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Harvard Commentaries
35320
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


I was half listening to the television the other night and heard something about kids dying from the choking game. What is that? How can I tell if my child might be playing this game?


February 18, 2013

A:

The choking in the “choking game” causes a feeling of euphoria. Tying a belt, scarf or rope around the neck cuts blood and air flow to the brain. Youths do it to themselves or each other.

You may have heard other names: blackout game, scarf game, pass-out game, tap out, elevator, flatliner or space monkey.

We have limited statistics on choking game deaths. The best report is from the Centers for Disease Control. In 2008, they reported that 66 children had died from the game between 2005 and 2007. Most were boys age 11 to 16.

One-third of 8th graders surveyed in Oregon knew someone who played the choking game. About one in 20 had tried it themselves.

Boys and girls were equally likely try the choking game. Youths reporting substance use or mental health problems were more likely.

Death is not the only problem. Cutting oxygen to the brain can kill off brain cells within minutes. Each game can cause the equivalent of a small stroke.

Young brains are more resilient than older brains. Still, brain function can suffer. A child may lose sharpness. The game can impair thinking and planning. It can cause depression or irritability.

How can you tell if your child has ever tried the choking game? Watch for certain physical signs. These include welts or markings on the neck. You may see bloodshot eyes, frequent or severe headaches and changes in thinking.

Of course, the simplest method is to ask your child about the game. Share your concern about its dangers. Young people may not admit it, but they often listen to what their parents say.

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