An 11-year-old boy in South Carolina accidentally killed himself on Wednesday while playing the “choking game.” Just a couple of weeks into sixth grade, Garrett Pope Jr. had just started playing football last week, and he had big plans to play for Clemson. His parents say he was funny, smart, an awesome big brother, and a great son. And now they are planning his funeral.
The story caught my eye for so many reasons: I too have a football-playing son that age, and my heart caught in my throat as I watched him eat his cereal while I read about this senseless accident of a boy his age. But as I read about the “choking game,” also called the “fainting game,” I remembered playing the same foolishness with my friends at sleepovers during middle school years. We didn’t know it was fatal. Like adolescents today, we knew just enough to be dangerous.
There are two ways to play the fainting game. The first method requires a kind of forced overbreathing to the point of hyperventilation. When the person feels tingling and dizziness, he holds his breath to cause a blackout. A more dangerous version requires a rope or belt – or someone else’s hands or arm – around the neck to eliminate oxygen and trap carbon dioxide. This practice cuts off the airway just enough to provide a sense of euphoria. In both versions, the victim may experience brief hallucinations, involuntary movements of hands and feet, and short-term memory loss.
Any activity that deprives the brain of oxygen has the potential to cause moderate to severe damage to brain cells, with the ultimate risk of mental disability, permanent loss of brain function, and even death. Indirect injuries have included concussion, bone fractures, tongue biting, and hemorrhaging from the eyes. It’s unknown exactly when a person reaches a point of permanent injury, but the fatalities are growing across the nation. Parents are burying children who thought they were playing an innocent game.
The choking game is different from erotic asphyxiation, as it is primarily played by children with no intent of sexual arousal or gratification. They just want the experience of getting high, and they’ve found a way to do it without taking drugs.
Next page: Learn about the warning signs for the choking game.
The CDC encourages us, as parents, educators, and health-care providers, to become familiar with the signs of the game. These include bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck, severe headaches, or a sense of disorientation after spending time alone. Be aware of any ropes or belts tied to bedroom furniture, hanging from doorknobs, or knotted on the floor. Pay attention to unexplained items like collars, leashes or bungee cords. And listen to your kids. Be alert to anything that sounds like discussions about the game, including other terms like “Blackout” or “SpaceMonkey.”
We need to pay attention and be aware of these signs, and we need to make sure our children know the truth. This is not “a game,” but a strangulation activity that’s fatal. Tell your kids and save their lives.
Garrett Pope, father of the 11-year old boy who died playing the choking game last week, posted a heartfelt warning to parents on Facebook, pleading with them to talk to their kids about this game so that other families don’t have suffer the terrible loss their family is dealing with.