The Choking Game
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|Wednesday, June 29th, 2005||Emily Halevy | CWK Network|
“It’s something that’s not talked about, it’s not well known, and there’s a lure to that.”
– Sarah Johnson, 20, witnessed kids choking themselves
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Initially ruled a suicide, 13-year-old Chelsea Dunn may have accidentally killed herself by what some kids call a game.
“They call it something dreaming,” says twenty-year-old Kelly Pilger. Sarah Johnson remembers, “They call it fainting each other.”
Self-asphyxiation-choking each other or themselves, which produces a kind of high. “Press people up against a wall, until they didn’t have any oxygen, until they passed out,” describes Kelly. Jessica Fuller says “[they] probably do it for about four hours at a time, like repeatedly, over and over again.”
They use bags, belts, ties, or even their own bare hands, causing hypoxia, a shortage of oxygen. “Basically, it’s a very dangerous play where the person deprives his brain of oxygen,” explains Dr. Ashraf Attalla, child psychiatrist, “By reducing the blood pressure the brain basically starts an irreversible process of dying.”
And he says the result can be permanent brain damage, or in cases like Chelsea Dunn- death.
Obviously there is no drug test, but there are clues that parents need to watch for. “Any unusual marks around the neck. Parents might find some ties, or ropes tied in unusual ways, complaints of headaches, blood shot eyes,” explains Dr. Attalla.
He says some kids may be fascinated by this strange and dangerous play. As Sarah Johnson says, “It’s something that’s not talked about, it’s not well known, and there’s a lure to that.”
And that’s why experts say- take away the mystery. Teach your kids that this is no game. “It’s a very, very dangerous practice,” says the doctor, “and I think the community and parents need to know about this.”
By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.
The occurrence of teens choking themselves to get a rush is just one instance of bad decision-making by individuals in an age group notorious for making bad decisions. However, a recent study of 2,500 teenagers by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found that studen ts overall feel they make good decisions. The newspaper asked its readers the following question: “Have you ever made an important decision that you believe changed the course of your life? If so, describe the situation and your thoughts about it now.” Here are some of the findings:
- Life or Death – Students wrote about the decision to wear a seatbelt, take the keys from a drunk driver and ride in one car versus another … that crashed on the way home. They also wrote about their own reckless behavior, such as surviving a game of “chicken” with speeding sleds or snowmobiling over thin ice.
- Sports – Another topic centered around school and sports activities. Many students wrote the decision to participate in basketball or hockey, softball or track, had a huge impact on who their friends were, and on their thoughts about their abilities, hopes and dreams. One young man said that even though his leg was broken during a football game, he didn’t regret the decision to play.
- The Arts – Similarly, the decision to play a musical instrument, go to camp, or take dance or figure-skating lessons often changed students’ lives. One student wrote the decision to cave in to his teasing friends cost him the enjoyment and enrichment of joining his high school choir.
- Families – Students wrote about making decisions that affect their family life. Most common were heart-wrenching essays about having to decide which parent to live with after a divorce, or about deciding to break off relations with an absent or unreliable parent. Several said they were able to share in the decision about whether the family should grow – with a marriage, a new baby or an adoption. Students also wrote about deciding to treat their families better, to cherish their siblings or spend one more day with a dying grandparent.
- Friends – Many essays also addressed friendships. Some students were grateful for their choices, while others wrote about the difficult decision to break ties with friends who they felt were leading them down the wrong path.
- Difficult Choices – From a surprisingly early age, students wrote about facing pressure to drink, smoke, use drugs or to have sex, from their peers and also from their elders. One girl wrote that her baby sitter asked her to join him in doing drugs. Many wrote about having a dreaded confrontation where someone asks them, “Do you want to … ” and having to summon the courage to say, “No thanks.” Others wrote about saying yes, and the impact it had on their lives as they struggle to quit smoking or stay clean and sober.
- Parenthood – Sometimes a decision affects more than the student, such as one resulting in a new role never anticipated: Parenthood.
- Making Good Choices – Still, most students who wrote in seemed proud of their decisions, and felt they were capable of making more good ones.
Tips for Parents
By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.
As your teen begins to make important life decisions, the National PTA advises that you keep the following points in mind:
- Help your teen understand that decisions have consequences both for himself or herself and others. For instance, a teen might decide to take up smoking because it looks “mature” without considering that smoking carries a variety of consequences including yellow teeth, smoker’s breath, an expensive habit, and increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
- Show your teen that not making a decision when one is needed can be as bad as making the “wrong” decision. Your teenage son can’t decide whether to rent a black or white tuxedo for the prom. In the meantime, all the tuxedos are rented, and now he must buy one.
- If you are not sure what kinds of decisions your teen is mature enough to handle, give him or her the chance to try making some decisions. Be supportive, friendly and ready at-hand to save the day, if necessary. This will help you and your teen know what he or he is ready to do for himself or herself.
- Accept your teen’s decisions. Remember, no decision is perfect. Support his or her ability to make decisions.
- Understand that many of your teen’s decisions will be based on his or her personal tastes and needs and, therefore, may not match the decision you would have made for him or her.
- Lay ground rules or limits for decision-making. If your teen wants to do something that is clearly harmful or unacceptable, explain why you cannot allow him or her to act on that decision.
According to the American Psychological Association, many times you can offset dangerous risk-taking behavior simply by being there. Knowing what is going on in your child’s life is the most effective thing you can do to keep your teen physically and emotionally safe:
- Encourage positive risk-taking.
- Having a solid relationship with your teen, preferably begun when he or she was young, can help him or her make judgment calls when you are not there to supervise. At the least, it will keep the door open for your teen to talk to you about the issues he or she faces.
- Be able to speak frankly with your teen about addictive substances and dangerous behaviors. Most important, set a good example.
- Establish a pattern of asking and, as much as possible, knowing where your teen is and with whom he or she is spending time.
Another essential method of keeping your teen free from risks is to keep the lines of communication open. Keep in mind these points about communication from the Child Development Institute:
- Let your teen know that you are interested and involved and that you will help when needed.
- Turn off the television or put the newspaper down when your teen wants to converse.
- Avoid taking a telephone call when your teen has something important to tell you.
- Unless other people are specifically meant to be included, hold conversations in privacy. The best communication between you and your teen will occur when others are not around.
- Embarrassing your teen or putting him or her on the spot in front of others will only lead to resentment and hostility, not good communication.
- If you are very angry about a behavior or an incident, don’t attempt communication until you regain your cool because you cannot be objective until then. It is better to stop, settle down and talk to your teen later.
- Listen carefully and politely. Don’t interrupt your teen when he or she is trying to tell his or her story. Be as courteous to your teen as you would be to your best friend.
- If you have knowledge of the situation, confront your teen with the information that you know or have been told.
- Keep adult talking (“You’ll talk when I’m finished.” “I know what’s best for you.” “Just do what I say and that will solve the problem”), preaching and moralizing to a minimum because they are not helpful in getting communication open and keeping it open.
- Reinforce your teen for keeping communication open. Do this by accepting him or her and praising his or her efforts to communicate.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune
- National PTA
- American Psychological Association
- Child Development Institute