Playing ‘The Choking Game’

The Problem
You might remember playing a childhood game where you held your breath until you felt as if you might pass out, or deliberately hyperventilated in order to feel dizzy. Games such as these were most often born out of curiosity or a desire to experiment with bodies and feelings. They were considered a cool thing to do away from parents’ prying eyes when with a group of peers at a sleepover party.

These games weren’t considered to be terribly risky then – even if you passed out, you would quickly resume breathing. But today’s children are playing a riskier version of this game – one that can lead to permanent damage, and even death.

Called the “choking game,” this activity involves the use of hands, arms, ropes, leashes, cords, scarves, chains, ties, or belts that are tightened around the neck (or sometimes the chest) to cut off the body’s oxygen supply. When the pressure is released, the return of blood to the brain gives a temporary “rush.” Children between the ages of 9 and 15 consider this an exciting or thrilling way to get high without the use of drugs or alcohol.

What children are not aware of is that the sensations that this game produces can become addictive, and also that the game can be dangerous, especially when played alone. A child playing the choking game by himself can lose consciousness within one minute. With nobody around to release the constriction from the neck, death can occur within another two to four minutes.

Even those children who play the choking game with friends are at risk for permanent injuries such as brain damage or harm to the retina.

What To Do
Don’t assume that just because your child is a high achiever who doesn’t use drugs or alcohol that she isn’t at risk for trying the choking game. Risk taking is a natural part of growing up, and if your child doesn’t realize that this game is dangerous, she may experiment with it. Tell her that dozens of children have died from playing this game – none of whom believed that they were exposing themselves to any serious health consequences. Explain that the choking game can kill you even the first time you try it.

Help your child to explore safer risks, such as learning an activity, starting a business or taking a challenging class. Also, be alert for the following signs that could indicate that your child is already playing the choking game (which is also known as the fainting game, the blackout game, space cowboy or space monkey, the tingling game, or the American dream game):

  • Unexplained marks or bruises around the neck.
  • Short ropes, cords, ties, or dog leashes in his room or backpack.
  • Bloodshot eyes or petechiae (little red spots) on skin of face.
  • Unusual need for privacy, including locked doors.
  • Disorientation or confusion after being alone.
  • Raspy breath.
  • Complaints of headaches.

If your child admits that he has been playing the choking game and he is unable to stop, seek professional help immediately.