Not Child's Play

The choking game is a dangerous practice that kids around the country take part in. It involves cutting off one's air supply and causes approximately 500-1,000 accidental deaths a year. Find out if your child is playing the choking game and put a stop to it.

Choking Teens

"Abby, what are those red marks on your neck?"

"Nothing, Mom."

"Nothing? I know better than that. Has someone hurt you? Did you get in a fight at school? Are you being bullied?"

"I told you it was nothing! Bootsie must have scratched me."

Twelve-year-old Abby runs off to play. Her mother suspects it wasn't their cat Bootsie that made the red marks on her daughter, but she assumes that if someone were really trying to hurt her, her daughter would tell her. After all, she taught her daughter about good touch/bad touch, taught her to inform her teachers and church youth leaders if someone tried to hurt her -- and was confident that it was nothing serious, that Abby had simply gotten into a fight with a classmate at school and was reluctant to get her or herself in trouble with the principal.

Playing with "friends"

Fourteen-year-old Todd and his two friends, Nick and Kyle, haven't emerged from Todd's room since he came home from school.

Concerned about the silence, Todd's mother Laura opens his door to find his room relatively quiet, but when their low voices and muffled giggles draw her to the closet door, she opens it to the stunning sight of Nick and Kyle cinching a necktie around Todd's throat.

A startled gasp escapes Laura as she grabs for the tie, words of shock and confusion spilling from her mouth.

Boys will be boys?

"Adam, are you in there?"

Adam's father, Rick, knocks on his thirteen-year-old son's closed door, and waits.

No answer.

Rick knocks again. And again, no answer.

"Adam? Are you asleep? Are you feeling okay?"

Rick waits, and listens, but no sounds come through the door.

Rick pounds harder.

"Adam! Open up this door!"

Adam has been acting somewhat secretive and evasive lately, so now Rick's worry is heightened even more. Sometimes Adam and his friends would behind locked doors for hours, and Rick's mind raced imagining what they could be up to: Smoking? Drinking? Chat rooms? Porn?

"Adam? Boys will be boys, but I'm coming in to check on you."

Rick steps back and brings his boot down hard near the doorknob.

The door shudders open and Rick rushes in, only to find his son hanging dead from a belt on the back of his closet door.

The new dangerous game

Although Abby, Todd, and Adam are from different families and live in different cities, they have one thing in common, and that is all three have engaged in the dangerous practice of "the choking game." Forget glue sniffing and gasoline huffing. The choking game is the "it" way for young people to get a rush without smoking, snorting, or injecting.

The choking game isn't really a game, but a dangerous practice that involves cutting off one's air supply, thus causing an intense sense of pleasure -- sometimes an almost erotic arousal. Although the activity has been lurking in the background for years, it has now moved into the spotlight, causing approximately 500-1,000 deaths a year.

The high is achieved in various ways. One way is to apply pressure with thumbs to the carotid arteries. Another is to use a ligature, such as a necktie, nylons, rope, belt, a bear hug from behind, holding one's breath until the last possible second, etc. Sometimes the game is practiced alone, sometimes with the help of a friend or friends. It isn't uncommon to see the practice performed in groups, and to see the participants taking turns and having fun at the sight of one another losing consciousness or behaving oddly due to the restriction of oxygen to the brain.

Although some practitioners have accidentally committed suicide while engaging in the process, ending one's life isn't the goal to be achieved -- they're going for a flood of good feelings. Brain damage, spasms, seizures, dizziness, hallucinations, and numbness can also be by-products of the game.

Different names, same games

The game goes by other names, such as The Pass Out Game, Space Monkey, Flatliner Game, and others. Although dangerous when played in groups, it is even deadlier when played alone. In a group, if unconsciousness is achieved, the ligature can be loosened by a friend, or the friend can go for help if the player doesn't regain unconsciousness. If using a ligature alone, the lone player may not be able to loosen the ligature in time -- and if he or she doesn't regain consciousness, cannot, of course, go for help.

Teddy, age 11: "Yeah, I did the blackout game, it was cool. You feel dizzy, like you don't know where you are, and then you come to yourself. It didn't hurt at all."

Nyla, age 12: "My friends told me about the choking game, and I tried it. I got a funny feeling, like being drunk, and then it passed in a few minutes. We did it together in the bathroom at school when the teachers weren't looking."

Greg, age 13: "My brother Mike is in a coma from playing the choking game, but when we did it, we didn't know something like this would happen. We just did it for fun. All of us tried it, and we all woke up. Mike didn't."

Why do it?

The answer is relatively simple. There are no deep, disturbing motivations for doing it. A child doesn't have to live in a dysfunctional family or be depressed or have suicidal thoughts in order to play this game.

Kids do it for kicks, to be cool, to be part of their crowd, or because it's the hot new thing. It's simply a stupid, risky game that they play to get a quick buzz. Most children who play this game think that nothing bad will happen. They simply don't understand the dangers involved.

Prevention and intervention

You may not be able to prevent children from participating in every dangerous activity, but informing them of the dangers is the first step. Be honest with them. If they're old enough to want to play the game, they're old enough to hear the consequences. Educate yourself on the subject, and then educate children, parents, and caregivers.

Signs a child may be playing the choking game:

  • Increased or uncharacteristic irritability.
  • Complaints of headaches.
  • Red-streaked eyes.
  • Seclusion with friends.
  • Secretive behavior.
  • Odd behavior that may indicate possible brain damage.

Advice to parents

  • Supervise your children's activities. Know where they are, what they're doing, and with whom they're doing it.
  • Talk to other parents, let them know about it, and encourage them to monitor the kids' activities when they're together.
  • Bring up the subject with teachers and guidance counselors. Chances are they've heard about the game, but what if they haven't?

If a child you know is involved in the choking game or appears to be addicted to it, there are support groups available. For more information, visit these websites: Stop the Choking Game, Choking Game Information, and Teen Wire.

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