Parents speak out about ‘choking game’

Many may be unaware of the so-called “choking game,” a practice in which people, most often young boys, strangle themselves to the point that they are close to losing consciousness to achieve a brief euphoric state caused by lack of oxygen going to the brain. But now, because of the courage and compassion of Garrett and Stacy Pope, more parents are likely to be forewarned about this dangerous pastime and better prepared to avoid the tragedy that befell the Popes.

The Popes, residents of Indian Land, are the parents of three children. On Aug. 31, Garrett Pope Jr., 11, was found dead in his room. The coroner’s report stated that he had died of accidental asphyxiation while engaging in the choking game.

It goes by other names – the “blackout game,” the “pass-out game” or the “scarf game, so named because scarves, ropes, belts and towels can be used to cut off the air supply. Dozens of young people have died in recent years playing the choking game.

Researchers know the characteristics of the group most likely to play the choking game: They are aged 6-19 with a median age of around 13 and are about 75 percent male. But calculating how many youths might have experimented with this potentially deadly game is difficult.

Self-asphyxiation can be fatal. But, short of that, depriving the brain of oxygen also can cause serious neurological injury that can leave victims with severe physical or mental disabilities for life.

The federal Centers for Disease Control encourages parents, educators and health-care providers to watch young people for signs that young people are playing the choking game. Listen for discussions of the game and look for bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck, disorientation or the presence of ropes, scarves or belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs.

But don’t wait for signs to appear. The surest preventive is a frank talk with your child.

Stacy Pope said she learned about the choking game from a summer football coach. She mentioned it to her son, but he said he knew nothing about it.

“I should have pushed it further,” she said. “If you talk to your kids and they said they don’t know about it, don’t stop there. You educate them on what it is. It’s not a game and it can kill you.”

Those heartbreaking words should serve as a warning to other parents, one that might prevent them from suffering the same tragic consequences as the Popes.

We are grateful to the Popes for their brave decision to share their grief as a way to spread the word about this deadly practice. They honor the memory of their son by trying to prevent others from making the same terrible mistake he did.

If this could happen to a boy such as Garrett Jr. – described by his parents as “the best” – it could happen to any young kid. Parents, heed the warning.