The "Choking Game" Leads To Student Deaths: Schools Respond With Training?

In 2010, Judy Rogg came home to find her only child, Erik, hanging from the pull-up bar in the kitchen of his family's home in California. She tried to remove the rope around his neck but failed. She ran out of her house screaming for help. A neighbor heard her and rushed over. He removed the rope from the boy's neck and gave him CPR. It was too late. The boy was brain dead. The next day, at the hospital, the mother removed her only child from life support.

The boy was only 12. He had been playing the "Choking Game."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S. alone, 82 children between the ages of six and 19 died after playing the Choking Game between 1995 and 2007, according to the most recent available information. Most of them were boys between the ages of 11 and 16, according to a CDC report. The federal government has not conducted a study since the last CDC report but there have been more deaths caused by this so-called "game." A quick Google search of "choking game" under News reveals numerous countless current reports.

More than 1,400 children and teens died from accidental hanging and strangulation from 2000 to 2015.

The so-called purpose of the game is a momentary high. Instructions on how to play the Choking Game were spread through word of mouth in the beginning. It was carried out in pairs or groups where one student will squeeze air out of another but will stop just short of the danger point.

Now that we are in the digital age, however, there are millions of how-to videos on asphyxiation available online. This means, students are more likely to play the Choking Game alone in their bedrooms, choking themselves with their own belts and shoelaces, according to advocates. Without the safeguard of a fellow player, the intended goal of a momentary high often turns fatal.

A quick search in YouTube turned up more than 36 million results for "how to play pass out game" and more than 500,000 results for "how to play choking game," which include everything from homemade tutorials to news reports.

Today, a group of grieving parents, mostly mothers are spreading an urgent message to technology companies, schools, and the nation's policymakers, but they often feel no one is listening to them.

Many coroners are not trained to identify death caused by the game, so deaths are often misclassified as suicides, according to several coroners across the country.

Some schools are also reluctant to raise awareness about the dangers of the Choking Game (a/k/a space monkey), thinking the lesson might teach students how to play the game instead of preventing them from taking part in this dangerous game.

Although YouTube and Facebook have begun to take down disturbing videos showing children playing the game using belts or ropes, advocates say video companies are not responding fast enough.

Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play (GASP) is a nonprofit founded by Sharron Grant when her 12-year-old son Jesse died in 2005 after he played the Choking Game using a rubber computer cord and accidentally suffocated.

Grant has been frustrated at how difficult it is to prevent children from dying in the same way.

Facebook said it had been investigating this issue for the last 15 months but did not find any related videos on its platform. Snapchat did not respond when asked about the Choking Game and YouTube has been taking down offensive videos related to the game. However, these actions do not stop teens from continuing to post new videos online.

Judy Rogg started the nonprofit, Erik's Cause, after her son's death. She developed her own training program to help schools to teach kids about the dangers of the game without using graphic, specific language in an effort not to show kids how to do the game itself.

In 2014, her training program was adopted for the first time by a school district in Utah after four children died from playing the Choking Game in a three-year period. About 10,000 students have gone through the program since it was implemented, and no other child in the district has died by accidental hanging or strangulation since, according to the district's former director of secondary education who has recently retired. Melissa Chan "Kids Are Playing the 'Choking Game' to Get High. Instead, They're Dying" (Mar 12, 2018); Arianna MacNeill "2 N.H. high school students faint while playing the 'choking game'" (Nov. 06, 2019); Mike Cronin "Goffstown school officials warn parents after two students play 'choking' game" (Nov. 04, 2019); Joshua Rhett Miller" Teen won't survive after trying viral 'choking game': mom" (May 06, 2019).

The more education students have on the dangers of games like this, the more likely they may not play or they may survive. The "game" provides them a free and legal high and is accessible to anyone. Only by hearing the grim results of a game gone wrong, over and over again, can students understand the life or death gamble involved.

If you work with students or have children, be aware of this risk and of the signs a student may be engaged in the game.

What are the signs that a student may be playing the Choking Game?

  • The child discusses the choking game with friends or siblings
  • The child has bloodshot eyes
  • The child has unexplainable marks on his/her neck
  • He/she has frequent headaches
  • He/she is disoriented after spending time alone
  • There are ropes, belts, or scarves tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs
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