Why the Choking Game Is Extremely Dangerous for Teens

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. 

Why Kids Play the Choking Game

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. That estimate, according to parents and advocacy groups, doesn’t accurately represent how widespread the problem is. Instead, they say that the choking game claims more than 100 lives per year, but many of these are incorrectly attributed to suicide.

A review of studies on choking behavior found that 7.4% 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

Children who participate in the choking game may exhibit physical and behavioral symptoms or behaviors:

  • Marks or bruises on the neck
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • 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
  • Bleeding under the skin of the face and eyelids
  • Behavior changes

Other signs may include:

  • Wear marks on furniture (bedposts, 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, memory loss, seizures, concussions, hemorrhage of the eye, stroke, and brain damage.

Also, be sure there isn't anything going on 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 they need a good listener.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional Strangulation Deaths from the "Choking Game" Among Youths Aged 6-19 Years—United States, 1995-2007.

  2. Busse H, Harrop T, Gunnell D, Kipping R. Prevalence and associated harm of engagement in self-asphyxial behaviours ('choking game') in young people: a systematic review. Arch Dis Child. 2015;100(12):1106-1114. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2015-308187

  3. Korioth T. Children accidentally choking themselves for a brief ‘high'. AAP News. 2014;35(10):44. doi:10.1542/aapnews.20143510-44d

  4. Bernacki JM, Davies WH. Prevention of the Choking Game: Parent Perspectives. J Inj Violence Res. 2012;4(2):73-78. doi:10.5249/jivr.v4i2.119

Additional Reading

By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.