Choking game flirts with disaster

April 28, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Adolescents are playing a deadly game by choking themselves to get high.Cutting off blood flow and circulation of oxygen to the brain, and then releasing pressure to let circulation rush back, causes the high feeling, said John Milne, an emergency physician at Swedish Medical Center in Issaquah. It also causes brain cells to die.

The game is sometimes practiced with other children at first, and some children choose to continue the practice on their own, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Together, one child will choke another until they lose consciousness or faint. Alone, children use a restraint around their neck and tie it to a door or piece of furniture. Pressure of a child’s weight against the restraint can cause him or her to lose consciousness. If he or she falls forward onto the restraint, death can be the result. 

In the game, children are self-inducing a stroke, Milne said.

“The long-term consequences can be a variety, depending on what area was affected most and the duration of time it was deprived,” Milne said. “But they could end up with permanent motor dysfunction, personality changes, loss of memory and a whole spectrum of other types of responses.”

Milne said there haven’t been any reports of children having played the choking game before coming to the Swedish emergency room in Issaquah. However, that information isn’t something children will typically share, he said.


Children swap info online

Children find out about the practice through friends at school, at after-school activities, parties and online at YouTube, said Ken Tork, who lost his 15-year-old son Kevin to the choking game March 30. 

“Of the parents I’ve talked to, most of them have never been to YouTube, because they think it is a site for kids,” he said. “It’s not. That information is on there and they are looking at it. If I would have taken time to educate myself, I might still have my son.”

Choking game deaths usually fall in the undetermined category, because there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether they are a suicide or accident. 

The choking game “is a perfect example of where intent may not be clear,” said Dr. Richard Harruff, King County’s chief medical examiner.

He said he has seen child deaths that have likely been caused by the choking game in the 16 years he’s worked in the office. 

“It’s been pretty clear cut that it was likely,” he said, “or the family has said, ‘Oh, he’s done this before.’”


Statistics hard to pin down

But because the deaths are often undetermined, statistics vary drastically.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates at least 82 children, ages 6-19, have died as a result of the choking game between 1995 and 2007. 

However, the CDC statistics are limited to cases where the deaths of children from the game produced some sort of news media report.

The Dangerous Adolescent Behavior Education Foundation statistics estimate there have been 442 U.S. deaths in 2009. In 2008, there were only 12 deaths recorded by the foundation. 

The rise might be attributed to the self-reporting nature of the issue, and the fact that more people report such deaths as they become educated about the game.

Foundation officials calculate the deaths by tracking media reports and relying on families to report the deaths of children caused by the game, said Kate Leonardi, founder and director of the foundation. 

She founded the organization after her son Dylan Blake, 11, died from playing the choking game in October 2005. 

“It has gotten tagged ‘the good kids game,’” Leonardi said. “But it can happen to any child. White, black, green, purple, 9 years to 21 years, in suburbia, out in the middle of nowhere, in the city — it is everywhere.” 

However, people should be wary of the statistics, said Sue Eastgard, executive director of Youth Suicide Prevention.

There are about 100 youth suicides in the state each year, she said.

“Part of the issue, I think, is that it’s easier somehow for some people to believe that this was an accident, that their child was playing a stupid game,” she said. “It is much harder to talk about suicide, because there is a stigma around it.”

But while some children might commit suicide, Ken Tork said he knows that is not an issue with his son.

“Kids are aware of it,” he said of the choking game. “Parents need to educate themselves and talk to their children.

“You don’t get over the pain. You live with it,” he added. “I lost my son, but if other parents educate themselves, they don’t have to go through what I am.”


Common terms 

The choking game

Pass-out game

Space monkey

Blacking out/blackout


What to know

87 percent of victims are male.

Most that died were between 11 and 16.

Nearly all who died were playing alone.

Deaths have occurred throughout the U.S.


Warning signs

Discussion of the game or its aliases

Bloodshot eyes

Marks on the neck

Wearing high-necked shirts

Disorientation after spending time alone

Increased and uncharacteristic irritability or hostility

Ropes, scarves, belts tied to bedroom furniture, doorknobs or found knotted on the floor

Unexplained presence of dog leashes, choke collars or bungee cords near a child’s room

Pinpoint-sized bleeding spots under the skin of the face, especially on the eyelids or the lining of the eyelids and eyes


Long-term effects

Loss of consciousness



Death of brain cells due to oxygen deprivation can cause memory loss and lack of coordination


Broken bones, like the jaw, from falls

Hemorrhages of the eye

Learning disabilities

Attention and behavior disorders


Source: Centers for Disease Control


Where to get help

Centers for Disease Control: 

For Kevin’s Sake: 

The Dangerous Adolescent Behavior Education Foundation:   

Youth Suicide Prevention Program: or call the crisis line 206-461-3222

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment on this article at 

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4 Responses to “Choking game flirts with disaster”

  1. ken tork on April 29th, 2009 7:38 am

    hello to all, before everyone starts leaving thier comments I would like to express that you keep in mind that we have reasearched very heavily this issue. We found several videos right there on you tube that showed exactly what happened to my son. They have since removed the videos showing “the choking game” but there are still hundreds under other names. I recieved a frantic phone call from another parent that told me about her sons best friend who died apr 16th.. The details surrounding his death I found verbatum on You Tube as well. This activity is bradocast as being safe,fun, the words “it wont kill you” were actually tagged to the video , but there are many many more tag lines that will still get you to sites showing these kids doing it alone. My goal here is not to cast blame on or ELIMINATE you tube or other sites like you tube, but to raise awareness right now before school lets out of the dangers of the activity that is availble online that our kids will be watching while you are away at work. and even before you say it you are 100% correct you tube is not the problem! lack of education in our shcools however is! If it were not for you tube I would not have video availble to show these kids as I explain to them the realities of death. most of our school systems refuse to address this issue for fear of “putting the idea in thier heads”. Thats like saying dont talk about teen pregnancy because the girls will all wnat to go out there and gte pregnant..It fera thta is allowing this issue to saty hidden and very much active. As parents we are obligated to monitor what sort of activity comes into our home whether it be tv, friends or intenet. If you think just talking to your child is enough .Believe me you are mistaken. We as parents have a duty to our kidsto be their parents not their friends. I teach self defense and as a self defense instructor I understand the realities of the physical aspects of this activity. I talked to my son about dangerous situations , what to look for if someone is about to attack him how to defend from all sides, how to de -escilate a situation , I never taught him how to defend against a friend doing something like this to him because I would not ever expect his “friends” to try and kill him. We closely guarded our sons activity outside our home, but as he said many times home was where he felt safe. I never dreamed that the danger would come from within my home. but somebody showed this to him and that somebody has some culbability as well. If you are the kid showing other kids then you are the ones introducing them to “the high” and just like drugs they may want to try it more and more so you have just started a process that can eventually kill them and you helped kill my son. Wheras if you had never done it in the first place then they would never have known about and the cycle stops. Kids ARE dying from this. THE SAFE HIGH IS A LIE!!! it is not safe at all when you choke another person until they pass out ,you have jused caused a stroke just like in adults. .As for him being ultimatly responsible for his own death..YOUR RIGHT!! he was. He made a bad choice. A choice he didnt have enough life experience yet to undertstand. I went on line and reviewd hours of video that showed these kids doing exactly what my son did. Showed them laughing and having a grand old time..Talking about how ‘UN COOL” parents are that think this is harmless. Peer pressure to fit in can very easily over come any parental influence. I am a realist enough to know that kids will do what kids do. I am not going to save every kid.and I am not tyring to “find a way to cast easy blame and shed the responsibility of not watching out for my son ” . But I am trying to educate parents because most of them have never heard of this activity , and yes it has been around for decades but the availibility of it being shown in a way that makes it appear fun visually has only been around a few years now, and statements like the one Dr Eastgard stated is part of the problem. She has not lost a child only to turn around and see a video of another kid doing the exact same thing right there online. When she experiences that I guarantee her persepctive will change. most of the people in the medical community dont know how to deal with this so they label it with the simplest easiest answer because facing it requirestaking responsibility and most dont have the time or couragre to do that.
    In fact these sites use the same learning tool as our school system .audio , visual , kinesthetic, ..They see it , they hear it , they feel it, just like school. Some of you will say that we as parents are responsible ..well we cannot be home 24 hrs a day. .There comes a time when we have to trust our kids to make good choices and we do the best we can to give them the tools to make those choices. If we dont trust our kids they never learn trust. When they make bad choices or choose to listen to thier “friends” who say this activity is harmless and do we combat that? lock them in in a box?. Some of you will judge us who did not know us. Did not know the happy, loving, kind, amazing kid our son was. well go ahead. Judge. we have been tried and convicted and have been given a life sentence of pain and loss. Please know your words cannot hurt us ..We have just experienced the worst pain life can throw at you. I cannot bring my son back ..I cannot lose him twice but what I can do is try with every ounce of my being to save you from this pain, to resuce your kids, to let you know there is a silent deadly killer out there looking to come into your perfect happy home as well. God has chosen us to bear this cross,why we dont know, but we will so that you do not have to know this feeling even if you dont appreciate it..So pass judgement on my son if you will, you didnt know him, you have not read the HUNDREDS!!!!!! of stories we have recieved from his friends and classmates telling us how much he will be missed ,how much he helped them ,, how kind and compassionate he was. He was a gifted writer and he would be the first to defend all of your comments and say you have the right to your opinion.. I agree with that . somone in an earlier comment blog sated that if he was such as honest kid why did he lie about this ….he never lied ..I just never asked him about this again after the first time we talked about it 6 months ago and just like most kids he probably knew this was wrong and would not want us to know , just like the websites that tell them NOT to tell their parents or techers or counselors. . Parents please go learn about this ..Most of your kids will say they never heard of it or have never tried it .From the research we have done in the last 30 days and the hundreds of emails we have recieved from parents who have found out thier kids are trying it ..This is most likely untrue. We as parents want to think our kids never decieve us ..and for your sake I pray its true but on the small chance that they are afraid of getting in trouble or are choosing to belive the kid that wants to show your child this “free fun, safe, high”instead? go learn about this. ..dont take that chance or you will be right here yourself. Dont think for one second that your sweet angel will never do this..I would have staked my life on the fact my kid would never do fact I did ..I lost ..And as for those of you who still choose to pass judgment, I forgive you son forgives you ..God forgives you ..and when you have lost a child and you need to know how you will go on when the hole in your heart consumes your entire soul.. call me.. I will hold you and comfort you , pray with you and try to help you heal. please go to my sons blog site …..
    download the email that is there and fwd it to everyone you know. Watch the segment on the Today show .Learn how to restrict access to You Tube and other sites , How to block tag words, How to prevent your child from deleting the history on the computer..take action! Take action now before another teen dies!

  2. Karen on April 29th, 2009 1:09 pm

    O.K….now I am really scared!! I have been worried in the past that my son (17) may be doing this. I have asked him about it and he always says”No way!” I was just cleaning his room and had to pick up and move things to vacuum and dust (i haven’t done this in awhile hoping he would take over) and came across a # of belts… not his size… the cloth ones and even one that looked homemade out of some real soft stuff. The last thing that made me look on here was a belt tied to a rope and wedged in the top of his closet. Inside I know this is probably a definate red flag put together with his learning problems this year and the red face and dark circles under his eyes. I thought his face was so red after he spent time in his room alone because he excerted himself pleasuring himself. I am still holding on to this.
    I am so sorry and can only imagine how shaken you must be. I want you to know that I am going to have a frank conversatiopn with him when he gets home. Thank you

  3. Christina M on April 30th, 2009 1:28 pm

    The article mentioned the Crisis Line as a place to call for help (206-461-3222). In addition to the Crisis Line, Crisis Clinic also offers Teen Link, a helpline for teens, answered by teen volunteers (206-461-4922 or 866.TEENLINK). It is open every evening from 6-10 pm. Teens are welcome to call about any issue – big or small. More information is available on the web at

  4. Debbie H. Samantha Marquez's Nana on May 26th, 2009 8:14 pm

    I would like to send my condolences and to let you know our family shares the same grief. My granddaughter Sammii died the same way last summer. My daughter found her hanging in her closet. It has changed our life and we have started a non-profit organization,”Remeber 2 We have a small bit of success to go to schools and talk to teachers and staff about this horrible thing. I was very upset to see YOUTUBE showing kids all they needed to know about one of the most dangerous activities they will ever learn. I believe in freedom of speech but this is way over board.
    Sammii had just turned 16 years old. She was a smart kid and a good kid. She was always the comedian of the family and we all adored her. She liked sports and was a beautiful young woman at the same time. She had so many friends because she was so fun to be around.
    One friday morning in July my daughter, Michelle, was getting ready for work and she was going to wake Sammii up to watch her little sisters. Michelle went to her room and Sammii was not there. She thought to herself that Sammii must have snuck out. As she turned to leave she saw Sammii in the corner of her closet. She thought Sammii was changing and turned her back. She looked down at her legs and they were black and blue! Michelle then noticed she was hanging. She ran across the street to a friends house and he came over to try and get Sammii down but her skin had already swelled over the belt. Michelle has never been the same since. None of us have been or will we ever again. This is more than any family should have to deal with.
    Her friends came to us that day and said Sammii played the choking game. We had not ever heard of it. Of course none of her friends admitted to ever playing. This happens in many households, schools and get togethers. Her room was only maybe 8 feet from her mothers. You would think this was about the safest place ever. It happens to all kinds of families. No one should ever feel their kids would not do it! No family is ever safe from this horrible thing.
    We wished more schools would be responsive, although some are, there are too many that won’t listen. You are right they fear a kid will pick up on it and try it. If we somehow could get to the parents!!!
    I just wanted to share this with you and if you just need to talk go to our website.

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