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protecting children in the age of blue whale and cyberbullying

There is a new creature on the prowl. It can take our children’s lives. A Blue Whale. And it is frightening.

The Blue Whale Challenge is an online “game” based on completing a series of violent dares given online to participants through social media.

The dares require acts that include self-harm and mutilation and culminate in the suicide of the participant, making the game the newest, most sinister form of cyberbullying.

The Russian creator of the game has been jailed, but his protégés continue to target children. Blue Whale has taken more than a hundred lives from young people around the world, with some of the most recent reportedly from Mumbai, Bangalore, and other cities in India.

why parents must be protectors

With the prevalence of cyberbullying, and now a game with the ability to actually claim the lives of young people, comes the question:

How can we build our children’s resilience and make our children less susceptible?

The game’s creator has said that he deliberately preyed on players who were vulnerable.

What about if we could step in, at a young age, and stop that vulnerability from developing? What if we could help anchor our children’s emotions in a culture of warmth and connection?

two tools to build closeness and resilience

When a child is un-heard he or she becomes vulnerable. The everyday dents and pressures of daily life can add up, so that a child feels unknown and unseen by his parents and caregivers.

Connection bolsters a sense of a child’s worth, and invites a child to bask in your love and attention. As they grow up in this connection-led environment, they do so still in touch with and close to you. As a parent, you get to be guide, playmate, admirer and protector, instead of being shut out.

Blue Whale targets older children, and so we need to build this armour of connection with our children when they’re young, as best as we can.

There are two tools that you can use to build a sense of connection on a daily basis.

(It is never too late to start inviting a child to connect. Read Staying Close to Older Kids – How Special Time Can Work with Pre-Teens and Older Children and Keeping Closer to Your Teen: Why Parents Need Flexibility if you have older children.)

Playlistening is a tool that you can use to build a connection with your child using laughter. It eases tension and dissolves light fears that may occur in the day, through connecting laughter.

Any activity that is silly and generates lots of laughter will work, but it works best when your child leads the play.

Playlistening is not about winning, or playing by the rules, or teaching a lesson. It is about laughter. If you break the rules while playing a game and it brings laughter, that’s Playlistening!

Playlistening Changes My Daughter’s Mood in Minutes, shows how a playful response can really turn a bad mood around. It can even transform anger. For more on that read When Life Gives You Lemons, Try Play: A Playful Solution Helps Angry Tween

get inside your child’s head

Special Time is another tool which you can use to anchor your child emotionally. Special Time is a child-led play time that helps build trust and connection. To start Special Time, a parent sets a timer and tells the child they will play anything they want during the set time. Any conditions, like not spending money or rules about not breaking things, can be laid before.

Once the timer starts, the parent follows the child like a well-heeled puppy! Children may use Special Time to tell their parent a story, go for a walk together, or vent about their siblings, although there is never a set agenda. The guiding principle is to follow your child’s lead, an act that feeds into the parent-child connection and strengthens it. We use short 5 or 10 minute periods initially, to avoid struggling with disruptions or our own impatience!

Once Special Time begins, it is important to go with the flow as much as possible, even if the activities your child wants to do don’t make much sense to you.

use this special time to move out of your comfort zone

Your child may use Special Time to test you by asking you to do things that are outside of your comfort zone, and you can prepare for this possibility by identifying the things that you feel resistant to before the Special Time begins. You might even set a time limit of three minutes. Once you start, it will already feel safer for you.

One child asked his mother to count the leaves of a tree in the garden during Special Time. His demand was not based on logic; it was a test to see if she would really give him control. When she did count the leaves and report their number to him, it built trust between them and strengthened their emotional connection.

Your child may also use Special Time to ignore you, which can also be viewed as a test. If your child says, “Leave me alone!” you can say, “Okay, then I will still be here, sitting quietly.”

If your child says, “I don’t want you to sit here, I want you to go to your room until Special Time ends and leave me alone!” you can say, “I shall do so, but I will be thinking about you the whole time.”

Regularly connecting through laughter and play fosters a special closeness between parents and children. Parents are given an opportunity to slow down, to notice and to listen as their children express their thoughts, desires and ideas. You will almost certainly notice a difference in your child’s willingness to co-operate as you begin to bring these tools into your daily life, and you will know that you are working for the long term on developing a circle of protection around yourself and your child.

You can read more about Special Time and how it works with children here:

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