It's All Fun and Games 'til Someone Pokes an Eye Out … Or Chokes to DeathCarolyn Castiglia
I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve ever heard about asphyxiation, fainting or choking games. After all, as ABC News notes, “The choking game has been around for decades, billed as a “safe” way to get a rush or a high from passing out.” But what you might not know is how many kids are playing these games, why, and just how deadly they can be.
In case you’re not familiar with this sort of tween and teen daredevil stuff, “In the choking game, a person cuts off oxygen and blood flow to the brain with a towel, belt or rope, or hyperventilates until they pass out. When the blood and oxygen rush back to the brain, it creates a euphoric high,” ABC News reports. A Pediatrics study shows that six percent of the 5,400 eighth graders they interviewed in Oregon admit to having tried it at least once, and of that six percent, “64 percent had played more than once and 27 percent had done it more than five times. Boys and girls were equally likely to have participated.” Six percent may not be a huge number, but that’s nearly 500 kids in one state alone. One West Coast boy died two years ago from playing the game.
According to ABC News, 12-year-old Erik learned the game on his school’s playground, and the next day “he tried it on his own at home after school using his rope from Boy Scouts.” His mother “came home and discovered him dead in their living room.”
One of the study’s authors, Robert Nystrom, adolescent health manager at the Oregon Public Health Division, says “it’s significant that kids who play the choking game are also experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sex.” ABC News adds, “About 16 percent of boys and 13 percent of girls who reported using alcohol, tobacco or marijuana on the health survey also reported playing the choking game. Girls who reported being sexually active were four times as likely to participate in the choking game as those who had never had sex.” Parents, be aware that there is a version of the choking game meant to provide sexual pleasure, as well. I hadn’t heard of autoerotic asphyxiation until I watched George Carlin’s final stand-up special, “Life is Worth Losing.” Carlin says, “The kids call it scarfing …. 1000 kids a year die this way, okay? 1000 of ’em die, so think how many of ’em are trying to pull this off … if you’ll pardon the pun.” MedicineNet confirms Carlin’s observation about the high number of choking-related deaths annually, though not all of the the 1000 deaths may involve children. Nonetheless, this is something surely worth talking to your kids about.
MedicineNet notes that, “Autoerotic asphyxiation is one of the few sexual practices that remain hush-hush, mainly because forensic scientists and psychologists won’t talk about it outside their professional circles. They’re afraid of giving kids ideas.” They quote Mark Clark, a detective sergeant with the Scottsdale, Ariz., police department, who argues that “even if sexual asphyxiation is kept out of the media, kids will discover it on their own.” He says, “After kids get into the practice they look for information on how to do it more safely, and they must be told that there is no way to do it safely.”
Clark thinks “a good way to educate kids would be to approach asphyxiation in a nonsexual way.” He says, “A lot of kids learn that it arouses them as a result of trying it because they’ve heard the practice can get them high. Teach them that they can die from that. You don’t have to talk about the sexual end of it.”