Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang sent a message to families this week warning them about the so-called “Blue Whale Challenge,” which reportedly uses social media to encourage self-harm and suicide among adolescents.
“We believe that part of our role is informing school communities when issues arise that can impact our youth,” Chang said in the letter on Wednesday. “There is debate as to whether this challenge exists. Despite this, we feel that it is important to share this information should you encounter this type of troubling trend with your child or anyone you know.”
Boston Public Schools spokesman Dan O’Brien said the school system has received no reports of students expressing interest or participating in the game, and was acting out of caution.
“It appeared to be a disturbing potential trend that had taken notice of school leaders in school districts all around the country,” he said. “There was no particular case in Boston that prompted this. This was sent out of an abundance of caution.”
Reports, which may have originated in Russia, about the online game say it leads youths through a series of steps over the course of 50 days that culminates in suicide. The parents of Texas 15-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez, who committed suicide last month, attribute his death to the game, according to San Antonio news outlet WOAI. But watchdog organizations, such as Snopes and the Cyberbullying Research Center, who have traced reports about the game back to Russian media sources, say it may be a hoax.
Real or not, school districts across the country are sending cautionary messages to parents, urging them to talk to their children about self-harm and suicide.
In his message Wednesday, Chang directed parents to resources including a suicide prevention fact sheet available on the Boston Public Schools website, and a phone number for the school district’s Behavioral Health Services department.
“The BPS Department of Behavioral Health Services has well-trained staff, including school psychologists and social workers, to ensure that students receive appropriate supports if needed, even in the summer months,” Chang wrote.
A spokesman for the Boston Police Department, Lieutenant Detective Michael P. McCarthy, said the department is aware of the rumors about the game, but has received no reports related to it. He said police officers assigned to city schools would continue to monitor for signs of any student involvement in it.