Black out. Space monkey. The pass out game. The choking game. These are all names for a game teens sometimes play where they shut off oxygen flow to the brain by either pressing a thumb or hand tightly on the neck, tying something around the neck, hyperventilating by holding their breath, or putting a plastic bag over the head until they get a sensation of being dizzy or high.
Sometimes the risky and dangerous game is played solo, and sometimes in a group. Children choke each other or apply pressure to another child’s body. Experts say the sensation is addictive and harmful. The cutting off of oxygen can lead to brain damage, neurological disabilities and even death.
Some middle school students in Princeton are reportedly playing the game and posting videos on social media. A member of the local board of public health raised concerns Tuesday night at the board’s public meeting about a report that some students are playing the game.
Local officials are being proactive in addressing the issue. Dr. George DiFerdinando, chairman of the Princeton Board of Health, contacted a nurse at the John Witherspoon Middle School Wednesday to discuss the game.
“They have heard the story too but they don’t know who the youngsters are either,” he said, stressing the importance of getting the message out to parents and young people that they can hurt or even kill themselves playing the game.
“This game has been around for a while,” said DiFerdinando, a former acting commissioner and deputy commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and former medical director for the New York State Health Department.
“The important thing is to get the message out that there are plenty of reports of young people either hurting themselves or killing themselves doing this,” he said. “People can really hurt themselves doing this.”
Signs to look for include bloodshot eyes, mood swings, disorientation, frequent and sometimes severe headaches, bruises or marks around the neck, a curiosity about asphyxiation, and ropes, plastic bags, or neckties tied in knots left in the bedroom.
Warn your child that the game can cause strokes, seizures, retinal damage, brain damage or even death. Be firm and serious in your talks. Most kids have no clue how dangerous this game is or how the brain is effected by a lack of oxygen, says speaker and author Dr. Michele Borba. Monitor children’s bedrooms, especially if you notice locked doors and demands for privacy.
Following is a letter sent by the John Witherspoon Middle School principal to parents on Thursday:
February 23, 2017
Dear JW Families:
This week at the Princeton Board of Health meeting, there was a discussion on an activity that some youth are participating in called the “choking game.” The game is also known by several other names, including Space Monkey, the Fainting Game, and Black Out. In short, kids are persuading one another to perform a choking-like act, causing the person to temporarily lose consciousness.
While this is not a new phenomenon and does not appear to be gaining popularity in Princeton, there have been reports of a few instances of this activity that did involve students from JW. Conversations have been had with the families of the students involved about the dangers posed by engaging in this act. Because of the increased attention that has recently been brought to this activity, the JW school nurse will be visiting every homeroom next week to discuss the serious health risks of engaging in this act.
I have included here a link to a resource that details the signs parents should look for that may indicate a student is engaging in this “game.” I want to iterate that JW is committed to working closely with parents to keep kids safe.
With highest regards for our partnership, and in the best interests of our students,