A social media game called the "Blue Whale Challenge" in which children are urged to cut themselves and take their own lives is raising alarm in the United States where suicide prevention advocates are advising parents to be vigilant.

The "Blue Whale Challenge" is a 50-day challenge competition where teens compete among themselves on social media as an online curator gives them tasks to carry out, such as watching horror movies and performing self-harming activities like cutting, CNN reported on Sunday.

The Sun reported in May that pictures of these self-harming acts were being posted by the teens on Instagram.

On the final day participants are prompted to take their own life. This online challenge, which reportedly began in Russia two years ago, has been reaching young people through social media platforms Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube. Suicides worldwide have been linked to the game, and as The Washington Post reported on July 11, is believed to have led to the suicide of a teenage boy in Texas.

A press statement from Russian state media says that Philip Budeikin, a 21-year-old psychology major, is now under investigation for "incitement to suicide." The statement adds that Budeikin confessed to creating the game and used a social site to encourage over a dozen teenagers to kill themselves.

Suicide prevention organizations are issuing advice to parents about the game's dangers, encouraging them to remain vigilant.

"Unless there is reason to believe your child already knows of or has played the game, don't bring up the 'Blue Whale' game. By doing so, you increase the chance that your child will investigate it on their own," the website of the American Society for Suicide Prevention advises. "Monitor your children's online and social media activity to ensure they are not engaging with this game."

Phyllis Alongi, a licensed professional counselor and clinical director for the New Jersey-based Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, explained in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday that it's essential parents take the initiative in fostering conversations with their "screenagers" — especially when they're distressed — and must actively monitor both the amount and the kind of media intake.

She also emphasized that there are many contributing factors to suicide and each case is unique, but the "crisis thinking" that adolescents are prone to engage in need not be fed by destructive media.

"The way kids process information is different from the adult brain," Alongi said. "Their problem-solving skills are not as fine-tuned as ours, so it's difficult for them to see past intense emotional pain."

Parents need to be armed with information, she emphasized. Her organization offers a free educational video called "Not My Kid" that answers the 10 most-frequently asked questions about suicide. The video dispels the myth that when they talk to their children about suicide they're planting the idea in their minds.

"Kids are typically relieved when they have someone to talk to," she said.

CP asked Alongi what she thinks is driving the seeming uptick in all types of media where suicide is shown as a positive solution to problems, such as in the series 13 Reasons Why, which in its final episode the lead actress takes her life in a grisly fashion.

"Unfortunately, the media tends to glamorize and sensationalize suicide," she said, noting that extensive research shows that when suicide is portrayed in this way it negatively impacts children and anyone else who is already having suicidal ideation.

"Anyone in the media who wants to report on suicide needs to follow the safe messaging guidelines," she stressed, referencing the website Reporting on Suicide.

She further noted that while she doesn't intend to criticize the producers of 13 Reasons Why, she did find it unwise that all of the episodes of the series were released at the same time, which enabled binge-watching and no time for teenagers to process the content.

Because the acting was good and the storyline compelling, people became "emotionally invested" in the characters without realizing the potentially destructive messages being sent, she added.

Provided by Christian Post (http://www.christianpost.com)