The Choking Game

by | Jul 13, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

By Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: Do you know what skittling is? How about tussing, playing space monkey or the fainting game? Do you know which items in your medicine cabinet can give kids a “high?” If you don’t, you should—chances are your kid does. They’re all risky behaviors teens are doing these days. Many of these games have deadly consequences.

While there’s certainly nothing new about teens taking risks, many of the activities they are engaged in can have deadly outcomes. The best way to help your child be safe is for parents to stay up on what’s going on and know the warning signs. Beware: many of these activities are now being used by kids at younger ages. 

I’ll be posting a blog about each of these behaviors (the Choking Game, kid steroid use, cough and cold syrup addiction, and online gambling and others). I’ll also include signs to look for in your child, the risk factor, and parenting tips to help educate your child to prevent a tragedy.

I shared four risky teen behaviors on the TODAY show that all parents should be aware of. And the response was profound. I received dozens of emails from parents thanking me because they were clueless. We all need to get savvy — and those of you who don’t have teens, beware! Kids are doing these games at younger ages (like fourth and fifth grade) and most of the times they are playing them in your own HOME. 

Please pass this blog series on to other educators and parents. Let’s get on board together to save our kids.


The first risky teen behavior:


(The Pass Out Game, Space Monkey or Black Out)

Many kids have started playing a game called the Choking Game, the Pass Out Game, Space Monkey or Black Out. They shut off oxygen flow to the brain by pressing their thumb or hand tightly on the neck; tying a rope, necktie, belt around their neck; hyperventilating by holding their breath; or putting a plastic bag over the head until they get a floaty, tingling or high sensation.

It can be “played” in a group in which children choke each other or apply pressure under a child’s heart. It’s also gaining in popularity as a solo venture. The activity is addicting and can lead to brain damage, permanent neurological disabilities and has been responsible for a large number of juvenile deaths.


Signs to Look For in Your Child:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in attitude (overly aggressive)
  • Disorientation or grogginess after being alone
  • Frequent often severe headaches
  • Inexplicable bruising or red marks around the neck
  • Ropes, plastic bags, or neckties tied in strange knots
  • Curiosity about asphyxiation


What Parents Can Do

Warn your child. Explain that this “game” causes not only slurred speech, gaps of memory, sudden outbursts of anger, but also possible strokes, seizures, retinal damage, brain damage or even death. Be firm and serious in your talks. Most kids have no clue how dangerous this game is or how the brain is effected by a lack of oxygen.

Monitor your child’s bedroom. Do so especially if you notice locked or blocked doors and unusual demands for privacy.

Watch for signs. Blood-shot eyes, marks on the neck, asking about asphyxiation. Some children actually think this approach to “getting high” is safer than alcohol or drugs.

Get savvy. Many kids are doing this activity alone for the high. If the child loses consciousness and there is no one there to immediatley release the pressure, he is unable to help himself. The child could suffer brain damage and death usually after three minutes.

Please watch out for this game and know the signs! Seventy percent of children who died playing this game did so in their own bedrooms. Sixty percent of those children had parents in their house. This is serious and deadly. I can’t tell you how many times I post this blog, and then receive a stirring note from a parent of a child who died from playing the Choking Game. The parent is always thanking me for warning other parents in hopes that no one else has to ever relive the horrific pain of a loss of their own child.