The Choking Game is not a playful activity but a dangerous way some of America’s young people are using to experience temporary euphoria.
I learned about the seriousness of this problem at a presentation given by Scott Metheny, a Pennsylvania police officer who is on a mission to bring awareness to parents and kids about an activity that appears harmless but can have deadly consequences.
The goal of the game is to decrease oxygen to your brain, and then experience a momentary high as you regain consciousness. There are all kinds of techniques to accomplish this goal, such as by hyperventilation or tying a rope around your neck to restrict blood flow. In exchange for a few moments of exhilaration, kids are risking brain damage or death. Experts are now questioning whether deaths previously ruled as suicides were actually due to this game.
I was a bit uncertain about the extent of this problem until I began asking young people, including my own 13-year-old daughter, about whether they ever heard of this activity. In my totally unscientific poll, I was rather surprised that about two-thirds of the kids I spoke with had knowledge about this activity. In a recent study of 5,400 Oregon eighth-graders, 6.1 pecent admitted to playing this game, with almost two-thirds of those doing this more than once. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control documented 82 deaths over a 12-year period associated with this game, but experts now realize that is a dramatic underestimation of the severity of the problem.
My recent discussion with kids found one common theme. All of the kids had found out about the game from peers or YouTube. None of their parents, including me, had ever discussed this with their children.
Kids view this as a safe alternative to using drugs. The absence of immediate ill effects, combined with it being branded as a kind of game has made it quite appealing to many young teens.
What a parent can do:
Educate yourself about this game. Take a look at the GASP (Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play) website at www.gaspinfo.com. Be particularly mindful of the following symptoms that may be indicative of your child’s playing this game: marks on the neck, severe headaches or belts or ties in unusual places in the bedroom.
Talk with your child. I’m embarrassed to admit that my own daughter, like many other kids, learned about this activity from YouTube. Please don’t tell me that you are afraid that you’ll be giving your kids ideas if you discuss this with them. The choice is simple: Either you speak with them or you allow an electronic stranger from YouTube to have that conversation.
There is no safe way to play this game. It is more dangerous than many drugs, with brain damage and death both possible consequences.
Dr. Ramey, a child psychologist and vice president at Dayton Children’s Medical Center, can be reached at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.