Kids and the Very Dangerous Choking Game

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Teens are drawn to risky behaviors like moths to a flame.

Ask a teen to drag race and he thinks it’s a good idea. Have some friends jump off a cliff into the lake, and she jumps. But there’s another highly dangerous game that may put your son or daughter’s life at risk, one that has claimed the lives of hundreds of teenagers.

One of my best friends, Sandra,* was the widowed parent of an awesome boy. At 16 Kalen* was a star on the soccer team, pulling down great grades and was involved in his high school musicals. Everyone loved Kalen.

Imagine Sandra’s shock to return home from work to find Kalen dead from strangulation. It wasn’t a suicide; it was what teens call the choking game, the blackout game, the scarf game, the space monkey, the elevator, the pass out game, hangman, and flatliner. But whatever name it’s known as, it’s a dangerous obsession.

Unlike most risky behaviors engaged in by teenagers, this one is most attractive to the star students, the happy child and the one who is not engaging in other forms of risk-taking that might tip off parents that something is going on. That’s why it’s commonly called the “good kids’ high.”

These names refer to the process of temporary self-strangulation. Blood rushing to the brain creates a temporary euphoric high. Unfortunately, the “temporary” self-strangulation can quickly turn permanent, causing unintentional death. There is also a version where another teen will perform a choke-hold on another or constrict breathing until the person passes out. This phenomenon is so new that it was not even identified in medical literature until the year 2000.

This game is especially enticing to young teens between the ages of 11 and 16. Eighty seven percent of these types of fatalities reported to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta were boys. But these figures are probably low since some of the strangulations were mislabeled “suicides.” But even a high profile actor like David Karradine, made famous by the Kung Fu television series, was enticed by the euphoric head rush and unfortunately, he died in a hotel room while in Thailand shooting a movie.

Because of the secretive nature of this, most parents are blindsided by the horror of finding their child dead after playing this game. And, because it can be associated with sexual behaviors, there may be reluctance on the part of parents to share intimate details with other parents.

It’s time we become better educated and proactive parents. Start today by talking to your teenagers about the dangers associated with such risky games. And, become an expert about talking about “secret” things with your kids. The Mayo Clinic has published some warning signs to determine if your child is experimenting with the choking game.

Does your teen:

  • Have unexplained bruises around the neck?
  • Complain of frequent, often severe headaches?
  • Have bloodshot eyes or small, red facial spots?
  • Experience disorientation after being alone?
  • Have sheets, belts, neckties, scarves, T-shirts or ropes tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs, or found knotted on the floor?
  • Mention choking games, showing curiosity about asphyxiation or have a history of Internet searches about choking games?
  • Have wear marks on his or her furniture legs?

If you see any of these signs, it may be something else, but definitely start talking to your teenagers about the dangers associated with dabbling in such risky behaviors. There are many videos describing the dangers of playing this game on Google and YouTube. Schedule a time to talk with your kids. My friend Sandra was one of the best parents I’d ever had. She didn’t deserve to lose Kalen because she’d done everything right. Don’t suffer the same kind of heartbreak as Sandra did. Talk to your kids today about the dangers of playing the choking game.

**names have been changed for privacy

For More Information:

Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play (GASP)

The Mayo Clinic 


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