First in a Series
"It looked like she was dying right in front of us."
That's what a Pine-Richland father said after recently watching a video of his daughter playing the Pass-Out Game with a group of friends from middle school. He saw his child hyperventilating, then someone grabbing his daughter from behind and squeezing until she passed out.
The PR parent said it took only seconds for his teenage daughter to wake up, but watching it felt like an eternity. The father, who asked for his name and that of his daughter to be withheld, said he recently found the recording during a routine check of the teen's cell phone.
Also known as the Choking Game, the Pass-Out Game is anything but a game. It is more aptly described as a strangulation activity that gives a person a feeling of euphoria by depriving the brain of blood and oxygen, according to an April 2012 article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
People sometimes refer to the activity as a way to get high without using drugs. They may believe it is harmless, yet people have died, been injured, suffered brain damage and experienced seizures as a result of it.
Between 1995 and 2007, 82 deaths involving children ages 6 to 19 years old were attributed to participating in the Choking Game, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pediatrics. More recent statistics are not available from the CDC.
Often, parents are not aware of the activity or how it is practiced until someone is killed or injured. That was the case in 2006, after the death of an eighth-grade boy who attended Jefferson Middle School in Mt. Lebanon, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.
The death of that boy is generally believed to be the first documented case of a death resulting from the Choking Game in Allegheny County. At that time, the boy's death prompted police and school officials around Western Pennsylvania to issue warnings to parents and students about its dangers.
Making the Pine-Richland Community Aware
It's difficult to assess if there's been a resurgence of interest in the game or how many children may be attempting it.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office said it does not keep specific statistics about deaths involving the Choking Game, but officials there said they have not seen any deaths from the game recently.
Police and school officials, too, said they have not received recent reports of incidents involving the Choking Game.
"We have not heard about it or seen anything like that," Northern Regional Police Chief T. Robert Amann said.
Pine-Richland School District Communications Director Rachel Hathhorn said she has not been notified of concerns about the activity involving local students.
In the interest of public safety, Pine-Richland Patch is publishing this information to make the community aware of the Choking Game and its dangers.
The group GASP developed a video, The Choking Game: Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play, above, to educate the public about the "game."
The activity is practiced in different ways.
In some versions of the "game," people choke themselves by using their hands, a belt or a rope around their necks.
Another version is to bend over and take a deep breath, stand up and have a friend push hard on your chest until you faint and fall down. Some kids simply hold their breath or hyperventilate until they pass out.
Approaching The Subject Carefully
The PR parent said that once he and his wife got over their shock and disbelief at what they'd seen on the cell phone video, they knew they had to approach the subject calmly with their daughter, who they describe as "a good kid who makes good grades."
Their child was receptive to their concerns, nearly crying when the parents showed the child articles on the Internet about young people who have died because of the game.
The child "didn't know what she was doing," the parent said.
'Looking for a Game to Play'
The incident occurred while the teen was hanging out at a friend's house with a handful of buddies. They were trying to think of a game to play when one suggested the Pass-Out Game, the parent said.
The teens were trying to see who could last the longest before "falling asleep," according to the parent.
"No one knew the severity" of the game, the parent said.
"The shocking thing is, the parents were right upstairs," the PR parent said. But the parents were not checking on what the teens were doing.
Danger of Challenges
The PR parent said he and his wife already had warned their child about the dangers of challenges like the Ice and Salt Challenge, in which children can experience severe burns.
Kids wet their skin, cover an area with table salt and then apply pressure with an ice cube until the pain becomes so unbearable they stop, according to a CBS News story about a 12-year-old Pittsburgh boy who experienced serious burns from the challenge.
But the parents had not thought to warn their teen about the Pass-Out Game, although the father said he had heard about it previously from news coverage. The parents said they do not know where one of the teens got the idea to suggest the game to the others.
Info Easy to Find
Technology, however, makes it easy for the curious to find information about it.
The first result of a Google search, using the phrase "what games are teens playing," is The Deadly Games That Teens Play | Psychology Today. The first game described in the article is the Choking Game.
Although some YouTube videos show kids laughing as they play the game, many others warn of its dangers.
Tomorrow: The second part of the series looks at a history of the game in the U.S., how to recognize signs, and resources to raise awareness.
Have you ever heard of the Choking Game? Have you talked to your children about it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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