This deadly tween trend has been around for decades—and horrifying news reports prove it's not disappearing. Here's what parents need to know. 

By Melanie Mannarino
Updated March 19, 2018
Flashpop/Getty Images

I’ve gotta be honest: In the future, I’d much prefer my (now 8-year-old) son experiment with marijuana to see what it’s like to get high, than experiment with some of the other things tween and teen boys are doing. Time reported that the “choking game” or "pass-out game" is still claiming the lives of boys between the ages of 11-16. In fact, while the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control tracked 82 deaths of kids ages 6-19 between 1995 and 2007 (the most recent stats they have on this decades-long “trend”), the news accounts keep on coming.

I hate to go into details (and have this article get Googled as a how-to for kids who curious to try), but according to the Time article, the idea is that you choke/strangle yourself just long enough to feel a euphoric light-headedness, but not long enough to die. It’s a fine line—and not one I’d ever like to walk. You might have heard of adults choking themselves as part of sex play (that’s called autoerotic asphyxiation). The goals are different—for kids, it has nothing to do with sexual pleasure—but the potential deadly result is the same. In fact, that’s how the singer of my favorite '80s band, Michael Hutchence of INXS, accidently died. So, uh, if adults can’t walk this fine line without losing their lives, you can see how kids don’t stand a chance.

And before you think I’m paranoid for worrying that by writing this piece I’ll be part of the problem, let me tell you that there are evidently millions of how-to videos about this. Time reports that a quick YouTube search turns up more than 36 million results. They also report that since December 2017, YouTube has made a more concerted effort to removing content that threatens child safety, including choking-related content. Helpful, yes—but this game has been going on since before YouTube existed, and we haven’t been able to stop it yet.

What’s the solution then? As always, we should talk to our kids. And know what they are watching and searching for when they’re on the computer. And try to maintain a vibe of open communication, where they know they can come to us and ask, “Mom, have you ever heard of the choking game or the pass-out game?” If you’re as horrified by this as I am, you could also check out G.A.S.P. which stands for Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play. It’s an organization started by a mom who’s son died 13 years ago. There, you can find information on this issue, forums in which to share your experiences and learn from others, stats, petitions, surveys, and ways you can bring awareness to this issue in your own community. Another mom started Erik’s Cause, which offers parents and educators resources on how to teach kids about the dangers of this game without making it seem appealing.

And so am I going to hand my son a joint and suggest he do that instead? I’m not (though I still argue that it’s a safer way to get high). But I am going to do my best to stay involved in his life, to lead by example when it comes to thrill-seeking, and to educate myself about this and other issues that could hurt our kids.