. Furthermore, it romanticizes suicide as a solution — Hannah's satisfying means of getting revenge on the classmates who wronged her. This dangerous message is definitely not something we'd like our kids to take away as a life lesson.
As for Blue Whale, the twisted game has already cost the lives of several misled teens. One 14-year-old Argentinian boy was rushed unconscious to hospital following a suicide attempt his family believes to be linked to Blue Whale, as reported by The Sun.
Though the actual links between the game and suicides are unverified, Metro UK has reported that Blue Whale has been responsible for 130 teen deaths in Russia. And now that news of it has gone viral, Blue Whale may also be dangerous because it invites copycatting by curious teens.
What teens in Singapore are saying
As a Gen Z herself, this writer was a little doubtful when she heard of the Blue Whale game. It seemed like one of those fake media rumours of dangerous teen trends, right up there with vodka eyeballing and snorting Smarties. After all, most teens in Singapore's education system have received cyber education and have Internet savvy from using it since young. Though not fully mature, we generally believe ourselves able to resist being swept up in the hype of online fads.
Other teens that this writer spoke to pointed out that the slow buildup — 50 tasks over 50 days — could be seen as a kind of grooming. "Isn't that a bit like what sexual predators do... slowly build it up so that when the last task comes it doesn't seem so insane. And I guess if all your friends are doing it, it wouldn't be as unimaginable like it sounds for us now," explains one 18-year-old.
Another teen, who watched 13 Reasons Why, felt that the series' message about suicide was more insidious as compared to Blue Whale. "I actually really enjoyed the show? It's only now with all the fuss that I'm starting to look at it more suspiciously. It's so cathartic because you want these people to feel remorse for hurting Hannah and you don't really realise that you're seeing her suicide as empowering."
What parents in Singapore are saying
With the online world a more treacherous place, Singapore parents are becoming anxious about whether their teens have the right skills to surf safely. Commenting on an MOE advisory on these games on Facebook, Leonard Lim says, "Such advice pieces worry me... Because it insinuates that kids raised in this day and age lack the ability to discern fact from fiction."
With young lives at stake, it may be that more drastic measures are necessary. Some parents are also calling for a ban on games like Blue Whale to protect our children better.
How to protect our kids?
Though it's not possible to shield our teens from all potentially harmful content, we can always teach them to protect themselves.
Just last week, the Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore, issued an advisory on these trends via its online publication Schoolbag. Here's a breakdown of the safety tips they gave:
- Know the warning signs. Keep an eye on your teens for distress signs like out-of-character behaviour, aggressiveness, and social withdrawal.
- Talk about your child's feelings. Get your teen to open up, and be non-judgmental when they do.
- Talk about what your child is watching or playing. You can talk about which characters your teen liked or disliked, and why he or she felt this way.
- Don't be afraid to ask your child direct questions about suicide. Break the stigma on suicide — open up a healthy discussion with questions like "Have you ever thought of ending your life?
- Encourage a wide range of coping strategies. Let your teen know that suicide is never a good solution. There are many ways one can relieve stress, such as confiding in others, sports, and art.
- Encourage your child to be a positive influence. Many of us are fortunate to have mature teens whom we can trust — if so, encourage them to be a pillar of support for their peers!
We've also come up with 3 further tips on tackling suicide with your teen:
1. Share your own experiences. We've all gone through teenagehood. Some things just never change across different generations, like the anxiety of going through puberty. Share your own struggles and the lessons you've learnt from them.
2. Don't freak out. We all get panicky when it comes to suicide. However, approaching this calmly will get your teen to trust you more.
3. Get on social media. Friend your teen on Facebook, or follow them on Instagram. Be sure to let them know that you're not spying on them. You just want to touch base with them once in a while!
If you or someone you know needs to reach out for help, do call these friendly helplines:
- Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline): 1800-221-4444
- Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Aware Helpline: 1800-774-5935