Risky game a dangerous one

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Parents, take note. The stories are real. Each will tug at your heart and challenge your faith. Each will gnaw at your gut, tear your eyes and alter your sleep. And they are growing in number.

Twelve-year-old Jesse was an active young athlete. He played baseball, soccer and hockey, ran cross-country and loved to camp out with his dad and brother. He was well liked, had a quick smile and was an &#8220A” student who enjoyed helping others.

On a dreary Saturday Sharron, his mom, came home expecting to find Jesse, his cousin and his brother playing. When she found just his brother and cousin, she sent the cousin one way to find him while she casually went downstairs herself.

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She found him.

The non-forgiving rubber-coated cord of his computer strangled him. Efforts to save him failed. He died in the hospital hours later.

Ten-year-old Dylan was smart, funny and clever, a curious observer of life who loved the beach and was becoming a skilled skateboarder and rollerblader. He was an animal activist, one who, at an early age, valued and protected nature and its daily miracles and mysteries.

It was a Wednesday night when his mom, Kate, entered his room, just 15 feet from where she had been sitting. Instead of sharing a smile or a laugh, she cradled his head one last time, whispered a sweet good-bye and listened as he took his last breath.

He had played the game and lost.

Just like Jesse. Just like dozens of other youngsters last year and hundreds like them before that.

The game. A seemingly harmless, senseless, innocent, simple event that provides a euphoric high without the need for alcohol or drugs.

Cool, risky, dangerous. And deadly.

Some participants call it The Choking Game. Others refer to it as Space Monkey, Pass Out, Black Out, Knock Out, Rising Sun. Hawaiian High. Or dozens of other monikers.

Parents don't know what to call it. Most are ignorant to its existence. Some, like Sharron and Kate, discover it too late.

The rules are simple. Children choke each other until the person being choked passes out. The act causes physiological changes that lead to a rapid loss of consciousness, which some perceive as being pleasurable. When the blood flow is rapidly resumed by releasing the pressure, it produces something of a rush, again offering a high many feel pleasurable.

Quick. Easy. Clever. No investment. No alcohol. No drugs. No danger.

Or so the kids think. All who play, admittedly, don't die. Some, unknowingly pressing their luck and assuming they're invincible, participate in the exercise regularly. Others aren't as fortunate, suffering strokes, seizures, retinal damage or permanent, irreversible, life-altering problems.

The game, by any name, isn't new. In fact, it's been around in one form or another for decades. But the concern is growing as its trendy popularity expands and even more alarm surfaces as the use of cords, ropes, shoelaces and belts enables youngsters to play alone in the dangerously quiet and private confines of their rooms, their bathrooms and their closets where there is little chance to loosen a deadly knot.

Scary, huh?

And to think it might be happening in your own home without your knowledge is almost beyond comprehension.

So what to do?

Most importantly, talk with your children. Get their attention. Share the reality of the risks and consequences. Visit with other parents and school officials.

Observe warning signs that range from a suspicious mark on the side of the neck; to camouflage in the form of a turtleneck, a scarf or a turned up collar; bloodshot eyes, headaches, loss of concentration; a flushed face; straps, ropes or belts that appear seemingly without reason; aggressive changes in personality; a locked door; questions about the sensations or dangers of strangulation; to a thud in the bedroom or against a wall that signifies a fall.

Be aware, take note and get involved since understanding and prevention are the best answers to a stupid, thoughtless game where the scoreboard counts needless deaths and there are no winners.

Jesse and Dylan were cute, happy kids. Active little boys. They, apparently, came from good families and were deeply loved. They stayed busy doing things they enjoyed, had many friends, were excellent students and had bright futures.

But they played the wrong game and their parents planned funerals instead of graduations.

Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers L.L.C. He can be reached at 382-3111 or at ed.darling@greenvilleadvocate. com