What Is the Choking Game?

What Parents Should Know About Dangerous Fainting Games

teen girl looking out window
Be sure you talk to your child about the dangers of the choking game, and answer any questions your tween might have. Photo: APatterson, freeimages.com

The choking game is a dangerous practice of tweens and teens in which they self-strangulate in order to achieve a brief high. The high is the result of oxygen rushing back to the brain after breathing is cut off by the practice of strangulation. The choking game (also known as space monkey) is very dangerous and can easily lead to accidental death. 

Looking for a High

Pass-out or fainting games have been around for generations, but there is renewed concern in the era of social media and YouTube videos, which can increase peer pressure and make them seem like a normal way to pursue a high without drugs or alcohol.

In order to achieve a high, children may use ropes, scarves, or other items to strangle themselves, either alone or within a group. The game is more likely to be deadly when such items are used, and when practiced alone rather than with a friend or group.

Prevalence of the Choking Game

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were more than 80 deaths due to self-strangulation in children aged 6 to 19 from 1995-2007. A review of studies on choking behavior found that 7.4 percent of young people had engaged in this behavior up to the age of 20. Boys are more likely to die from the choking game, but the behavior is a danger to both boys and girls. Youths who participate in the choking game are more likely to participate in other risk-taking behavior as well.

Signs Your Child Is Participating in the Choking Game

According to the CDC, children who participate in the choking game may exhibit the following symptoms or behaviors:

  • Marks or bruises on the neck
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Wearing clothing that covers the neck, even in warm weather
  • Confusion or disorientation after being alone for a period of time
  • The presence of unusual items such as dog leashes, ropes, scarves, bungee cords, and belts
  • Severe headaches, often frequent
  • Secretive behavior, irritability, hostility
  • Bleeding under the skin of the face and eyelids

Other signs may include:

  • Wear marks on furniture (bed posts, doorknobs, etc.)
  • Linens or ropes tied around doorknobs or furniture or in closets
  • The frequent need for privacy

Be familiar with the different names given to the choking game that you may overhear in conversation or see in your child's communications. It's also known as the pass-out game, space monkey, the fainting game, scarf game, space cowboy, California choke, the dream game, cloud nine, and purple hazing.

How to Talk to Your Child About the Choking Game

If you suspect your child has engaged in this dangerous behavior, or if you hear that children at your child's school have engaged in this practice, you need to take quick action. Talk to your child about the real dangers of the choking game, including death, coma, possible brain damage, broken bones, and hemorrhages of the eye.

Also, be sure there isn't anything going in with your child that could cause depression, anxiety, or desperate practices like the choking game. Try to get to the root of your child's problems, and if necessary, enlist the help of a professional counselor.

In addition, alert your child's school and other parents should you discover that children in your area are in danger of engaging in the choking game. Above all, help your child learn how to resist peer pressure, enjoy interests and passions, and make sure your child understands that you are always available to talk should he or she need a good listener.