BERNARDS TWP., NJ - One of the deaths of students in Bernards Township schools this year was the result of the "choking game," which has been practiced locally, the superintendent of township schools said in a special email to parents this week.
"We have been informed that one of the tragic losses of student life we have experienced this year was the result of what is known as the “choking game," Superintendent Nick Markarian said in a special email sent out to parents at the beginning of the week.
Contacted by email on Thursday, Markarian would only refer to the email.
Two Ridge High School girls, Martha Moye and Kyra O'Dwyer, died separately in March and December 2016; most recently the school district announced that William Annin High School eighth grader Gage Dobson had died on the afternoon of Feb. 28 of this year.
Since then, the school community and township at large have been taking several approaches to coming to grips with the tragedies, including a student-initiated club formed at Ridge High School. A traumatic loss expert also offered to address the community this week, May 17.
Markarian said the “choking game” is also known by several other names, including “space monkey,” the “fainting game” and “flatliner.”
Participants perform a choking-like act, either alone or with a friend to temporarily lose consciousness, with the intent of awakening with a rush of euphoria.
Game can be fatal
"It is important to emphasize that research shows children who experiment with the “choking game” alone often tragically die after the first or second time," the email said. "The act can involve breath-holding or robbing the brain of oxygen using ligatures about the neck. Any type of asphyxiation, even if temporary, may cause strokes, seizures, retinal damage, brain damage, or even death."
Students can have easy access to videos via YouTube depicting others participating in this activity, Markarian said in the email.
Warning to parents
Markarian's email included a warning to parents: "We recommend that you talk with your children about the dangerous consequences of this 'game' and review the search history on all their media devices. Some warning signs to look for include bloodshot eyes, broken-blood vessels on face/eyelids, mood swings, signs of disorientation after being alone, frequent and sometimes severe headaches, and bruises or marks around the neck. Clues to look for in your home include knots in neckties, belts, ropes, or plastic bags left in bedrooms or other private locations."
Students in the 9 to 16 year-old age group are the most likely to experiment with this type of risky behavior. The early-adolescent brain does not process information in the same manner as an adult brain, and so children in this age group are not able to fully understand the serious consequences that might result, according to the superintendent's email.
The email provided links that might be helpful in educating parents and your children about this risky behavior.
"Please take the time to discuss this important information with your child(ren). If you have concerns regarding your child, please reach out to the school counseling department," the email said.
Choking Game Informational Sheet
G.A.S.P. (Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play)
Please be aware that the video content provided at this website may be disturbing.
CBS News, New York report, September 2016
"As you discuss this with your child(ren), please remind them that they can approach any trusted adult in the school building to seek assistance for themselves or someone else. Parents and guardians may contact the School Counseling Department with questions or concerns at any time," the email concluded.