File photo: The "choking game" is defined as self-strangulation or strangulation by another person with the hands or a noose, often made from a belt, to achieve a brief euphoric state caused by cerebral hypoxia.

Durban - The parents of a 14-year-old boy have urged schools and families to be aware of the “choking game”, believing their son succumbed to it last Friday.

The Montrose, Pietermaritzburg, man did not want his or his son’s name to be published.

He said on Wednesday that he had picked up his only child from school as normal on Friday. The teenager had been writing his Grade 9 exams.

They bought lunch and went home before returning to town to withdraw money to watch the Sharks game the next day.

“At about 4pm, I went to my office (at his home) and just before 5pm I found him in his bedroom,” he said.

The boy was found dead near the door. A belt was found around the door handle and was partly around his neck.

The father suspected his child had experimented with the choking game.

“There is no other reason behind this. We had plans for the following day. His birthday was in three weeks. Next month he was going to take his braces off and he was looking forward to his first overseas trip to see his grandparents who were working in Ghana.”

He said that a few weeks ago, his son had spoken about the choking game, saying the children at his school were playing it.

“We sat him down and explained the dangers.”

The father said the family was devastated. He did not want to name his child’s school, but said he had spoken to the headmaster, who would investigate.

“All schools must be aware of it. We can’t blame anyone. It is a tragic incident that this happens.”

He said that although his son would have turned 15 soon, he was immature and innocent.

The definition on the US Centers for Disease Control states: “The ‘choking game’ is defined as self-strangulation or strangulation by another person with the hands or a noose to achieve a brief euphoric state caused by cerebral hypoxia. Participants in this activity typically are youths. Serious neurologic injury or death can result if strangulation is prolonged.”

People commenting on Facebook noted the devastating effect on the boys at the school.

One wrote that he knew the boy and the choking game had been going around schools for years. He said schools should also take responsibility to address the problem.

Another said that as a child they had played it, and called it the fainting game.

“Hopefully as adults we can now deter our kids and many others from making the same mistakes.”

Gavin Cocks of Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play, whose son died in a similar fashion and who gives talks on the game, said those who played it got a kick or high from depriving the brain of oxygen. Aside from death, the game could also cause strokes and seizures.

Cocks said he had spoken about the game at more than 300 schools in the country and most pupils were aware of it. He was aware of four deaths that had taken place this year.

“We don’t hear about it all the time, only if someone knows about it and knows what to look at. Some of these deaths are put to bed as suicide.”

 

Cocks’s advice to parents was to find out more about the game and to be aware of its dangers.

 

Clinical psychologist Darryn Haug said the choking game involved an asphyxial process. There was more than one method to achieve cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. When it came to children, it would appear that any child was vulnerable.

She said there was little research on why children engaged in this activity. Therefore, it was not clear what their motives were.

“It has, however, been suggested that many children do it simply for the ‘rush’,” Haug said.

It was assumed generally that children who practised this activity had not included an erotic component, she said.

Haug said it was a potentially fatal activity.

Dr Jackie de Wet of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the general behaviour of the game could possibly be classified under the psychological explanation of auto-erotic asphyxiation or, in layman’s terms, breath-control play, which was the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for the purposes of sexual arousal.

However, in the case of children this may not be the case, he said.

Playing it was akin to taking some types of drugs, he said. It was hard to pinpoint reasons why people played the game.

“It could be a dare or as part of group play … they are bored, seeking that new excitement or adrenalin rush.”

Police spokesman Mthokozisi Ngobese said the police were unsure of the cause of the teenager’s death. “An inquest docket has been opened pending the outcome of investigations and the post- mortem report.”

South African surfer Shaun Tomson’s son, Mathew, 15, died in Durban in 2006, allegedly from the choking game.

Warning signs to look out for

Parents, teachers, health-care providers and peers may observe any of the following signs that can indicate a child may be involved in the choking game:

* Discussion of the game.

* Bloodshot eyes.

* Marks on the neck.

* Wearing high-necked shirts, even in warm weather.

* Frequent, severe headaches.

* Disorientation after spending time alone.

* Increased and uncharacteristic irritability or hostility.

* Ropes, scarves and belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs, or found knotted on the floor.

* The unexplained presence of dog leashes, choke collars, bungee cords, etc.

* Petechiae (pinpoint bleeding spots) under the skin of the face, especially the eyelids, or conjunctiva (the lining of the eyelids and eyes). – source: http://www.cdc.gov

Other names also being used

* Pass-out game

* Space monkey

* Suffocation roulette

* Scarf game

* The American dream

* Fainting game

* Something dreaming game

* Purple hazing

* Blacking out/blackout

* Dream game

* Flat liner

* California choke

* Space cowboy

* Airplaning

* Purple dragon

* Cloud nine

The Mercury