It’s a game that is every bit as dangerous as its name sounds.
The “choking game” is commonly carried out by teens and pre-teens looking to get a high by restricting oxygen flow to the brain through various means. Unlike other games, there are no winners in the choking game: consequences include memory loss, brain damage and even death.
In the Bangor Area School District, Superintendent Frank DeFelice issued a letter to all parents and guardians warning them of the choking game after he said school officials “became aware that some of our students have voluntarily engaged in the dangerous activity.”
DeFelice said this week that the letter, also posted on the district website homepage, was issued in response to incidents involving students that occurred outside of school. No choking game incidents have occurred at any school district properties, he noted.
Citing privacy concerns, DeFelice said he could not elaborate on the details of the incidents officials recently became aware of or the number of students believed to have been involved.
DeFelice said he decided to issue the letter to parents and guardians in an effort to avoid a tragedy.
“We strongly encourage all parents and guardians to speak to their child regarding this activity and its dangerous results,” DeFelice wrote in the letter to parents and guardians.
As part of the Bangor Area School District’s outreach efforts, DeFelice is encouraging parents to visit www.gaspinfo.com, a website dedicated to preventing future choking game tragedies.
DeFelice says there is plenty of evidence showing that the choking game has become a national problem.
Experts say children play the game to get what they perceive to be a safe drug-free high by holding their breath, giving each other "bear hugs" or choking each other with their hands. Many children "play" the game alone in their bedrooms with a belt or rope, many times while parents are in nearby rooms believing their children to be completely safe.
The choking game has had deadly consequences in the 69 News coverage area.
In 2009, a 13-year-old Phillipsburg Middle School student died from experimenting with the choking game at his home, authorities said.
Also in 2009, a staff member at the Franklin Township Elementary School in Warren County had her 14-year-old niece die while playing the choking game at home. The girl’s parents found her dead in her room with a scarf around her neck, which had been tied to the door knob. Not only had they not suspected their daughter had been engaging in this game, it was something they had never even heard of.
The death led to a district-wide initiative in Franklin Township promoting awareness about the choking game.
Back in 2005, an 11-year-old boy was found dead in his parents’ Horsham home. Police said the boy was found with a cloth belt tied around his neck while acting out the choking game.
Experts have noted that the centuries-old choking game -- which has been referred to in classical and Shakespearian literature and often goes by other names -- cuts across socio-economic boundaries. The majority of reported incidents have involved children from stable families. The choking game is most prevalent among children ages 9-16, but experts note there have been incidents involving children as young as 6.
Signs that a child may be participating in choking games include: bruising of the neck; bloodshot eyes; frequent headaches; sudden need for privacy/wanting their room door locked; and unusual attention to ligatures such as belts, ropes and scarves. Another warning sign for parents to note is the sound of thumps emanating from a child's room.
More information can be found on the web sites, www.gaspinfo.com and www.ChokingGame.net.