GASP: Thrillseeking Kids Haven’t Got The Faintest Clue

I had really, REALLY hoped to kick off the New Year with all my Positive Picks in media, like Reddit’s Feed a Need.org, the new virtual world Elf Island.com, and even commercial eco-efforts like Nickelodeon’s Big Green Help …and I WILL…I promise.

But, alas, over winter break I heard some new reports and new stats of media spreading this ludicrous Darwinian IQ test of the ‘passout game’ which made me realize I can’t ignore it, as it keeps resurrecting like a stale fruitcake, making teen vampire obsessions a bright light of health by comparison.

I’d hoped ‘the choking game’ (fainting, blackout, hold your breath, punch the airway, whatever you wanna call it) would have ‘died out’ before my daughter reached middle school, or that risk taking teens in the 21st century would get their jollies out of cliff-diving and flying out of windows in VIRTUAL worlds…No such luck for weary parents.

Media is not to ‘blame’ for fainting game fatalities per se, as this scary/stupid absurdity has been around for ages in various slumber party ‘truth or dare’ configurations…However media IS responsible for the one-click “how-to” access of mass internet distribution, perpetuation via MySpace/social media networks, and YouTube ‘here’s how’ postings. Hmn…where are those live moderators when you need ’em?

The Preteen Alliance has a wealth of valuable research and resources, among them, reiteration that adolescents are smack dab in the phase of developmental experimentation, and most are totally unaware of the dangers of these ‘games’ children play.

Middle schoolers may not make it to high (literally or figuratively) if they don’t wise up and dis’ their peer pals telling them about ‘breath defying acts’ that render kids unconscious (or even dead) with oxygen deprivation induced spells…(often videos set to edgy soundtracks like “Ludacris” (talk about irony, there, eh?)

Many youth I’ve polled (advisors included) will dismissively roll their eyes:

“C’mon, how dumb do you think I AM?’

…While concurrently dishing on who’s doing what and how. (ahem, yes, I’ll be forwarding this article to a few moms I know)

I’ll be honest, I’m not wild about stepping into this quicksand, with dares and secret stunts like this being a prime testing ground for ‘trying too hard to be cool’ edgy bravado among those developmentally ‘dying to fit in.’ However:

Last thing we need is to provoke ‘moral panic’ since the CDC youth risk behavioral stats and a new government report shows ‘only’ about 82 youth fatalities,  whereas the G.A.S.P. site quotes 250-1000 based on many deemed ‘suicides’ that were accidental… Regardless, stats are not the focus; even ONE is one too many. But for the record here are some recent 2008 changes since 2006 from the Choking Game Awareness blog to keep current if it shows up in your school/state…

So how DOES one safeguard from the drama-driven zeitgeist of these media-fueled ‘magic tricks’ involving fainting spells and air flow?

There’s no doubt the preteen attention factor, socio-emotional immaturity, ‘group think,’ peer pack fame/exhibitionism, bullying, tribal behavior and self-esteem (or lack thereof) comes into play…Not to mention the ‘curiosity kills the cat’ (er, kid) mindset…

But you can’t come off as alarmist; that’s a surefire tune out.

Needless to say, for Shaping Youth it’s an awkward dilemma, since we specialize in counter-marketing harmful media cues, but we’re a bit challenged as to how to raise awareness without exposing the unexposed…Know what I mean?

Media has a way of ramping up with reverb that can zing in the opposite direction, and this one’s extra touchy to me, because I’m always tracking how media can ‘plants seeds’ we don’t want nourished, just as much as it can give youth a way to bloom and grow with positive perspectives and champion change.

After all, what was positioned as a ‘hold your breath, insert thumb’ blackout fainting game awhile back, ramped into edgier choking games with fatalities logged as teen suicides which were later reported in the media as accidental outcomes of ‘breath play’ gone haywire.

To me, the biggest danger is denial and ostrich syndrome among both kids AND their parents in oxygen deprivation scenarios…(‘it can’t happen to me’)

Especially when kids may not be purposely ‘choking’ each other, or using bags, belts and ties for a ‘self-asphyxiation dare’ or ‘to try and get high’…but simply allowing a friend to ‘let me show you something’ or ‘check out this cool trick.’

Innocent enough, right?

The G.A.S.P. site (Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play) organized by victims’ families to raise awareness has a flash educational video (albeit heavy-handed) and some helpful responses for kids, like “No thanks, I need all the brain cells I’ve got!”–(once braincells die there’s no getting them back).

It seemed somewhat dormant when I pinged it to research further, as if it died out/fizzled with the media brouhaha a couple years back. But alas, the dynamic is sure still in play, it’s just gone silent, which frankly, in some ways is worse…

With its many variations from forced hyperventilation (self-induced hypocapnia) to carotid artery pressure (strangulation, even ‘goofing around’) the injuries and dangers are the same.

In fact the DB Foundation (Dangerous Behavior/Adolescents) advocates for education universally, so that parents and kids recognize its other “names”—

The Choking Game, aka: Blackout, Fainting game, Pass-out Game, Flat liner, California Choke, Space Cowboy, Airplaning, Purple Dragon, Scarf game, (more here under medical studies/alerts)…as well as the high risks involved.

They have a strong point on their opening page with a child quoted as saying,

“It’s just passing out…no one ever dies from passing out.”

Because when I floated these antics around our own preteen advisors, I heard contradictions like this:

“Nah, I don’t know anyone dumb enough to choke themselves, but I HAVE seen the game where you take a deep breath and then get pressed against a wall and go out cold…it’s really wild.”

News flash, ace…That’s the same thing.

It causes hypoxia, a shortage of oxygen, and it’s just as dangerous as those other forms.

On the Yahoo Answers forum (an enlightening peek via the 17 kids commenting this past summer 2008) kids are ‘confused’ about the differences of the various iterations…

Let’s be clear, there ARE NONE.

Brownout/blackout call it what you will is still messing with your brain and oxygen flow.

It’s ALL high risk behavior in rite of passage mode, with males leading the stats in trial and error.

This article on Connect With Kids describes the element of mystery in the ‘game’ (it’s not well known, few are talking about it, so the allure is there)

“Basically, it’s a very dangerous play where the person deprives his brain of oxygen,” explains Dr. Ashraf Attalla, child psychiatrist, “By reducing the blood pressure the brain basically starts an irreversible process of dying.”

Gee, are we having fun yet?

Whatever happened to Ouiji Boards at slumber parties, summoning the dead instead of becoming one and the same?

A few spins around Google researching bad decision-making is just that…no more, no less, if taken outside of a pattern of risky behavior, as a study of 2,500 teenagers by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found, students overall feel they make good decisions.

The CDC report that mentioned the 82 youth fatalities also “did not include suicide attempts or autoerotic activity, which is considered a different behavior. It also did not include injuries from the choking game, which can include loss of consciousness, concussion, fractures, hemorrhages of the eyes, as well as permanent neurological disabilities such as seizures.”

Again, going ‘by the numbers’ is not the point here, the ‘devil is in the details’–“It’s not known whether fewer children are undertaking the activity or fewer media are reporting,” CDC’s Toblin said.

Regardless, median age was 13 (ahem, that strikes a chord) and “Almost 93% of parents said they were not aware of the game until their child died.”
So I guess that’s my purpose in writing this precautionary tome on the fainting factor.
What’s do YOU think is the best media strategy to raise awareness among youth without giving it media fuel?

There’s a petition here with about 5000 signatures to incorporate it into the Teen D.A.R.E. school program…And this counselor is going the education route too after a middle school birthday party showed up on her radar…But maybe if kids are hearing about it VIA social media and school in peer to peer contexts, we could USE social media and peers to curb the flow in ‘counter-marketing’ style?

For example: This video clip of a brain damaged/learning impaired teen shines a personal light on the ‘oops’ factor…That way, if you showed it to your child and they were approached to ‘try this’ they could ‘forward to a friend’ in MySpace style circles and come off looking like the media savvy mythbuster.

Or, maybe rather than embedding wellness widgets or a GASP cause app with firstperson quotes from victims’ families, we should just refrain from calling attention to it by including it as one of MANY ‘high risk’ hazings and rite of passage behaviors that kids need to dodge…using the D.A.R.E. program…

I don’t know. There’s a fine line between bubble wrap and brainpower used to balance real vs. perceived risk.

So, what should we ALL do?

Parents?Don’t be alarmist and panic prone (but DO take off the blinders)

Recognize it’s NOT just the ‘bored, restless and edgy’ kids doing this dumb stuff, there are plenty of athletes, academics and science-techie types that are biologically curious about the chatter of a ‘non-drug induced’ euphoria, marketed as a ‘natural high.’

Pay attention to what happens behind closed doors…Particularly in bedrooms where loud ‘thuds’ and horseplay and giggles are followed by

‘We’re fine’ and ‘we’re just goofin’ around’ etc.—Warning signs here.

Kids? Show your peers your OWN internet savvy by forwarding a few of these internet flicks, blogs, social media tributes and school memorials, in REPLY to any ‘BFF’ who gives you the ‘trust me it’s fun’ line or “it’s not like it’s not drugs or alcohol, we’re just goofing around” bit…

Media/marketing pros? Spend some dollars on screening/moderators/security staffing to filter what’s getting posted on your sites. I know it’s not easy, and recognize the Berkman Center/Internet Safety Task Force is trying hard to define much less plug the holes…But there’s a difference between ‘asking’ about these types of ‘games’ in kid-curious mode, vs. ‘instructing’ how to execute same. Enough. You all get the picture…

Here’s to a safe and savvy 2009 New Year…Let’s all use our heads (& brain cells) out there!

GASP Educational YouTube Clip Showing the Dangers (8:00, but you can get the gist in 2:00)

Visual credits: Lead graphic: NBC5.com/Chicago, logos from sites and links represented

Related Info At a Glance (Selah’s Counseling Blog)
Choking Game Education: Save your child’s life, be informed, be aware!
Choking Game could cost young lives.
Children Play a Dangerous Game
Connect with Kids: the choking game.
“Choking Game” A deadly trend.
Information and links to help raise awareness about the choking game.

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